Elena Arzak, Arzak, Spain

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th November 2014

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Elena Arzak, 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. 

Elena Arzak Arzak, born in 1969, started cooking when she was only a child. She always helped out in the kitchen of her parents’ restaurant but was only allowed to work two hours in the holidays, which she didn’t like, she says. Elena wanted to work longer hours and be with her family, who all worked in the restaurant. She has always been convinced that she would be a chef someday. After Elena finished school, she went to Lucerne in Switzerland to study Hotel and Restaurant Management. Following this, she worked in several renowned restaurants all over Europe, such as Le Gavroche in London, Troigros in Roanne, Carré des Feuillants, Vivarois and Gagnaire in Paris, elBulli in Northern Spain, Restaurant Louis XV in Montecarlo and Antica Osteria del Ponte in Cassineta di Lugano. Regarding her time at elBulli, she says that it has changed the way she cooks. She was amazed by the immense creativity and the commitment of the restaurant to creating something important. Arzak dish After returning to San Sebastian, she worked in all departments of her father’s restaurant to get to know Arzak again and to receive the same treatment as the other cooks working in the restaurant. After two years she started cooking alongside her father as joint head chef, and together they developed the Arzak cuisine further. She says that the most important thing for their partnership to work is respect for each other. They have a laboratory in their restaurant where they experiment and create new, innovative dishes. Arzak seeks to unite traditional Basque cuisine with modern influences and non-traditional ingredients of the Northern Spanish kitchen, to create a new style. Arzak’s father always supported his daughter’s experimental ideas and was willing to take chances, not knowing if the ideas they came up would be successful or not. The dishes she creates resemble pieces of art and she describes Arzak’s cuisine as “singular, Basque, evolving, research-based and avant-garde”. Arzak food Next to being a creative, extraordinary chef, Arzak is mother to her two children, Mateo and Nora. Although it is stressful to work at night and manage the everyday struggles of being a mother, she says it is the same for her as for any other working mother and with the children at school, things have been easier. The children like the special dishes she creates, but at home she cooks simpler food, she reveals. Elena Arzak was honoured with the Veuve Clicquot’s Best Female Chef award in 2012. Arzak says that the award is not only for her, but also for her mother Maite, aunt Serafina and grandmother Paquita, who made Arzak famous and taught her to cook. By Vera Kleinken

See our features on Arzak including a look at it's history, an interview with Juan Mari and a snapshot of Elena's career here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th November 2014

Elena Arzak, Arzak, Spain

IN ASSOCIATION WITH