Elena Arzak Interview

Posted by | November 24, 2013 | Interviews, Reads | No Comments

Interview with Elena Arzak, 24 November 2013. 1,200

There are a number of people and events who influence wider society yet command few column inches or wider television attention. Their commitment to excellence refuses to conform to populist reality-style competitions or headline grabbing bling. The Euro-toque Young Chef of the Year Awards is one such event and Elena Arzak is such a person. The two came together recently when the final of the Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year was announced at the Garage Café of Google’s EMEA Headquarters in Dublin. The awards are now over two decades old and previous winners include such household names as Neven Maguire.

This year the panel of judges included Elena Arzak, the 2012 San Pellegrino Best Female Chef who hails from Arzak restaurant in San Sebastian, the three Michelin starred restaurant that sits in the Top Ten Restaurants of the World. Euro-toques was established in 1986 by Paul Bocuse and Myrtle Allen as a community of chefs from across Europe who pledge to support local ingredients, culinary traditions and mentor young chefs and thereby preserving our skills heritage.

I met Elena Arzak at the Google building and found a woman every inch the professional, a diva of the food word, in the strictest definition of that word: a woman of outstanding talent but with no hint of imperiousness. It was her first visit to Ireland and she was quick to tell me she has many Irish visitors to Arzak in San Sebastian, where she shares the culinary stage with her father, Juan Mari Arzak.

Recent debate about the profile of women chefs makes this a timely interview: as the Best Female Chef in the World 2012, did she feel the award undermined the status of women? Why do we not have a best male and best female chef? For Arzak the answer is simple: “The Basque people have always been a matriarchal society. Women have always been very strong. When I grew up, there were lots of women working in the restaurant, my grandmother was chef, and even today eighty per cent of the restaurant staff in Arzak are women.”

The Best Female Chef award is sponsored by Veuve Clicquot, an important link to that great woman entrepreneur of the Champagne world Madame Clicquot, so Arzak sees it as an homage to her and women like her. The prize was of course an important recognition of her career but she points out that it can act as a message to other women in the food industry too, especially women who have not been as lucky as she says she has been, to grow up in a society which values women as much as Basque culture does.

Indeed the creative relationship she has with her father is evidence of this culture. Looking in from the outside it might seem a little daunting to have a Michelin stared dad but she explains that since the beginning, her family have worked in tandem: “This started many years ago. He believed in me from the beginning and the first plate we made together was when I was 19 years old and now I am 44 and my father is still very supportive of me and others too.” The flow of knowledge and critique works both ways and he accepts her views too, right down to the crockery: “Another thing I said to him was that I wanted to change the crockery: please don’t buy any more crockery, I said, and he had no problem!”

I asked if her father and her cooked the same dish would her family be able to tell the difference between the two and Arzak’s answer reveals the depth of their collaboration. “It would be very difficult as we always make the dishes together. There’s always an element of him and me. They wouldn’t be able to recognise it, there are plates where maybe eighty per cent are mine and twenty per cent is him, but people think it is the opposite.”

Elena Arzak had worked under the tutelage of Albert Roux Senior in London, he is a big fan of the Irish larder, and she explained that she’d always wanted to come to Ireland. She interrupted our interview and lifted from her bag a battered magazine from 1996, possibly produced with our government’s support, featuring many artisan producers of which she was well versed. The great Euro-toque family of some 4,500 restaurants across Europe meant she has had contact with Irish chefs for many years from John Howard to Myrtle Allen.

She was full of praise for the restaurants she’d visited here on her short trip: from Chapter One and Restaurant Forty One to Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. Though this was her first taste of them she knew of them “ … and I always followed what they did. What I like is that their roots are here, but they use things in a contemporary way, I’m happy they support and defend their roots. You cannot imagine how many things I have seen in just two days, I knew it was good but I am really impressed. Dublin is a gastronomic destination. People who like food should come to Ireland!”

We turn to talking about the Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year and her enthusiasm grows. “What I liked was the way the young chefs worked together, friends together. They were very well prepared, they knew about food, all the broths and sauces were well done. The skill was very high amongst of all of the young chefs. I saw an emulsion of honey which I never saw before, I saw artichokes and celery being used in different ways, I saw hay being used, which I never saw before. I was happy to see young people like this who took their work very seriously.”

“I have seen some great ideas, which I’ll be bringing back, no copying though!” she laughs, “I don’t like to copy! But it is inspiration and you know for me this has been a really interesting destination.”

