If you are one of those who could live on potato omelette and cheesecake, the house of Madrid's Esther Muñoz and Peru's Manuel Sifuentes (both 50 years old) is yours. Because today those are the only and bright stars of Caracola, a brand that was born as a market stall – that of Antón Martín – and that since April also has another place in the Plaza de Chueca.
Five months before, his cakes and tortillas went viral, and the fault was not (covering the song of Gabinete Caligari) "of the cha-cha-chá that you invited me to dance", although there was entertainment in between. "On November 25 we launched (via Instagram) a promotion for Black Friday: to the first 100 people who came we gave them a slice of cheesecake of a new flavor, Kinder," recalls Esther.
They make the tortilla always with onion and baked.
They still don't really know how it went, but word spread and "it became an avalanche of people. Then we had two stalls, one as a workshop and tasting area on the main floor of the market; another at street level only for the take away", where they summoned the guests.
When the gift portions ran out there, they closed, "but people, instead of leaving, queued inside the market to buy our cakes. He would turn around and go outside! That day we sold everything; If one was finished, people took another and another..."
From there it was a non-stop. "Almost daily lines and lines of people who wanted to try our recipes." At the end of April the expansion arrived and they opened another place in the Plaza de Chueca to "try to distribute to the public and unload the market stall a little, because it is still a small space, and that of Chueca is older and with an area to taste", details Esther.
Cheesecake with pistachio cream.
Now there are peaks of affluence, but the "mogollón" has moderated, although since that Black Friday the production of tortillas and cakes has tripled. And what do they have to be among the most demanded in the capital? Fresh and quality raw material (monalisa potatoes, sweet onion, EVOO, Galician free-range eggs and with designation of origin and national cheeses for cakes), artisanal elaboration and cooked in the oven. Yes, yes, also the tortillas.
"We do the whole process in it," he acknowledges. From poaching the potato and onion -Esther, like 70% of Spaniards according to the CIS, is a cebollista- to curdling the tortilla.
The counter of the local Chueca.
After much trial and error, the Madrilenian found the key or, what is the same, with the technique, the temperature, the degree of humidity ... With the different variables that come into play to achieve the juiciness she wanted. "Our tortillas are very melted, Betanzos type, but with onions. Of course, the first one did not go as I wanted, "says laughing this cook who handles the oven with art and ease.
"I've always liked it as a tool, it allows me to work with less fat and I like the flavor it brings to food."
Lotus cookie cake.
They offer six varieties, which "are not very large, about 22 centimeters in diameter, to handle them well": classic; tartufa, with truffle brought from Italy; gorgonzola, with cheese also from the transalpine country; Iberian acorn-fed chorizo from Guijuelo; Bologna mortadella with pistachio and pistachio cream that they have incorporated this summer and that they make with 100% national nut provided by La Pistachería, their market neighbor. The prices? 12 euros the classic, 15 the special and 18 the pistachio.
The second celestial body that shines with its own light in Caracola is the cheesecake, which they prepare in a traditional way, rather fluid, with a secret mixture of cheeses and without a biscuit base (whole, from 30 to 39 euros; from 5.20 to 6.40 the portion). Up to 14 varieties, elaborate -almost all with toppings on top and, of course, baked-, which rotate, except for the three that are always on the bill: pistachio, lotus biscuit and classic cheesecake from which the others are born. "This is the mother of all our cakes," says proudly this Madrilenian who before becoming a cook had another life as a cartographer of public works.
The crisis of 2008 – "my sector arrived a little later, about 2011" – gave him the push he needed to turn to the stoves and study them. He trained at the Escuela de Hostelería del Sur, in Entrevías. "There they taught me a lot, especially the basics. There are those who want to start with spherifications and Ferran Adrià's cuisine, and this is like starting the house through the roof". He continued at the Escuela Superior de Hostelería y Turismo de Madrid (Lago) and worked in a restaurant until he decided to set up his own takeaway business.
She started in 2014, in the Mercado de Antón y sola, although later her husband, Manuel – a lawyer specializing in insurance who had nothing to do with the hospitality industry – joined, "to help her in everything, especially in the management of the company and that kind of thing where I move better".
The space of Chueca.
The offer? Traditional cuisine, vegetarian proposals and sometimes a little fusion with Peruvian cuisine and "always betting on quality and fresh products of the day", Esther relives those early days when it was difficult for her to enter the market, although later she gained a wide and loyal clientele.
"We had between 10 and 12 dishes, most of them baked because I've always tended to healthy cooking." In the takeaway offer there was no lack of "stewed lentils with vegetables, even if it was summer and we were at 40 degrees; neither do tortillas and cakes."
The cakes are also sold in portions (this is white chocolate).
Restless and enterprising, but not crazy -"we think and rethink a lot", say Esther and Manuel at the same time-, they proposed a couple of years ago to turn the business around and focus only on two stars that had a lot of acceptance among the clientele, well, three: the tortilla, the cheesecake and the oven.
For six months both concepts coexisted, each in a market stall, until a year ago "we could no longer cope and ended up making the leap". A jump of 10 with which Caracola, just as it happened to Esther before, has had a second – and successful – life.
Conch: Santa Isabel, 5 (Antón Martín Market). Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, from 12 to 22 hours / Plaza de Chueca, 4. Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, from 12 to 22 hours.