Explorer In the Kitchen

Elena Arzak oversees the day-to- day operations of her family’s restaurant, Arzak, as it continues to push the boundaries of nueva cocina vasca (new Basque cooking).

Arzak, the first Basque establishment to be awarded three Michelin stars, returned to the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants at No. 30 this year.

“Obviously nobody wants to be lower on any list but just having a place on the list is fantastic. We are more than pleased. Everybody on that list is very good,” Elena said after the list announcement recently.

She saw the list as a reflection of the current flow of the culinary world.

“It is a world that is constantly moving, tasting and looking for new gastronomic experiences. It has a lot of power,” she said.

The force of food is something Elena knows very well. Born into a family that has cooking in its blood, she is destined to succeed her father, the world-renowned Juan Mari, in the family’s business.

Despite her parents’ efforts to dissuade her, Elena was determined to pursue her gastronomic calling since an early age. As a teen, she would to go straight into the restaurant kitchen on her return from school to do preparation work like peeling oranges or cleaning squid.

As a young adult, she traveled across Europe, educating herself through academic and vocational training in catering schools and prestigious restaurants.

Among the European restaurants she worked at were Le Gavroche in London, Troisgros in Roanne, and Carré des Feuillants and Vivarois in Paris, as well as some short stays at the Restaurant Louis XV in Montecarlo, Antica Osteria di Ponte Cassineta di Lugano, elBulli and Pierre Gagnaire in París.

In the mid 1990s, she returned home and joined the staff at Arzak. In 1998, she started to manage the Arzak kitchen on an equal footing with her father. They are now inseparable, working, exploring and creating together.

With only a few other women in Michelin history, Elena Arzak has maintained the restaurant’s three Michelin stars for years. In 2012, she earned the Veuve Clicquot “Female Chef of the Year” award.

“Statistically there are still fewer women [than men in the culinary world]. But this will change. It just needs time. In Asia, for example, women are very important in all parts of the kitchen,” she said.

The Arzaks like to describe the cuisine offered at their restaurant as “singular, Basque, evolving, research-based and avant-garde”. Not surprising, since Elena really brings out all her creative potential in the testing kitchen, where she collaborates with her dad in devising new recipes, experiments with surprising combinations and works on textures which she then transfers to the table.

Arzak’s extensive offering includes multiple tasting menus and à la carte, with specialties such as the Red Space Egg with a skin of red peppers, pig trotters and mushrooms, and seabass served on top of a tablet computer with moving images of the sea. A special feature of many of the dishes is the crunchy element – dishes such as Big Chocolate Truffle with candyfloss, carob, cacao and chocolate have a range of textures, including the signature crunch.

Elena is as excited as ever to bring the family restaurant forward.

“This year we are celebrating 120 years of Arzak! This is a powerhouse of ideas. We are still traveling and going to food congresses, consulting and many other social projects. However, we never forget the main player which is our cuisine,” she said.

Always searching for new ways of cooking in their kitchen, the Arzaks invent 60 new elements each year, from appetizers to dishes, garnishes and chocolates; the list goes on and on. “We want our clients to be delighted and surprised every time they visit,” Elena summarized.


Av Alcalde Elósegui, 273
20015 San Sebastián
Guipúzcoa, Spain
T: +34 943 27 84 65
Twitter: @ArzakRestaurant
Instagram: @arzakrestaurant
Photographs by: Arzak

Written by Yosua Yanuard April 30, 2017.