Arzak offers innovative lunch

May 4, 2013
By

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 2.21.45 PMFrom the reception area, it could be any other gourmet restaurant in Europe. The three Michelin stars
on the wall suggest more, but seeing the real distinction requires a few flights of stairs.The difference
is hidden past the dining rooms, a brightly colored box called the testing kitchen. Here is where Arzak
Restaurant comes to life.

“Without the testing kitchen, the restaurant is nothing,” said owner and head chef Juan Mari Arzak.

The tiny kitchen is the creative nucleus of the restaurant, the brainchild of Arzak and his team of culinary
researchers. Since the New Basque Revolution in the 1970’s, this team has explored the pairing of
technology and tradition within the realm of gourmet cooking.

“We are consistently working towards the future of the restaurant,” said Elena Arzak, Juan Mari’s
daughter and fellow chef. “We have new dishes all the time, and we are always tasting and perfecting.”

Juan Mari and Elena are the third and fourth generation Arzaks to work in the restaurant since its
beginnings in 1897. While the building is the same when Juan Mari’s grandparents first started serving
wine, it has evolved over the years to accommodate the creative mindset. Juan Mari Arzak drives the
restaurant’s creativity with his attitude of discovery and encourages his team to do the same.

“Our chefs have to go in the world with the eyes of a chef, always with the eyes of culinary,” he said.
“They must always have the capacity for astonishment.”

This capacity permeates all aspects of the restaurant, especially its staff.

“We do not know what we are making until we have made it,” said Igor Zalakain, a 30-year member of
Arzak’s research team.

The research also produces new techniques and with technology, like their freeze-drying machine, the
restaurant can enhance favorites and innovate even more. Chefs at Arzak can make new ingredients,
grinding up materials like freeze-dried mussels or lobster to add to other dishes.

Elena Arzak said that using technology is just one of the keys to improving culinary in the 21st century.

“Science is necessary to have results,” Elena Arzak said, “but it is not possible to cook without
exceptional materials.”

Arzak said that they rely on their roots and that the raw materials are always the best from local Basque
markets. Only after the freshest base is found can the team start experimenting with other ingredients
from all over the world.

As for those, the Arzaks have a cornucopia of choices in their walk-in spice cabinet, with three walls
lined floor to ceiling with flavors from all over the globe. Zalakain estimated they have around 2,000
different ingredients representing anywhere from Thailand to Madagascar.

While flavor is king, Juan Mari and Elena Arzak feel presentation is just as integral in the cooking and
dining experience, and, above all, they want customers to have a connection with their food.

“Everybody who enters our door has a special feeling about food,” Elena Arzak said. “For us, the food
has to be a dialogue. We must awaken the emotions of the customers.”

Her father believes that humor must be evident in the presentation and uses props like electronic
tablets and crushed soda cans to express the personality of his food.

“The most important is to think like a child,” Juan Mari Arzak said. “And then anything, a crushed can of
Coke, can give you inspiration…We want our food to be playful in a serious way.”

Dishes like the “Monkfish green witch,” made to resemble a witch’s crystal ball, and “Playing marbles
with chocolate” exemplify Arzak’s creative style and are usually offered on the daily menu.

For customers who want it all, the tasting menu is available daily and normally features three to four
examples of each course, from starters to dessert. Reservations are required usually a few weeks in
advance.

Owner and head chef, Juan Mari Arzak, smells a black lemon spice. Arzak is home to thousands of spices
obtained from all over the world.

After opening in 1897, Arzak has moved to the top of food chain, acquiring three stars from the Michelin
Guide.