Arzak Dining Room
Juan Mari Arzak may be the world’s most influential chef, and yet he is mostly unknown outside of his native Basque Country.
Starting in the 1970s when he took over his family’s restaurant just outside of San Sebastian, Arzak (along with others) developed the style of cooking known as New Basque Cuisine that would inspire and liberate a new generation of Spanish chefs – most notably Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame, as well as Jose Andres, perhaps the most prominent practitioner of vanguardista Spanish cooking in the United States.
Arzak’s family has owned the restaurant since 1897, and Arzak himself grew up helping his family run it, learning the fundamentals of traditional Basque cooking from his mother and grandmother. Over the decades, San Sebastian’s proximity to France inspired much culinary cross-fertilization, most notably in the 1970s, when nouvelle cuisine as practiced by French chef Paul Bocuse had a profound influence on the young Arzak.
Nouvelle cuisine, and what would become known as nueva cocina vasca (New Basque Cuisine), took traditional techniques and ingredients and applied new techniques (often inspired by scientific processes) that retained the essence of the cooking but re-interpreted it in unique and novel ways. In addition to Arzak, New Basque Cuisine was also founded by chefs Luis Irizar and Pedro Subijana, whose restaurant Akelarre boasts three Michelin stars and is still considered one of the most influential restaurants in San Sebastian.
In addition to his influence on globally-recognized chefs like Adria and Andres, Arzak’s impact on a new generation of Basque-born chefs is undeniable. Chefs like Andoni Aduriz at Mugaritz, Martin Berasategui at his eponymous restaurant, and Arzak’s own daughter Elena have all taken his liberating influence to new levels of gastronomic influence throughout the world. Young and media-savvy, this new generation of Basque chefs is solidifying San Sebastian as the gastronomic capital of the world. They are the new rock stars of the ever-evolving phenomenon known as Basque cuisine.
Published 11 October 2016 – © J.C. Reid, Texas