Chef Name: Elena Arzak
Title: Head Chef
3 Michelin stars
2012, Best Female Chef in the World – The World’s 50 Best Restaurants
How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I was 18 years old when I started cooking professionally. I left school in San Sebastián and then attended a Hotel and Restaurant Management school in Luzern, Switzerland. After this, I broadened my knowledge by working in lots of great European restaurants such as La Maison Troisgros, Pierre Gagnaire, Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Le Gavroche in London and El Bulli, among others.
What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
I remember when I was maybe around 11 years old, my sister and I would go to the market every Saturday with my father, and we would buy fresh crabs and then return to the restaurant to cook them. I remember so well the deep smell of the sea that came from the boiling crabs.
Which chefs inspire you most and why?
The chef that inspires me most is my father. We have worked with each other for over 25 years and we have a very strong connection.
What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
I adore the book Natura by Albert Adria. It is inspired by nature and has lots of imagination.
The second is On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee, which explains about the science in food.
These books are very important to me and I consult them again and again.
Which two ingredients could you not live without?
I could not live without extra virgin olive oil and parsley. The Basque people use these ingredients in many dishes.
What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
I love to cook any seasonal fish – from anchovies to sea bass or hake, we have such good produce here to enjoy.
If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
I would like to visit the restaurant I trained in many years ago – La Maison Troisgros. They have a similar story to my family, with the whole family being involved in the restaurant, and I would love to see how it has evolved.
And who would you take as your guest?
I would take my father, as he also trained at this restaurant so it would be good for him to see too.
What do you look for in a good chef?
First of all I want to see that the chef likes their profession and enjoys cooking, also that they are open to constantly learning and evolving, and lastly they need to be friendly.
What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
I would recommend all chefs to have culinary training. To be a chef today is to multi-task – you have to learn a lot more than just cooking. Also believe in yourself, every chef has their own personality and style.
How has the pandemic affected your restaurant? And how did you adapt and evolve throughout?
The pandemic was very damaging for the economic side of the business, and the social impact was also difficult. We adapted by looking after our employees and learning together how to improve the restaurant. It was a very intense time. I am very happy that things are now improving.
Can you share any wisdom from the experience so far with others? Have you changed? Has your cooking changed?
It has made me realise that we need to value our profession more and we need to be thankful. My cooking has changed in that I am supporting more local suppliers and my guests are saying my dishes have more humour – I think this is because I am so happy to be back in the kitchen. I will never forget to use innovation in my dishes.
Chef Elena Arzak is Head Chef at Restaurant Arzak
Address: Avda. Alcalde Elósegui 273, San Sebastián, Spain
Telephone: +34 943 278 465