The kitchen is led by Juan Mari Arzak in collaboration with Elena and the team. Juan Mari and Elena are a tandem, because this kitchen would be impossible without Elena.
It’s peculiar how the Donosti’s landscape takes us irremediably to a kitchen.
The intense blue sea, with the waves breaking and spreading foam over the rocks, is like the poetry of a pot with boiling water, waiting for the star product inside it.
The green of the hills is the pantry of vegetables on the wooden table.
Its streets shining, either because of the light and the sun or because of the freshly fallen chirimiri, are like fresh anchovies or albacore straight out of the sea.
Its sculptures in the wind like perfectly balanced dishes, with an architectonic plating.
And its people, friendly and honest, familiar and charming.
In this land is where Jose Maria Arzak, in tandem with his daughter Elena and the rest of the staff, develop a signature cuisine, Basque, experimental, evolving and avant-garde, worthy of three Michelin stars.
The bastion of Jose Maria Arzak’s character is his family.
“The history of the restaurant, as far back as I can remember, is also the history of my family. The house was built in 1897 by my grandparents, Jose Maria Arzak Etxabe and Escolástica Lete, to become a wine cellar and tavern in the village of Alza, now belonging to San Sebastian. Many of my earliest memories took place here.
It remained a tavern until my parents, Juan Ramón Arzak and Francisca Arratibel, began to run it. Together they gave the place a great boost as a food house. Their efforts and good work in front of the stoves did not go unnoticed. Little by little, the rumor was spreading that in the Alto de Miracruz, also called “Alto of vinegars“, was a wonderful place to eat delicious stews. The restaurant gained a great reputation and specialised in banquets for family events.
My father passed away in May 1951, when I was nine years old. My mother did not come undone: she kept fighting and working alone. She continued improving the quality of banquets and acquired a good status. It became so famous that brides and grooms used to arrange their wedding date depending on the availability my mother had in the restaurant, and the same happened with christenings and first communions.
In 1966, after having finished my studies in the School of Hospitality, military service and my traineeships abroad, I began to work in the restaurant. At first I specialised in the batch of charcoal-roasted meats. My mother was a patient and constant teacher. She was the one who, step by step, revealed the secrets of gastronomy to me. The curiosity and the will to keep learning made me start working on self-made dishes.
Soon after, in 1967, Maite Espina joined the restaurant. Together we continued to make progress and improve the establishment. She contributed, and keeps contributing, with her talent in very diverse issues such as room service, styling, decoration and administration. I was evolving within the Basque cuisine, incorporating new elements, until I could create my own cuisine based on it. In the adventure of renewing and updating the Basque cuisine, without losing the tradition, other great chefs also participated.
As the restaurant grew, the family increased as well. We had our two daughters, Marta and Elena.
From the mid-seventies, we began to receive awards and distinctions that endorsed our efforts to turn the Arzak Restaurant into a landmark for national and international gastronomy. Thus, in 1989, we received the long-awaited third star of the prestigious Michelin Guide.
Elena is now fully involved in the day-to-day running of the restaurant. Even so, she continues extending her training. She is ready to run the restaurant and to continue with this hard task. Her touch can be noticed in the changes incorporated in the menu. She is the fourth generation of this family dedicated to hospitality and passionate for good cooking”.
And this fourth generation, as always, opts for seasonal product, with which the menu is elaborated every day: “We have a menu, but we change it every day. We depend on what we have. For example, peas picked at eight o’clock arrive at the restaurant at ten in the morning and are in the pot at one in the afternoon.
Mathematical formulas work in the house of Jose Maria Arzak because the sum of the anarchy, the fantasy and the joy of Jose Maria along with the order, the meticulousness, the genius of tastes and the security and tenacity of her daughter Elena make tradition and evolution reach their maximum exponential.
“Time to think is essential”
The laboratory is the Cocina de Investigación, “kitchen of investigation”. It is the place where 1600 dry products are located, and serves as the basis for developing theory and practice. “To write, evaluate, and archive but, especially, to create an ideas bank”.
It is an overwhelming brilliance, a pleasure to be in his home, to enjoy an intimate atmosphere in which the smallest detail is an important part of the scenario.
There’s no doubt: José María Arzak, one of the most acclaimed cooks in the world, and Elena Arzak, winner of the best cook of the year award, according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants organisation and the Veuve Clicquot company, make up the perfect tandem for a present and a future in with the conjunction between tradition and vanguard will never stop amazing the culinary world.