Antoni Izquierdo, after more than 52 years as one of the gastronomic references of Palamós and El Baix Empordà, regions of Girona, has decided to redirect his activity in the Mas dels Arcs restaurant located on the Costa Brava. Together with his son, Xavier Izquierdo, they have now turned it into a high-quality preserves workshop and a culinary R&D center, with the view to reaching thousands of homes and helping them to prepare their best dishes, understanding preserves as the ultimate expression of cuisine.
Antoni Izquierdo is the Chef of Mas dels Arcs, located in the coastal town of Palamós in Girona. This restaurant is known throughout the Costa Brava for its specialty rice dishes, fideuas, fish and seafood.
Antoni Izquierdo has worked in many different kitchens, both within our territory and abroad. His experience in all of them and his passion for cooking and innovating have resulted in “a cuisine based on the quality of the ingredients, with simplicity and honesty as a standard for seasonal cuisine and a cuisine based on feelings”.
Furthermore, in 2017, this chef ventured into the world of preserves, offering, under the brand Antoni Izquierdo Gourmet and in glass jars, the Stir-fries of his most emblematic recipes such as rice in broth, black rice, fideuá or sea and mountain stews. Gastronomic delicacies that can be cooked quickly and easily with his packaged preparations without losing that touch so characteristic of Antoni Izquierdo. Thanks to this touch, two of his most emblematic recipes have been awarded the Girona Excel-lent seal of agri-food quality.
And now, in 2022, although the business was fully operational, the chef and his son Xavier Izquierdo decided to close the restaurant to focus on a more personal project that will allow him to leave his mark as a chef: to convert Mas dels Arcs into a high-quality preserves workshop and a R&D center where he can offer training and culinary consultancy services to other brands.
The new space will also have a classroom/kitchen for product demonstrations and a recording area where they can record and transmit their recipes to their followers on social networks.
We spoke to him about his experience and the transformation his business is undergoing.
Antoni Izquierdo Gourmet Preserves
Antoni, why did you decide to offer your sauce in preserves? What led you to make this decision?
I started the preserves business because when I was quite young I collaborated with the late Carles Camós who, at the time, created the first tins of prepared rice under the name Just Married. That experience marked me and showed me other ways of doing things. As the years went by, and I grew older coupled with considerable experience, I decided to create a brand with my own name and with the view to leaving my mark on the gastronomic world.
At first, I thought of it as a second line of business that I could run together with the Mas dels Arcs Restaurant. This approach meant being able to do it little by little, over a slow fire. Now, that first idea has changed. What, in principle, I could consider almost as a hobby, has now become a plan B, with a future projection, especially because of the pandemic. Covid-19 has been a disaster for most restaurants, but for Antoni Izquierdo Gourmet it was a business opportunity because people have cooked a lot at home during the confinement. This trend caused by the situation has been consolidated since people have taken a liking to cooking. And we have seen an increase in online sales.
Did you draw up a business plan? Did you study the possible profitability before launching? Did you have any specialized advice on how to start this new business?
Initially, we worked with internal studies, but in this second stage of the business, focused on our line of preserves and as a culinary laboratory, we got a Strategic Plan drawn up by a specialized external company with all the steps to follow to ensure the success of our preserves in the market.
There are many preserves brand, what makes yours so special?
Indeed, there are many preserves on the market, but I am sure that not all of them are of the same quality as ours. Quality not only due to the ingredients, but also to the time we dedicate to them. Making a good homemade Stir-fry takes time, at least an hour. In our kitchen we are not in a hurry, and we prepare our Stir-fry just as we would in a restaurant, over a low heat and for hours. Dedication is valued and rewarded. Our Aromatic Palamós prawn and crab stir-fry has been awarded the Girona Excellent agri-food quality seal twice, in 2018-19 and in 2020-21.
Another of our star preserves is the tomato sauce to which we add Maria Luisa, to give it a traditional touch, as in the past all Catalan farmhouses used to have one of these aromatic plants.
And as a sweet product, also with a Catalan tradition, there are Plums in syrup with Garnacha de L’Empordà, also winner of the Girona Excellent agri-food quality seal for 2020-21.
What would you say to those who think that a preserved stir-fry can never taste the same as a freshly made one? Has sterilization improved your product?
I was the first to be surprised.
Not all products are the same when they go through the autoclave. I can say that our stir-fries have improved with sterilization. By applying a high temperature combined with a short time, we have achieved a kind of confit, a concentrate with great intensity of flavor and all its nutrients. Although it may sound like science fiction, the truth is that because it is so condensed, with a small amount you can achieve a spectacular strike.
When you started producing preserves, what did you and your team find most challenging? What problems did you face?
