In North Spain coast we find the Basque Country, a region with a rich culinary heritage that today glitters with 23 Michelin-starred eateries. San Sebastian, known as well as Donosti, is an an elegant beautiful medium-size city by the Atlantic sea, with fantastic beaches and surrounded by nature, offering an outstanding gastronomy and a cosy old town, with excellent accommodations perfect for a weekend stay. When you think about San Sebastian, you think about Gastronomy. Consider a city that counts with most Michelin stars per square metre, consider a city where you can enjoy up to 3 Michelin starred eateries. Ready to indulge in one of them? Then, you’ll want to start with the one with the most history: Arzak.
In our blog section we have introduced Arzak’s history until today. Let us focus now in the present days of this gastronomy temple, highlighting the work of chef Elena Arzak, daughter to Juan Mari Arzak, the chef that brought his restaurant to 3-Michelin star list in late 70s and has kept it on the top until today.
A family-run business
Elena Arzak shares the head chef responsibilities with her father, who was awarded with 3 Michelin stars 30 years ago. Following three generations of cooks in Arzak’s family, Elena is expanding the boundaries of Basque cuisine while incorporating influences, flavours and spices from other countries. Her love for cuisine goes back to her childhood’s holidays, when she was allowed into her father’s kitchen for 2 hours a day.
She attended top hotel and restaurant management schools in Switzerland and improved her culinary knowledge in great European restaurants. Elena improved her skills at top eateries as La Maison Troisgros, Pierre Gagnaire, Carré des Feuillants and Le Vivarois in France, Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Le Gavroche in London, Antica Osteria del Ponte in Italy, and El Bulli in Spain. In May 2001, she was given the Chef de l’Avenir Award by the International Academy of Gastronomy; in 2010, the Spanish Academy of Gastronomy granted her the National Gastronomy Award and, to top it all off, she deserved in 2012 the Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef Award.
A chef inspired by colours and seasons
At Arzak Restaurant, Basque food is interpreted according to seasons. The menu is also inspired by seasons and colours and, every year, up to 50 differences are made in it. Basque cuisine is the origin of Arzak, however, creativity and innovation are amongst its fundamental motivations. In all her interviews, Elena always remarks the importance of Basque cuisine in their creations by stating, for instance, that when adding seasonings that are out of the ordinary to the menu they always make sure to adapt these products to local tastes. She also points out that Basque cuisine is very close to nature, can change according to region, but there are always essential products that must be included.
During an interview for Great British Chefs Magazine, Elena said: ‘You see, no matter how original and creative I want to be, I always try and stay Basque. That’s because I don’t want to lose our food values – but I don’t want to live in the past either.’
In another interview, Elena says the tasting menus (consisting of five small appetizers for a first course, five half-courses, two small desserts and a chocolate treat) will always be grounded in the seasons, the market and the surrounding territory. “In the menu we express not only our personal identity and our modernity, but also the Basque experience,” she says, adding that when you dine at Arzak you know you are in San Sebastián–through the produce and cooking methods, as well as with the special touches that are more than culinary flourishes. “I like to cook with messages,” she says, explaining why she developed new chocolates in the shape of the type of frogs common to the area. “The frogs are an animal symbol of the city, they faced extinction, but were saved.”
To Arzak’s chef, to sustain 30 years of three Michelin stars success has its unique challenges and to keep performing at such a level you can’t ever relax. “I can’t be boring or monotonous, people come here with high expectations, and you can’t have them be disappointed.”
The Arzak dining experience. Contact us, we will be pleased to send you all details. firstname.lastname@example.org