The idea that our young chefs are inspiring Elena Arzak is an exciting one. One of the Codes of Honour of Euro-Toques is to share their best practice; we perhaps did not think the work and techniques of the five Eurotoque Young Chef finalists would inspire the world’s greatest female chef. It is also a measure of the woman that she happily admits this.

Women chefs deserve more recognition as does the work of Eurotoque but in a fast paced world where the arts conform to media functionality nuanced messages are lost and instant gratification is celebrated. Commitment, craft and dedication are sidelined yet when these things are nurtured we can achieve the most extraordinary things.

Mark Moriarty (21) was awarded the Euro-toque Young Chef of the Year 2013, he hails from Blackrock, Co Dublin and works as a Chef de Partie in The Greenhouse Restaurant.
The four other finalists were:
Kevin Burke (24), Chef de Partie, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud.
Paula Leavy (26), Chef de Partie, Locks Brasserie
Brian O’Flaherty (24), Commis Chef, Restaurant Forty One
Grainne O’Keefe (22), Junior Sous Chef, Pichet

HEADLINE Arzak San Sebastian and London

‘Ametsa with Arzak Instruction’ is a collaboration between Elena Arzak and her father Juan Mari Arzak with Mikel Sorazu, Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutierrez at the one Michelin Star Spanish restaurant in The Halkin by COMO, Belgravia, London. www.comohotels.com

Arzak in San Sebastian, the original of the species but with longer queues. www.arzak.info

The Halkin by COMO (view map)
Halkin Street,

Christmas dinner
21 year old Mark Moriarty from The Greenhouse Restaurant is Awarded Prestigious Culinary Award
ALMA, the International School of Italian cuisine in Colorno Italy, headed by world renowned chef Gualtiero Marchesi, amongst other exciting opportunities. Mark was one of five finalists who battled it out over the past three months to win this esteemed title.
Mark Moriarty (21) is from Blackrock Co Dublin and works as a Chef de Partie in The Greenhouse Restaurant. Mark was a runner up in the final of Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year in 2012.
The other four finalists were:
 Kevin Burke (aged 24 from Castleknock, Dublin 15) Chef de Partie, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Merrion Hotel
 Paula Leavy (aged 26 from Dromcondra Dublin 9) Chef de Partie from Locks Brasserie
 Brian O’Flaherty (aged 24 Barntown in Co Wexford) Commis Chef in Restaurant Forty One
 Grainne O’Keefe (aged 22 from Blanchardstown, Dublin 15) Junior Sous Chef in Pichet
Speaking at the final Mark Moriarty said, “To make this final stage with the other four finalists was an honour in itself and right now it’s still sinking in that I have just been awarded the title of Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year 2013. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the competition and would definitely say that is has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career to date not to mention the most challenging! To get the chance to work and learn from Ireland’s top chefs has been invaluable and 2014 is now set to be a memorable year with my stage in ALMA under the guidance of the great Gualtiero Marchesi.”
Now in its 23rd year, the theme of this year’s competition was Food Memories. The competition, in association with Failte Ireland, looks to find a young food ambassador for Ireland who can contribute to developing an identity for Irish cooking and promote Ireland’s culinary reputation at home and abroad.
The judging panel included Elena Arzak, voted best female chef in the world 2012 and joint head chef at three Michelin star restaurant Arzak, Michelin-starred Ross Lewis of Chapter One, Euro-Toques President Wade Murphy, Marc Amand, MD of La Rousse Foods and Lorcan Cribbin of Unicorn. The panel was chaired by Neil McFadden.
A special event celebrating Irish cooking took place on Sunday evening at Google Dublin
to mark the 2013 Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year and announce the winner. Guests were treated to a champagne reception and a 5-course meal prepared by the finalists and their restaurants based on the theme Food Memories.
Commenting at the final, Wade Murphy, President of Euro-toques Ireland said, “This year’s Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year competition focused on Food Memories and we really wanted to see the finalists talents when it came to the interpretation of their own food memories from their childhood. Ireland in its own right is becoming a well-known culinary destination and we wanted to select finalists that can develop and add to this culinary revolution. The passion, talent and determination we have seen over the past few months has been astounding and these five finalists are set for great things in the coming years. All five finalists brought something different to the table but in the end Mark’s hard work and unique talent shone through and we were delighted to announce Mark as the overall winner of Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year 2013.”
For more information on the Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year please visit www.youngchef.ie
For further information please contact:
Grace O’Reilly / Frankie B. Francis
Insight Consultants
086 1968831 (GOR) / 087 7725661 (FBF)
grace@insightconsultants.ie / Frankie@insightconsultants.ie
Notes to Editor:
To keep up to date with Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year:
FB: Euro-toques Ireland
Twitter: @eurotoquesirl @youngchef2013
Watch the promo video:
Watch Young Chef 2012 winner Ciaran Elliott’s journey here:
About Euro-toques:
Euro-toques, the European Community of Chefs, was established in Brussels in 1986 by a group of top chefs in Europe. Their purpose was to form a network of chefs committed to quality local food sourcing and to be a voice for the industry to protect Europe’s traditional foods and culinary heritage.
Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House was one of the founding members and went on to found Euro-toques Ireland the same year. Euro-toques Ireland lobbies on a variety of food policy issues and is heavily involved in education, focusing on food education for children and skills training for chefs, in addition to organizing food-related events and activities for both industry and the public.
Well-known Euro-toques Ireland members include Paul Flynn, Martin Shanahan, Darina Allen, Rachel Allen, Kevin Thornton, Ross Lewis and Derry Clarke.
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For example O once told him that I liked a lot of plates, I was lucky that there was not so may year abroad I went to a hotel and cooking school in Germany I speak Germany, I spent 6 years abroad in total. CHECK CV

