Elena Arzak on the Basque Culinary World Prize

The  Staff Canteen

Elena Arzak is one of the chefs on the technical committee for the new international achievement award, The Basque Culinary World Prize. The prize is looking to recognise one exceptional chef that shows gastronomy can be a powerful force for change.

Elena, daughter of famous chef Juan Mari Arzak, works as joint head chef in the family owned restaurant Arzak, named after their surname, in San Sebastian, Spain. She and her father Juan Mari work in a tandem kitchen together with 30 employees. The restaurant has held three Michelin stars since 1989 and creates traditional Basque cuisine with modern influences. 

The Staff Canteen caught up with Elena and Joxe Mari Aizega, Head of the Basque Culinary Center to find out more about the award and what the judges will be looking for.  Joxe Mari Aizega and Elena Arzak at London launch of Basque Culinnary World Prize

"It was an honor to be asked to be a part of the prize," explained Elena. "It's very interesting for me but also it's a lot of responsibility as we need to select 20 projects that go into the final. It will be a lot of work as it is not just one country it's worldwide and they will all be different projects from social to development to research.

"This prize is very related to what we do in our restaurants, we are always looking for ways to evolve and grow. It's important that this prize stays within the essence of our profession - they are chefs but they can go further."

>>> If you know a chef who you think deserves recognition nominate them here


The winner will be given 100,000 euros to devote to their project which demonstrates the wider role of gastronomy in society. The prize will celebrate those men or women whose impact can be felt beyond the kitchen.

Joxe added: "Cooking can be and is a powerful tool to improve society. It has the potential to tackle different social challenges. There are many people in the world some known others anonymous, promoting initiatives relevant to the award and they are having results, a real impact.

"To promote this we thought as the Basque Culinary Centre and with our international board which includes chefs who have the same vision, it was necessary to create a tool."Heston-Blumenthal- credit to Alisa Connan

Chefs from anywhere in the world can be nominated for the prize by anyone who is active in the world of gastronomy and the finalists will be judged by some of the finest chefs in the world including Joan Roca, Ferren Adria, Michel Bras, Dan Barber and Heston Blumnethal. The jury is made up of very different chefs with very different backgrounds and cuisines but Elena and Joxe are confident they can come to a joint decision.

"It will take a lot of discussion!" Explained Elena. "We are not here to fight but we want to find the best. There will be a lot of different views but in the end we need to find the most rounded entry."

Joxe said: "We've decided to have an open process and any professional within the gastronomical sector can nominate. We want people to show us what is happening so we can identify cooks who are doing relevant things.

"Our dream is to have finalists from all over the world, all with different initiatives." The chefs on the prize jury will also be joined by other experts including food scientists and experts in food studies; all hoping to unearth the untold stories of chefs from across the world who have made a major contribution to society.

Joxe said: "We have a very good group of big personalities on the jury and I think the deliberations will be amazing for selecting the final 20!"

Elena added: "It will be very difficult to decide but initially I will be making sure the project is a real project which already exists, I'll be looking for where food is involved and that the project is seriously done with results. It can't just be a theory." Joxe Mari Aizega with Elena Arzak at London launch of Basque Culinary World Prize

The Basque Culinary World Prize is hoping to find unknown chefs and bring attentiom to what they are doing in order to inspire the next generation of chefs.

"I'm sure we are going to discover a lot of things we didn't know existed," said Elena. "And it's incredible what people are doing, I think people will be surprised how many committed chefs there are."

She added: "As a chef there only used to be one way to learn and you aimed to be a head chef. Now there are a lot of alternative directions you can take it's no longer just about being in a kitchen in a restaurant. We have an opportunity to show young people there are many dimensions in being a chef."

The prize itself is huge which is why the Basque Culinary Centre are so keen to identify unique projects and committed chefs. Nominations can be made via the prize website until April 30 - www.basqueculinaryworldprize.com



In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th March 2016

Elena Arzak on the Basque Culinary World Prize