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Portrait of a chef: Ignacio Solana

News, views and what's fresh in the culinary world

Chef Ignacio Solana; and his signature lobster salad. Photo: Rohit Chawla
Chef Ignacio Solana; and his signature lobster salad. Photo: Rohit Chawla

For chef Ignacio Solana, 38, a passion for food runs in the family. His great-grandparents opened Solana, the restaurant he runs today in Cantabria, Spain, in 1938, yet the chef decided to pursue a culinary education before joining the family business. At 13, he joined the reputed catering school Escuela de Hostelería in northern Spain, and earned his culinary chops at some of the country’s top restaurants, including Aldebarán, Túbal and Europa.

In 2004, at 24, he took over the family restaurant, contemporizing signature dishes like his mother’s chicken Picasuelos, Cantabrian mountain cocido and hake stews, which drew diners from miles away. In 2012, Solana was awarded the coveted Michelin star, followed by the prize for the Best Croquette in the World in 2017 awarded at Madrid Fusion. “The secret to our croquette is that we make the béchamel with raw milk, which makes it creamier, and then we add some of the best Spanish pata negra ham," said the chef, who was in India earlier this month as part of the Spanish Extravaganza Festival, a special culinary event hosted by the Taj group of hotels.

Quick Bites

How did you arrive at your signature dish?

I was born in Ampuero, Cantabria, a small village near the Cantábrico Sea. So fishing is in my roots and I feel a great connection with the fishermen there. Lobsters are their greatest prize. Therefore, my signature dish is a warm lobster salad; an excellent choice for a special occasion. As our fishermen used to say, the lobsters in Spain swim three times—in the sea, in olive oil and in white wine.

The best meal you have ever eaten

My mum’s croquettes with Ibérico ham.

Most underrated culinary destination

Barcelona, Spain.

The next big food trend

Fusion cuisine. Nowadays the world is becoming a global village, so all types of flavours, textures and ingredients are mixed. I believe the future is going to be a fusion of many cuisines. The best is yet to come.

Your favourite ingredient

Extra virgin Spanish olive oil. It is one of the great ingredients in Spanish gastronomy, also because our geography and climate are ideal for olive cultivation, and has health-giving attributes.

What is your comfort food?

Spanish potato omelette.

Most adventurous thing you have eaten

Nihari with khameeri rotis. I have discovered real Indian food (during my visit). For me, this is one of the greatest cuisines in the world. It has flavour and spirit.

Your dream dinner guest

Rafa Nadal.

This is part of photographer Rohit Chawla’s special series on celebrated chefs from around the world.

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