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Clara Gutierrez Carroll

Chef/Owner, Castilla Tapas Bar & Restaurant

Clara grew up in Valladolid in the region of Castilla in central Spain, an area with numerous bodegas in century-old caves where tablas (boards with 10-12 tapas) are served. She grew up on a farm and in a restaurant family. Her immediate family had a pig and grain farm and she helped with harvesting to cooking, butchering to curing. Her uncle owns a vineyard/vintner in the highly-regarded Ribera del Duero region called Roturas.

Her aunt's restaurant, Restaurante Angela, gave her early restaurant experience. When she was young, they would 'let her' clean calamari or cut bread. She worked as garde manger, in garnish, and prep. This was also where she learned how to make pâté. Next door to Angela's, they had a bodega called Abadia where they served meals in bread bowls (no plates). It was also underground, beneath the city. The family also owned and ran a separate banquet space.

Despite moving to the city, the family still maintains their ancestral farmhouse where they visit on weekends, festivals, and special occasions. In its heyday, they would have 60 legs of ham curing after brining them in salt. Known as Jamon Serrano, the hams were left to hang and air dry for up to three years before being ready to eat.

Clara was never formally trained, although an aunt teaches at a culinary school, and several cousins work in restaurants in Europe. While attending university in Madrid, she worked weekends at a palace where the King and Queen of Spain held birthdays and other events. It was here she learned about different levels of service and worked both the front and back of the house.

With this background, it's no wonder that Clara has always been passionate about food. Despite that draw, she got her BA in International Business & Trade in Madrid, with a focus on import/export. She was in the first class to graduate from the business school; everyone from that class was hired immediately. She went to Belgium for work, yet despite being fluent in French and having studied German at university, the first thing the agency told her was that she needed to speak English. Many of her classmates went to London, but she felt it would be difficult to learn English there with so many Spanish speakers.

She also loved to travel and after college she threw on her backpack and wandered through Europe. While in high school, Clara had organized several class trips to various other European countries where she made many friends. Four-to-five of her summers were spent in Paris with friends. She used these connections during her travels as home bases while she moved around. Clara attributes her wanderlust to when she was younger being the first child from a family of seven aunts and uncles. Her aunts would take her with them when they traveled and spoiled her at fancy restaurants, concerts, and cultural events.

Given very little time to learn English, she chose to come to the U.S. and live with a family in Boston. They corresponded and she was excited to move, then the family had to pull out. The agency found a family in Issaquah, so Clara moved to Washington in 1994 at the age of 24. Having majored in business, she got various jobs with places like a Montessori school and labs at the UW over a period of three years.

She never went back to Belgium because less than a year after she moved here, she met her future husband. She also fell in love with Seattle. After central Spain, she found she loved the green, the water, and the mountains. The couple had two weddings, one in Seattle and one in Spain, and they traveled to Spain each year. They moved to Spain at one point, but after three months, she was the one who wanted to come "home" to Seattle.

In 1996, she started catering, then created her own company called Vino Español in 2000. Over the years, she has provided empanadas for a reception for the King and Queen of Spain at the Sheraton, catered for the Consulate of Spain, SAM, Benaroya Hall, Microsoft, K&L Gates, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and the Spain Association of the Pacific NW.

In 2003, she helped open Madrid 522 in Belltown, staying for a year. The owners were Argentinian and Spanish and hired her as executive chef to run the kitchen, which she found fun and exciting. It was a large space with a big lounge and 66 seats in the dining room, as well as banquet room.

She began consulting with an emphasis on menus, training, and kitchen set-up, helping Bell Fire Wine Bar in Everett, and the Capitol Club on Capitol Hill, Sarajevo Lounge in Belltown, and North City Bistro & Wine Shop in north Seattle.

In 2005, she began working with Sofeea Huffman, the Greek owner of Kafe Neo starting with the Edmonds location. There are now three more locations: Marysville, Mill Creek, and Kingston. The menus are a mix of Greek and Spanish items. Clara became the executive chef and partner. 2008 saw the opening of the Mill Creek location, a revamped menu and full bar. Clara increased the catering side of their business as well.

They opened two Spanish-themed restaurants, Demetris Woodstone Taverna in Edmonds in the fall of 2011 and Tablas Woodstone Taverna in Mill Creek a month later. Opening two restaurants at the same time was a challenge but was made somewhat easier as Clara streamlined the openings by starting with the same menu and training needs.

Keen on having a place to call her own, she was always on the lookout for just the right location. She liked the idea of going to Woodinville near the wineries where she felt a Spanish tapas restaurant would be a great fit. But she kept hearing from customers to consider Bellevue. Her research led her to Kemper Freeman and a spot in Bellevue Square where she has a large space with two kitchens and a woodburning/gas oven. She opened Castilla in November of 2019.

February 2020


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