Eneko Atxa is the youngest of the eight Spanish chefs currently holding three Michelin stars. His are for him Azuremendi restaurant, perched on top of a hill in Larrabetzu, a 20-minute drive from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The modernist steel and glass structure amid 40 acres of vineyards and gardens exposes guests not only to its superb modernist cuisine but also to the diversity of produce from the Basque region, produced sustainably using systems advanced alternative energy. Atxa’s restaurant, which was moved to its current location in 2012, is a true representation of a sustainable operation. In a record seven years after it opened, it received its third Michelin star, setting the bar even higher for other incredible culinary talent in neighboring San Sebastián and Bilbao. A post-culinary school, Atxa trained with some of the region’s best-known chefs, including Martín Berasategui, and restaurants such as Etxebarri and Andra Mari. Two years ago, he ventured abroad, far from his Basque home, to open another standout restaurant: Aziandi in Phuket, Thailand.
Azurmendi is a true example of sustainability, using solar power harnessed on the roof of the structure, harnessing geothermal energy to provide radiant heating, and utilizing a self-sufficient sewage treatment plant, water collection tanks and photovoltaic systems. The restaurant also recycles all materials, provides electrical outlets in the compound to charge electric vehicles, and grows the majority of its produce. In 2014, Azurmendi was named the most sustainable restaurantyou in the world by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Restaurant Magazine, where Azurmendi d’Atxa currently ranks 24th.
Not only does nature envelop the building, but it quietly seeps inside, blurring the boundaries between outside and inside. Diners enter the beautiful reception area, a two-story space, which is a lush green enclave with tall trees, plants, and water features. Picnic baskets with appetizers appear as guests check in, each delicious bite served as a true work of art and a precursor to what lies ahead. They then visit the greenhouse on the upper level, where there may be tiny vials of juice, pickled tomatoes hanging from the tomato plants or the iconic edible leaves of Atxa among the real ones for diners to taste and marvel at. .Not only does nature envelop the building, but it quietly seeps inside, blurring the boundaries between outside and inside.
Atxa wants to welcome his guests to his home; and the heart of his home is his kitchen. Dinner service begins in the huge steel-walled kitchen, where guests perch on stools, sipping their drinks, while the chef and his team skillfully prepare and serve one delicious bite after another of the other side of the counter. Finally, guests are led to their tables in the dining room, with its glass walls open to the verdant landscapes of this region of northern Spain. It’s a unique and unforgettable experience – the visions and tastes on the plates and the exceptional wine pairing – which might even include txakoli wine from the on-site Atxa winery – lingers on the palate. This destination restaurant offers a unique experience in a lively and interconnected atmosphere with the land.
The Daily Meal: These days, acclaimed chefs like Joan Roca at El Celler de Can Roca, Albert and Ferran Adria at Heart in Ibiza, and Grant Achatz at Alinea are introducing mixed media, sensory experiences, and the art of performance in the guest experience at the table. . What are your opinions on this?
Eneko Axta: I lean for a particular experience but a very real experience, and not in 3D. At the moment, for example, we are working on a new concept for the Azurmendi gardens.
Every year we change the experience in the gardens and by the end of the year one of the ideas we are introducing is to put an indoor vegetable garden in the greenhouses. It’s more like a cave with plants.
So you build a cave. Will it also have water elements?
Exactly, a cave but the walls will be lined with plants. In the middle of this space, there will be a map of my region of Biscay; and it will highlight the different and special plants from various parts of this region. All these different elements represented on the map will be accompanied by information about these plants allowing the guests to discover these small towns and villages as well as their special products. Guests will also be able to taste these products for a real sensory experience. As you know, we serve little edible surprises when visiting our greenhouses in Azurmendi. It is not a huge space but rather intimate, romantic and connected to the greenhouse. The water element may be there as it is still a work in progress.
Since your guests are taking a tour of the greenhouses before dinner, why is this tasting experience important?
When they go to the kitchen, where as you know we are beginning the first part of our culinary experience, they will be familiar with the taste of products from our Basque region. It’s going to provide them with a condensed tour, so to speak, of the area in the form of this interactive map experience.