PaperCity Magazine

December 2019- Houston

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78 BY LAURANN CLARIDGE B arcelona-born business m a g n a t e I g n a c i o Torras, a former commodities trader, founded Houston- based Tricon Energy in 1996, but those who follow Houston's noteworthy restaurants know Torras best for his ground-breaking Spanish eateries: BCN Taste & Tradition, a chic fine-dining establishment in a discrete Montrose bungalow, with enviable art, and his latest, MAD in River Oaks District. In the summer of 2008, Torras and his family rented a home in Fonteta, Spain, where he met the house chef, Luis Roger, and was inspired by his exceptional cooking skills and management. Together they hatched the idea of creating two very distinct Houston restaurants that would pay homage to the country of their birth. The establishments are named for the airport city codes that inspired their menus, Barcelona and Madrid. Their latest venture, MAD, has been more than two years in the making, with millions spent on research and development, the sensational interior design by Lázaro Rosa-Violán, and an impressive Spanish art collection, including pottery by Picasso. The result has had the city — not to mention, the national media — chattering. Curious about the man who made it his mission to change this country's hackneyed idea of Spanish fare, I sat down with Torras to gain a bit more insight into what makes him tick. Describe MAD and how it differs from your approach at BCN Taste & Tradition. MAD is our creative interpretation of two Spanish essentials: tapas and paella. Madrid has a worldwide reputation for great nightlife, and MAD was built to house a very vibrant modern decor, which reflects it. Tapas and paellas serve as Spain's culinary emissaries in every corner of the planet. While that's what Spain is best known for, at BCN Taste & Tradition, we stray away from that concept and focus on traditional cooking. We concentrate on ingredients and their seasonality, and use recipes passed down from generation to generation. We strive to keep the classic, homemade feeling intact. BCN's decoration is a reflection of that, too — it's cozy and homey. INSIDE THE HEAD OF IGNACIO TORRAS Biggest misconception about Spanish fare. That we are only about tapas and paella … and that our tapas are simply a piece of bread with something atop. While those montaditos [a filled roll of bread] are damn delicious, the fact is tapas at MAD — and all over the Spain — can be so creative and original. Beyond tapas and paella, the traditional cooking of Spain is our biggest hidden secret — our "mortal weapon" that no tourist, visitor, and emigrant (like me) can stop thinking about once away from our country. What drew you to Picasso's pottery. When it comes to art, I'm not a collector and definitely not a connoisseur. However, I'm a decorator (and an investor). My mother had a terrific eye for decoration, and we were raised with the concept that art — good art — has to have a purpose, the ability to uplift its surroundings, and make the space more beautiful and meaningful. It's crucial that it blends and brings sense to the whole concept. Picasso ceramics encompass those goals. The shapes are stunning. The colors are tasteful and the representations are very Mediterranean. It's a solid investment. Artists' work that you collect. In the restaurants, we have only works by Spanish artists: Picasso, Miró, Dalí, and Chillida. I'm not sure those works are appreciated by the visitors, but they are a terrific blend of both restaurants and create a holistic concept of Spain. At home, while we have some Juan Gris and Tàpies, my main collection is Latin American art; my wife is from Mexico, and I spent a large part of my youth in Brazil, so Latin American roots are very vivid for us. Aside from art, what else do you collect. Injuries! I play a lot of sports — soccer, paddle tennis, running, and skiing. Your idea of happiness. Ending the day knowing that I've made my family and colleagues proud, while living to the values and legacy of my parents. Aside from life's necessities, the one thing you can't go through a day without. My nightly chat with my wife, sharing the day's events. If you could keep only three possessions. My family portrait, my father's letters, and my reading glasses. Your final meal: Where and what. At BCN with a group of friends/Luis would prepare a special menu of: • Free-range sunny-side-up eggs with potatoes and cured Spanish Ibérico ham. • Espardenyes (sea cucumber) Fideuà, a seafood dish similar to paella but with noodles instead of rice. • Calamari with caramelized onion, squid ink, and Navarra beans sautéed in olive oil. • Fresh hake (from Spain) with roasted red bell pepper, eggplant, and chanterelle mushrooms. • Mixed tropical fruit soup. • Coffee and Santiago (Spanish almond) cake. Ignacio Torras and chef Luis Roger

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