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Juan Mari Arzak

Juan Mari Arzak
Written by Aksel Ritenis

Juan Mari ArzakJuan Mari Arzak is one of the great characters of the culinary world. At 65, he may be the grand old man of Spain’s new cuisine, but he has the energy and dynamism of a man one-third his age. He learnt to cook at his mother’s and grandmother’s knees in the family business – the 111 year-old roadside tavern/restaurant “Arzak”. The restaurant is located in the big house that his family built in the village of Alza as a wine-cellar and tavern back in 1897.

Juan-Mari Arzak trained in the nouvelle cuisine kitchen of the Troisgros brothers in Roanne. His quest to reinvent Basque cuisine was inspired after attending a short course with French chef Paul Bocuse in 1976 and has led him on a boundary-busting journey of discovery involving new techniques and unusual ingredients. Together with his talented daughter Elena, he continues that work today, a ‘flavour lab’, or test kitchen, above his restaurant attesting to his ambition to experiment and discover.

“Juan Mari Arzak, is regarded as the godfather of Basque nouvelle cuisine and commands the kind of adulation and respect reserved for holy deities. He is credited as having inspired an entire generation of Spanish chefs including Ferran Adria, chef at the controversial and acclaimed restaurant ‘El Bulli’.”

Recently Juan Mari Arzak won the 2008 Universal Basque Award. “The Universal Basque Award, organized by the General Secretariat for Foreign Action and Basque savings bank “Caja Laboral-Euskadiko Kutxa”, is a recognition of the personal and professional careers of individuals, associations or entities whose activities have had a bearing on promoting the Basque Country abroad.” Basque Government’s General Secretary for Foreign Action Iñaki Agirre explained that Juan Mari Arzak was chosen in between sixteen candidates for being able to “make the Basque Country shine without overshadowing anyone”. The jury valued Arzak’s work “adapting gastronomy, one of the most important traditions of the Basque Country, to the new times and making of it one of the most innovative of the world”.

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Aksel Ritenis

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