Finding the optimum time/temperature balance and also the best and most securely sealed packagingwere the challenges we faced when sterilizing. But we have managed to achieve exactly what we wanted, although it has cost us a little more because our products do not contain any additives and, of course, the more natural they are, the more difficult it is to preserve them. But now, once we’ve managed to find what we were looking for, it’s been a piece of cake.
How important has the autoclave been and determining the optimal sterilization parameters?
The importance of the autoclave is indisputable because without it, it is impossible to pasteurizeand/or sterilize and, therefore, you cannot meet the objective set by the health authorities.
After testing the sterilisation of our products in the laboratory of an external company for two years, we got to know the TERRA Food-Tech® autoclaves. The issue of processing was not new, but sterilization was, because before we had the TERRA Food-Tech® autoclave, we did it externally. We liked the way it worked and the result so much that we bought another smaller model that can be very useful for testing. When it came to buying a new autoclave, it was clear to us that we wanted a TERRA Food-Tech® autoclave.
How long can your preserves last in optimum condition and without refrigeration after sterilization?
We establish a shelf life of 12 months, although our preserves could last up to 15 months, because we consider that it is a product with a high turnover and that it should not be stored for a long time.
Did you receive advice from TERRA Food-Tech®? What was your experience like?
From the very beginning, we have relied on the TERRA Food-Tech® technical service, as they offer you an initial consultation service when you purchase the autoclave. We are very happy, they are very competent.
Are you happy with the decision taken? How is the preserves business doing? How are people’s opinions your preserves?
At the moment, the Mas dels Arcs restaurant has closed its doors, and we have decided to dedicate ourselves 100% to the preserves business. We could have rented small premises as a workshop and transferred the restaurant or rented it out, we were not short of offers. But we decided to stay at the restaurant because it was already well known. We have set it up as a workshop and, in addition, in one of the restaurant’s dining rooms we set up a kind of mini-kitchen classroom, in which I myself or another professional will give demonstrations of our products. Our aim is to build customer loyalty by showing them how we cook and what traditional Catalan gastronomy, which is our base, is like.
We want to take care of our customers. I have been in Mas del Arcs for so long thanks to their loyalty. The clientele must always be cared for and pampered. Our customers are not only private individuals who appreciate good food, but also retail outlets and restaurants. Our idea is to have the chefs of the latter come to our facilities and cook with us to show the potential of our preserves. In addition to cooking, we will also eat. We have a table of three meters so that our guests can enjoy the prepared dishes as well as the conversation and company.
We will also have a set to record what we do there, especially to make ourselves known through social networks and, at the same time, also to advertise our customers.
This visibility on the networks translates into sales. Our online sales have grown a lot throughout the Spanish territory. From one year to the next we have increased by almost 50%, and we get orders from San Sebastian, Madrid, Seville… We have also noticed that whenever we make a recording, we have orders the next day.
Where can we find your preserves apart from your e-commerce or in the Mas dels Arcs restaurant? Are they also distributed in other countries?
Apart from online sales, anyone who wants to buy an Antoni Izquierdo Gourmet preserve can find it in different shops in Girona and Barcelona. In the featured stories on our Instagram @antoniizquierdogourmet you can see the list of establishments.
We sell sporadically abroad, especially to Catalan customers living abroad. We are export to the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and France.
Which sales channel is on the rise, online or face-to-face?
Face-to-face sales work best for us. And although online sales have grown significantly, they still represent 18% of our sales.
Do you think that the production of preserves could be considered a second-class activity in the field of gastronomy?
Not at all. In the food sector, there is a niche market that wants an exceptional product and, above all, quality over price. And with preserves, we can offer extraordinary products.
I love to think that there are people who open my preserves and use them to cook rice dishes, “suquets”… And all of this with products of the Antoni Izquierdo Gourmet brand, for me this is the ultimate expression of cuisine. Because we can enter thousands of homes with preserves.
And to conclude the interview, do you think that preserves is a new business opportunity to be considered in the world of catering?
I think that, now more than ever, preserved food are a great businesses opportunity.
After being closed for so long because of the pandemic, many restaurateurs and chefs have realized that we need to diversify. In addition, the market demands a different kind of preserves, with identity and top quality ingredients. I was one of the first to get into preserves business. Even today, many preserves industry professionals remain unfamiliar with autoclaves, the equipment needed to sterilize preserves and market them.
I am convinced that preserves is another business opportunity for restaurateurs. However, in my case, it has not become an exit because the restaurant did not work. Not at all. In my case, preserves is an alternative, an option to prosper and improvement.
Thank you very much, Antoni Izquierdo, for granting us this interview. From TERRA Food-Tech®, we wish you every success in this new adventure!
If you want to find out more, don’t miss their story in our success stories section.