The huge success and prestige that Spanish haute cuisine enjoys today is not coincidental. It is the reward for the efforts of a group of chefs that, for more than 30 years, have displayed professionalism and hard work to give the world exquisite dishes and contributions arising from their talent.
Such is the case of Juan Mari Arzak, a benchmark of world cuisine. Arzak is one of the fathers of a culinary movement known as New Basque Cuisine, which originated in Spain in the 1970s in the wake of the then flourishing French Nouvelle Cuisine. The new Basque cuisine, which stands out for the variety and richness of its products, builds on popular recipes from the Basque Country.
ELENA & JUAN MARI ARZAK.
Currently, Juan Mari Arzak is probably the best chef in all of Spain and one of the most famous in the world with a career spanning more than 40 years of constant, uninterrupted success. This culinary master runs the restaurant that bears his name: Arzak is a family business with over 100 years of history, located in the beautiful city of San Sebastian.
The tavern his grandparents founded in the late 19th century subsequently became a popular eatery, known for high-quality traditional cuisine. When Juan Mari Arzak finished his studies at the school of hospitality, Casa de Campo, in Madrid, he worked in the most renowned French restaurants of the time, such as Bocuse and Maison Troisgros. He would put his talent and expertise to work when he took over the family restaurant.
Since then, Arzak has continued to research and experiment with new products, creating almost impossible combinations, which, in his hands, become pure gastronomic alchemy. Finally, thanks to his absolute mastery of timing, textures and the fabric of the modern kitchen, his name began to be recognized in the world of haute gastronomy. In fact, shortly after he celebrated his 30th birthday, Arzak was awarded Spain’s National Prize of Gastronomy and the restaurant got its first coveted Michelin star.
Praise and honors have continued to come his way: Best Chef and Best Restaurant in Spain, Great Gastronomic Art Award as Best Chef in Europe from the European Academy of Gastronomy and Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Ministry of Culture. In 1989, he received his third Michelin star, which puts Arzak, and his restaurant, at the zenith of global culinary stardom.
Today, the chef´s name continues to shine in the culinary universe, and his restaurant, Arzak, ranks number eight in the San Pellegrino list of the 50 best restaurants in the world.
For decades, Arzak restaurant has remained at the top without losing its magic and prestige thanks to the tireless spirit of Juan Mari and his innate talent to surround himself with a team of seasoned professionals. His daughter, Elena Arzak, occupies a prominent position in the team. She represents the fourth generation of a family that had dedicated body and soul to the art of cooking.
Elena, a young woman as knowledgeable and passionate as her father, learned her trade at home, when she was only a child. Later, she expanded her horizons studying haute cuisine in Lucerne, Switzerland, and practicing in French restaurants such as Maison Troisgros, Bras and Pierre Gagnaire, the British Le Gavroche and the Spanish restaurant El Bulli, led by the great Ferran Adrià, a colleague and good friend of her father.
Elena Arzak was named Best National Cooking Leader in 2010 and received the award for Best Chef in 2012, a prestigious recognition given annually at the Hotel du Marc in Reims, France. On that occasion, the jury praised her avant-garde evolution and ability for culinary research.
Father and daughter have created a perfect tandem, a union that runs between the restless modernity of Juan Mari and the rationality and understanding Elena brings to the table. Working closely, they reinvent traditional dishes and create other very innovative foods that leave their customers excited and proud of the Basque spirit.
The dishes are small works of art, elegant creations that arouse admiration. Some of their masterful offers include Rape and browned onion, Crushed fruit, Green hake, Circle of squid and Sea bass with vegetables.
Arzak restaurant has a large dining room full of light, with good taste and excellent decor. The place is visited daily by locals as well as avid and seasoned gourmets from all over the world: from heads of state, artists and intellectuals to incognito gourmets in their eternal search for the best cuisine the world has to offer.
A trip to the north of Spain deserves a visit to the city of San Sebastian. Once there, book a table at Arzak, a temple of world cuisine, where eating is a privilege. ■