A spotlight on five of Spain’s influential chefs

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th November 2014

As the Michelin Guide Spain and Portugal comes out this week we're looking at this country's rich culinary traditions and it's wealth of talent.

The following influential chefs are known for mingling traditional Spanish food, including Catalan and Basque food, with influences from French cooking, molecular cuisine and more. Their impact has rippled throughout Spain and throughout the global culinary industry.

Juan Mari Arzak
Juan Mari Arzak

Juan Mari Arzak is one such defining influence

He grew up with the Basque food served by his parents in their San Sebastián eating-house, originally opened by Arzak’s grandparents in 1897. After studying at Casa de Campo Hospitality School he found inspiration in French kitchens, before returning to Spain to take over the family restaurant, Arzak, in 1966. In the mid-1970s Arzak began to develop his own style, influenced by Nouvelle Cuisine.

He experimented with refining traditional Basque, developing unique, sophisticated recipes utilising seasonal local ingredients. This started the New Basque movement, of which Arzak became the leading light. One of the first chefs to open a laboratory, he researched cutting-edge methods and combinations. A pioneer of scientific techniques such as dehydration and freeze-drying, he aims to enhance dishes and surprise diners.  

Ferran Adriá

Arzak’s influence is widespread, inspiring Spanish chefs such as Ferran Adriá to develop wildly
creative, haute cuisine twists on classic dishes. elBulli, of which Adriá was head chef, reatined three Michelin stars and was dubbed the world’s best restaurant in 2006 by Restaurant Magazine. Although elBulli closed in 2011, Adriá continues to research scientific cookery.

A trailblazer of molecular gastronomy since the 1980s, Adriá introduced deconstruction,
foaming and spherification, with help from gelling agents, calcium carbonate, liquid nitrogen and many more substances previously only seen in industrial food production. As a chef whose work is fuelled by imagination, Adriá recognises the importance of performance, and his presentation reflects this.  

Joan Roca

Joan Roca
Joan Roca

Similarly to Juan Mari Arzak, Joan Roca honed his skills in a family business, cooking Catalan dishes for his parents and grandparents’ bar. In 1986, after studying at Escola d’Hosteleria de Girona and travelling extensively, he opened a restaurant in the bar’s annex with his brother. With Roca as head chef, el Celler de Can Roca earned three Michelin stars in 2009.

Many of their avant-garde dishes build from Catalan foundations, but some are new creations perfected in a laboratory. Perfume cooking – setting the aromas of a dish and serving them with it – was unknown before the Rocas tried it in the early 2000s.

El Celler de Can Roca is also famous for its adapted perfumes, for which a fragrance such as Calvin Klein’s Eternity is reworked into a dessert that captures the fragrance. They developed the roner in 1997, which controls water for precise cooking, and the Rotaval in 2005, which distils aromas. In this year they were also the first to use instant vacuum cooking during service.  

Martín Berasategui

Another San Sebastián native, Martín Berasategui, has earned seven Michelin stars – more than any other Spanish chef. He learnt to cook from his mother and aunt in their Basque restaurant. He studied at Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie, France, and worked in various eateries there. Aged 20 Berasategui moved back to Spain to take over his family’s restaurant. Using his experience of haute cuisine, Berasategui introduced avant-garde techniques to the kitchen, and his signature style emerged.

Restaurante Martín Berasategui opened in 1993, and has maintained three Michelin stars since 2001. Berasategui swears by simplicity, keeping flavour as the focus of his dishes. He founded the Berasategui group, which offers advisory services for restaurants across Spain.  

MARTIN BERASATEGUI
Martín Berasategui

José Andrés


The international impact of chef José Andrés, particularly in America, is undeniable. Andrés’ Washington D.C. restaurant, Jaleo, was one of the earliest tapas restaurants to gain success in the U.S., kick starting a Spanish culinary revolution. Andrés owns restaurants across Washington D.C. and Las Vegas, and produced and hosted PBS’ Made in Spain, teaching Americans how to cook Spanish food.

Andrés is respected for his involvement in issues such as hunger, food security, childhood obesity and inefficient cooking. He owns ThinkFoodGroup, and after visiting post-earthquake Haiti he launched World Central Kitchen, which aims to keep people fed during crises. He is Culinary Ambassador for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and Chairman Emeritus of D.C. Central Kitchen.

From family traditions to striking originality, inventive food is the root of these chefs’ success. Pioneers of creativity and innovation, they continue to build great things upon humble foundations, at home and overseas.

We'll be bringing you the 2015 Spanish Michelin Guide and the news of who has gained or lost any stars as soon as we have it, so keep your eyes peeled.

By Julia Watts

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th November 2014

A spotlight on five of Spain’s influential chefs