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Spanish chef Eneko Atxa: “You have to break a lot of plates before you can dance with them”


Name: Eneko Atxa
Age: 40
Nationality: Spanish
Occupation: Chief
Love: Eat, run, art
Do not like : Toxic people, jazz, airport security

1. Congratulations on the opening of Eneko Tokyo. How would you describe your cooking style? The cuisine is a language behind which you can see the culture, the territory and the character of the people. I tell the story of the environment and the culture of the Basque Country, so my cuisine is very rooted in tradition but also turned towards the future. I like to say, “I travel a lot, but at night I always sleep at home.

2. What characteristics define traditional Basque cuisine? We have four seasons and a beautiful landscape with the sea and the mountains, so the area is rich in products. We also have a multitude of traditional recipes, but the most important components are the mother sauces. The flavors of Basque cuisine are very powerful.

3. What are the three mother sauces? The first is the Biscayne sauce, made from dried peppers; the second is a black squid ink sauce; and the third is pil-pil (olive oil infused with garlic and pepper cooked with salted cod to form an emulsion).

4. Are there any similarities between Basque and Japanese cuisine? Both encompass many categories, and eating is fundamental to culture.

5. The Basque Country is a culinary powerhouse, but there are relatively few Basque restaurants abroad. Why? I think the Basques have never felt the need to leave Spain before, but the new generation is starting to open restaurants abroad.

6. You opened Azurmendi in 2005, when you were only 27 years old. How has the restaurant evolved? The first few years were really tough. I was not known, but I had a great responsibility for success for my staff. Sometimes I felt like I was being controlled by the restaurant, but it was a learning process. You have to break a lot of plates before you can dance with it.

7. Did obtaining three Michelin stars affect you? Before each service, I remind my staff to earn these three stars every day, with each client.

8. You experiment with cutting edge techniques in your kitchen lab. What are you working on? Today, instead of focusing on techniques, we are finding new ways to integrate sustainability, health and charity into a more evolved kitchen. I work with many disciplines – a school of fine arts, anthropologists, designers, and health specialists – to create a well-rounded experience for the guests.

9. Azurmendi has been called the most sustainable restaurant in the world. Please explain your approach to sustainable architecture. Azurmendi is built on top of a hill. We wanted a space that would coexist with the environment, rather than “invading” it. We use geothermal and solar energy, as well as rainwater and recycled materials. We planted 700 trees and created the first greenhouse in the region.

10. You also run a seed bank, don’t you? Yes, we host the largest seed bank in our region. We have “recovered” many species of plants and animals that were on the verge of extinction.

11. What are your other environmental projects? In our municipality, there is a composting center managed by local farmers. We showed them how to use recycled organic material to make fertilizers.

12. What does sustainability mean to you? Sustainability is about people, not just food. It is about the well-being of the people.

13. Will you be bringing some of these ideas to Tokyo? Absoutely. We are now thinking about the possibilities, and I have some specific ideas for next year.

14. What kind of experience do you want guests to have at Eneko Tokyo? It will be less formal (than our flagship restaurant). We try to translate the essence of Azurmendi and create a fusion of the Japanese and Basque spirit.

15. Where will you get the ingredients? We use Japanese products similar to what we have in the Basque country.

16. Nowadays, chefs are considered celebrities. How do you feel about this? You must use your knowledge and the opportunities offered by the media to support sustainability, health and charity.

17. There has been a lot of talk lately about stress in the industry. How do you deal with this? At Azurmendi, we offer dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. On the other days we only serve lunch as it is important for the staff to have free time and enjoy their work.

18. What questions will you focus on in the future? Health. We are now working with hospitals to develop menus for them. We are also working to empower women.

19. What is surprising that most people don’t know about you? I seem a little cold at first, but once you get to know me I’m really hot. (Laughs)

20. Any advice for young people? Instead of dreaming of becoming famous, dream of making a better society. Let me leave you with this: a father and his son are walking a difficult path. The father turns and says: “Be careful, my son, the road is perilous. He replies: “Father, be careful because I am following your footsteps. “

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