Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, Casamia, Bristol

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th October 2013

Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias are brothers who jointly run Casamia in Bristol, a Michelin-starred restaurant also famous for winning Ramsay’s Best Restaurant TV show. 

Originally opened by their parent’s Paco and Susan as a homely Italian trattoria in 1999, the brothers took over the reins in 2006 and quickly began overhauling it to implement their more radical culinary vision of a hyper-seasonal, sensory dining experience. The Staff Canteen caught up with Jonray to find out how the brothers got to where they are and where the ride is taking them next…  

I guess it’s fair to say that it’s been quite a journey since your parents first bought Casamia?

Duck, carrot and fennel
Duck, carrot and fennel

Yeah, it’s come a long way from the place that opened in ’99 which was a really lovely Italian trattoria with pizza, pasta and a special menu with fresh fish, 12 starters and probably 20 main courses. I was 16 and Pete was 14 on the night it opened and all of a sudden people started arriving out of nowhere and ever since that first night it was always really busy.

How did you and Pete first get involved?

Pete was doing a catering course and was working in the kitchen. I was studying graphic design and helping out with front of house and in the kitchen doing veg prep and stuff, and one night the head chef just walked out in the middle of service. Pete had to really get himself out of the s**t and my dad was so happy with his performance that he asked him to take over as head chef.

I hated my college course and I was helping out Peter more and more in the kitchen, so I ended up joining him. I learned everything on the job, getting the basics off Pete from what he’d learned at college and it just went from there.

How did the experience of opening up your own place, Fratelli in Cheltenham, help your development?  

We had a bit of a falling out with dad and we both just walked out; it wasn’t a very nice thing to do but we really wanted to do our own thing and

Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias
Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias

felt we weren’t getting the support. At Fratelli we implemented a smaller set menu with everything made from scratch which changed every week. We managed to keep that up for a year – six starters, six mains and four desserts, changing every week – it was unbelievable. We lost so much weight we weighed practically nothing; we were skint; and we really drained ourselves but one skill we learnt was to create dishes and build flavour combinations in our heads because we didn’t have the money to experiment and that’s something you can’t really learn at college.

In the end it just became too hard and we both broke. In our own way we both had nervous breakdowns. Everyone talks about nervous breakdowns but when you have spasms and you’re in bed for two days and everything you think of twists and turns and makes you feel ill, that’s a proper breakdown.

But that led you to return to Casamia and implement your own ideas?

Yes, so then it was heads down and back here. We worked a year for free to pay off our debts.  It was a very bad time financially but mum and dad opened their arms to us. Then we started transforming this place because dad now had confidence in what we were doing. We put in a tasting menu which we ran alongside the traditional pizzas and stuff, then we took the lasagne off the menu and finally we took pizza off, which was probably the toughest day. At that point we’d just won the Michelin star and we introduced the concept of the seasonally changing restaurant.

How does that concept work practically?

It’s inspired by the Japanese; the idea was that we wanted people to visit at least four times a year and each time for it to feel different, with different décor and pictures reflecting the different seasons and even putting different seasonal smells in the air. This summer we had suntan lotion and cut fresh grass, last autumn we had baked apple and wood smoke and in the spring it’s all floral and based around forestry; it’s all very subliminal.

You spent a lot of time with Gordon Ramsay during your time on Ramsay’s Best Restaurant; what was the most memorable advice he gave you?

He told us that we were very close to two stars and that when you’ve got two, you’re very close to three and that it was just a case of having the belief and the confidence to push for it. I think he’s right because a lot of chefs are scared to admit they want three stars, and I understand that, but for me and Pete it’s a way of lifting the experience for the customer because at the end of the day if you want to be a two-star restaurant you have to have that level of service and that customer experience.

Several people have said you could be a two or even three-star restaurant and you’ve also been compared to the Roca brothers; how does that make you feel?

 We’ve got a similar story to the Roca brothers, with them starting next door to their parents’ restaurant in a very small space

Peter Sanchez-Iglesias
Peter Sanchez-Iglesias

then winning the stars and of course being brothers, one on savoury and one on pastry, very similar to me and Pete, so yeah it’s very inspiring. In terms of three stars of course it’s very nice when anyone says you can be a two or three star restaurant and me and Pete take that confidence on board but at the same time you’re not a three-star restaurant until it’s official. You

have to be very level-headed about it. I don’t see the reason why one day we won’t have three stars. We’re always ambitious; we’re not just here making sandwiches; we’ve gone through the bad times and we’ve had some experiences that people like Gordon Ramsay never have, like having your own restaurant that’s under financial strain and no way out except cooking; we’ve cooked for our lives some nights and we still do now; we cook every day to keep this place ticking and we pump every ounce of money back into it.

So what’s the next step in the Casamia journey?

The next step is improving the place even more. We’ve got the team in place. We’ve got an educational base with the youngsters working here. We’ve got the development kitchen now. Me and Pete always want to be here but maybe we could do like the Roca brothers and move this place one day. I would never say no to that and I think we’re not far from a point where we’re outgrowing it already. We also want to create a very small brasserie which we want to keep under the Casamia umbrella. It’s very expensive to eat here, we understand that, and it would be really nice to try and copy the Casamia experience but make it more affordable.    

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th October 2013

Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, Casamia, Bristol