When speaking of Basque cuisine, the Arzak name comes up immediately. It is no surprise, as the homonym restaurant has over 124 years of history and experience. It all begins in Gipuzkoa, in Euskera, one of the Spanish provinces that make up the Basque Country. When José Mari Arzak Etxabe and Escolástica Lete decided to build the space, they conceived it as a wine cellar and tavern. However, Juan Ramón and Francisca Arratibel, Jose Mari’s parents, soon converted it into a restaurant where the Basque seasoning from an authentic mother captivated diners with a varied menu featuring basic dishes from the region.

On July 31st, 1942, in San Sebastián, Juan Mari Arzak was born into the third generation in the family. Juan Mari would grow up between the stoves and cooks, and when his father passed away when he was eight years old, his mother would take command of the restaurant, cooking for weddings, baptisms, and communions. Juan Mari finished his studies and, disliking the agitation of the family business, he found his place in hostelry.

Juan Mari’s mother was a master cook, expert in all Basque recipes. In 1966, Juan Mari decided to take command of the restaurant along with his mother, bringing with him a renewed vision and passion, and innovation that brought him to explore new recipes based on Basque dishes, making them exceptional and personal. Thanks to these new recipes and flavours, people were quick to welcome the new Arzak identity, and in 1872 the restaurant obtained the National Gastronomy Prize and its first Michelin Star.

Basque cuisine underwent an evolution period, an in 1976 Juan Mari and Pedro Subijana  commandeered the New Basque Cuisine Movement along other cooks such as Karlos Arguiñano, José Juan Castillo, Tatus Fombellida, Ramón Roteta, Luis Irízar, Xabier Zapirain, Patxi Kintana, Ricardo Idiakez and Pedro Gómez, who recovered ingredients and lost recipes and implemented them in an innovative way. In 1978 the Arzak received its second Michelin Star, and a third one in 1989, awarding Juan Mari the recognition of being Spain’s second chef to receive this triple prize.

Elena Arzak, Juan Mari’s daughter, had no doubt about working in the kitchen, and she helped around the restaurant since she was very young during the summers. Coming from a long line of master cooks in the Basque culinary arts, she undertook hostelry classes in Switzerland and professional practices in different European kitchens such as Maison Troisgros , Pierre Gagnaire, Carré des Feuillants and Le Vivarois in France, Louis XV in Montecarlo, Le Gavroche in London, Antica Osteria del Ponte in Italy and the iconic Bulli in Spain.

Elena re-joined the Arzak in 1990 and brought a new fresh vision to the restaurant, with renewed simplicity and purity in every bite, combined with a mix of techniques that would woo the diners at every turn. Talent and passion for gastronomy granted the Chef de l’Avenir award by the international Gastronomy Academy to Arzak in 2001. In 2010, the Spanish Gastronomy Academy awarded the restaurant with the National Gastronomy Prize and in 2012 Elena achieved the World’s Best Female Chef by the Veuve Clicquot.

Nowadays, Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena work together in the kitchen, sharing knowledge, creativity and a longing to tell stories that can build upon the century-long history of the Arzak. The restaurant’s cuisine has a heavy innovative background, with experimentation and investigation at the forefront, seduction resides in their laboratory, where creativity, ingenuity, and inspiration ooze with freedom.

At Arzak’s laboratory new tastes and textures are created, tested and perfected, and recipes are redrawn and discarded, giving way to new possibilities and concepts. With a flavour bank over 1000 units strong, the lab has a unique freedom to test what has never been tried before and helping each dish move forward and evolve into an ultimate version of itself. Taking high cuisine and the Basque heritage, the Arzak offers a unique experience where the ingredients mean everything: only the very best local produce is used in their concoctions.

The Arzak rises as a referent for the Basque cuisine and Juan Mari’s and Elena’s vision forecasts a bright future for tradition. Reinvention and relevance are the mainstay at the restaurant, while always sticking to tradition and cultural roots. 

Photos: courtesy.

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