Eneko Atxa was the youngest Spanish chef to earn three Michelin stars for his restaurant Azurmendi. During this year’s Madrid Fusion we spoke about how he created a model of a fully sustainable machine that works in harmony with the surrounding Basque nature.
How would you define your cuisine and cooking philosophy?
For the Basques gastronomy is one of the most important elements of their cultural identity. My cuisine has an unbreakable bond with my region, the surrounding landscapes, my family, culture, travels and philosophy. This is my own story about what I feel.
So cuisine is your heritage?
Definitely. It’s what I’ve lived through, experienced, that is the culture that surrounds me, the environment, fears, preferences. Everything mixed like in a shaker creates my signature cuisine.
I heard that one of Azurmendi’s guidelines is that the guests experience your cuisine using their five senses. What does it mean in practice?
We don’t want our clients to just come to the restaurant, sit down, eat and go out. We have an ambition to develop a sort of a deep, abstract bond with our customers, so that it’s accompanied also by spiritual experience. Most of all, we want our clients to experience the essence of our home, the restaurant, its surroundings and products, so that they can understand our work better. Of course the dishes are really important, but the context counts too. I think that the customers that visit us come prepared for something exceptional. We don’t have random guests.
What are the typical products used in Basque cuisine?
We feel very privileged, because we live in a geographical region situated close to the sea, the mountains and fields. Therefore we’re lucky that our region offers us a wide variety of products: red onion, tear-shaped snap-peas, many types of fish, seafood and meat.
Your restaurant is based on a interesting concept of sustainability, you almost run your own production.
We wanted to create a space that not only doesn’t interfere with the natural environment, but also works in harmony with it, becoming a part of it. That’s why we use techniques based on the use of photovoltaic or geothermal energy. We also use rain water and you can reach the restaurant in an electric car. The philosophy of our restaurant is based on a friendly approach to the surrounding nature.
Is it true that you produce your own wine?
Yes, it’s unique, because it’s produced from the local kind of white vine stock: txakoli. It’s of course the matter of personal preference, so I can’t say if they’re better or worse than others, but it’s certainly unique, because it’s made by us, a few steps from the restaurant.
How much time a day do you spend on creation?
For me the creative process goes on all the time, 24 hours a day. It doesn’t mean, however, that we change the concept every couple minutes. Our experience taught us, that even the slightest change becomes a revolution in a year’s perspective. We also create during service. Yesterday, when we worked with the team on dish arrangement, I was constantly thinking what to improve, if we should change the scheme, a product, add another vegetable or change the whole concept of the dish? It actually goes on constantly.
Full throttle creativity is huge pressure, some people start to copy themselves, repeat their own ideas. Aren’t you afraid of that?
I sometimes feel it’s hard for me to create new things, my head feels very heavy. At times like these I have to relax, think about something else and after a while, if you work non-stop, the inspiration comes itself. I don’t need to look for it.
You were 15 when you started your culinary career. What would your advice be to young cooks who want to achieve as much as you did?
Work hard and don’t get discouraged. Those who lose their motivation fast should find something else that would satisfy them. The most important thing is to find happiness in your everyday life.
But sometimes it can happen that someone works really hard, but lacks talent, the spark…
Hard work is 99%, inspiration and talent make for 1% – that’s the recipe for success. I think that everyone is talented, but they have to properly take care of them, develop them and someone should help them with it.
Did you have your masters?
If I haven’t met Gorka Batiz on my way, I’d never discover other countries, wouldn’t have the possibility to develop and succeed. He played a very important part in my development process.
Have you ever been to Poland?
Not yet, I hope we’ll meet there soon…
Feel invited. I’m sure you’ll find a lot of inspiration there.
Eneko Atxa – Head Chef at Azurmendi. The chef from Bilbao started his path into the world of gastronomy at the age of 15 at the Culinary School of Leioa in Biscay, which he accompanied with different periods in restaurants where he studied and absorbed the traditional Basque cuisine. Because of what he learned, he set out for the most prestigious restaurants and little by little he consolidated his own personality and style. In 2005, after being head chef in several famous kitchens, he decided to open his own restaurant: Azurmendi. It’s a gastronomical space, set in a marvelous, rural landscape only 10 minutes away from Bilbao. He makes an identity of the kitchen: linked with the land and based on its roots, while at the same time being universal and evolutive.
Eneko Atxa has received throughout his career a number of professional recognitions, such as being named “Signature cuisine champion of Spain for young chefs” in 2003 and “Best cook of the year” in 2004 by the prestigious gourmet French club Fourchettes. In 2008 he received the “Basque Country Award for best cook of the year” granted by the Basque Academy of Gastronomy, and in 2010 he was appointed as “Chef of L´Avenir” by the International Academy of Gastronomy.
In 2007, Restaurant Azurmendi was rewarded with a star in the Guía Michelín. In 2010, Azurmendi, upon receiving its second star, became the first restaurant in Biscay to receive such distinction. In 2012, the guide also grants to the third star, marking an historical landmark since it turns to the Azurmendi the first and only establishment of Bizkaia obtaining this distinction, and, turns to Eneko Atxa, to its 35 years, in the youngest cook of Spain in obtaining three stars.
About the restaurant:
Designed by the architect Naia Eguino and decorated with original artwork from the top contemporary artists of the Basque Country, Azurmendi is a restaurant with feelings where every corner, detail, and service reflect the personality and the philosophy of its creator.
Eneko Atxa has made real his conception of what a restaurant should be, “a place where you feel comfortable, where you feel a land, but above all, a place to be happy”. Definitively, it is a place where simplicity and distinction can be felt. Located in Larrabetzu and integrated in the slope of a hill planted with native vineyards, Azurmendi is probably one of the most unique, sustainable buildings of our current architecture. Designed by the architect Naia Eguino, it corresponds with canons of the Basque identity. Stone, a traditional symbol of strength and roots in Basque culture. Wood, originating from the Biscayan forests of rational culture. Iron, mainly recycled, powerful, strong, and robust. Having two floors, plus a spectacular covering with a cultivated garden with more than 36 native vegetables, it makes itself the mirror of the Biscay Lands. Water storage, solar capture on the glass coverings, geothermal heating, photovoltaic installations, and vegetal drainage are some of the pioneer techniques of energy use that makes Azurmendi a bioclimatic and sustainable place. (via: http://www.azurmendi.biz/en)
The interview was published in the Food Service Magazine: www.foodservice24.pl