But during the holidays I used to come back to San Sebastien and my father was woud sa Elena: make me something! What are yu learning? AN I made him he would maybe correct his sauce and then there was a time ewhen I sid to him that I liked his way of cooking, it is fantastic but , he has a fantastic palate but I prefer less ingredients, can you stop ?? Veygood , I like this!

He wanted to make


Albert Roux , she worked with him and asked if he had ever talked of Ireleand ..
Elena Arzak was never forced to be a chef , but always wanted to be one.

My sister studed the History of Art but and is the director of education in the Guggenheim in Bilboa, and she has an extremely good palate but snce we were children, my sister went to the restaurant a couple of hours a week. And even at sixteen I knew I wanted to be a chef and I told my parents and they said I should wait and maybe you have idealised the idea. I thought perhaps they are right so I went to to university as they suggested and to see if I still wanted to be a chef. I studied ..
I chose this profession as it I multi-functional, you make, you cook, you buy, you talk. And improvising too.

Where are the ordinary pplaces you like to go to, if

If everybody cooked the same it would be very boring, I like for example going to popular restaurants, where there are also awful things, but when it is doe well whatever is good and it also depends on the moment. I like for example pinxos and tapas. Bas.. but Ilike I squid as our food is very much of the dea, I like line caushght fish and hake would be a favourite.

Now that you are number one , there are no longer any French restaurants in the top ten restaurants in the world yet there are three Spanish restaurnats, do you think there is some uniqique movement in Spanish food to create this? Biggets layer.

Each country takes its particlyu … you cannot compare one country to another, each has it own style. (ever the diplomat) .. so you cannot compare the Nordic countries with Spain, or la Frnace is stil fantactis and they have chefs and we astill look at what they do.

In Spain there was a very important phenomenon in the 70s, my father and the present member of ??? it was called New Basque Cuisine, it was influenced by nouvelle cuisine, gong to Madrid with Pedro, went to round table, and likes what hey saw and came back to the Basque country they took this revolution, but the other thing that was very important was El Bulli, and Ferna Adria and he made a revolution and because of him more and more people came to Spain, he changed he landscape of the food in Spain. And of course individually all the chefs but he was very important.

There was an atmosphere of – a time when everything was getting new things, new archtitecture.

The chefs here today. Dis you see anything that really surprised you? Compared to what you might be expecting. I wha I like forst was that they were very well prepared, they knew about food, all the brothes and sauces were well done. The skill was very hig of all of the young chefs. I saw an umulsion of honey which I never saw before, I saw artichokes and celery being used in different ways, I saw hay being used to so things for me wheich were new but ina very fresh way.

But that is so exciting for somebody in your position to see new things, and you see as well oils of nuts and how they are used , I am happyto see young people are like that but that they took it very seriously.

What would your advise be to young chefs starting out.
Well from I was with a fabilus jury , who advised me a lot about, the Irish ingredients, I had information, but they expalned more to me.

I recomned a youngchef to learn the theory in school first and then to practice a lot. Then from the experience of the older chefs talke theis experience ando be very respectful of older experience. And of course you need ot live your profession.

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