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March 31, 2014updated Apr 03, 2014

Elite 100 Speaks to Azurmendi’s Eneko Atxa

By Laura Walkinshaw

Eneko Atxa_Achieving three Michelin stars within just seven years of opening a restaurant is no mean feat. But with his unique food philosophy and superb cooking skills, Azurmendi chef and owner Eneko Atxa has done just that.

The Spanish chef speaks to Elite Traveler about his groundbreaking restaurant and tells us which ingredient he’s most looking forward to cooking with this spring.

Congratulations on being the highest new entry and for coming seventh in the Elite 100 Restaurants! How does it feel to be recognized by the public in this way?

It is fantastic for me since this is a recognition given by the readers. I always say that the client comes first and is the most important, and in this case, it is really special to me since Elite Traveler readers have voted for us.

What do you feel is the secret to maintaining such a globally successful restaurant over such a long period of time?

Every day we try to be a little better than the day before. We’re always thinking about the customer and their satisfaction. We try to create an experience with identity that is enjoyable.

Do you have a signature or favorite dish?

Every season there is an ingredient that invites me to cook. I am always thinking of enjoying one or various ingredients each season.

Now, approaching spring, I can’t stop thinking about the peas we plant in our vegetable garden. They’re special because they can only be found here. The characteristic of their flavor and texture makes them extremely particular. The texture of the pea reminds me of a sea roe and when you break it, it has a vegetable taste with sweet shades. The moment you bite it, it explodes.

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The reason why it behaves in this way is linked to the harvesting procedure. These peas are collected before sunrise, a moment in which the sugar has not been transformed into starch. They are very special and delicious.

Azurmendi2_Azurmendi is in many ways a groundbreaking restaurant. How did you go about creating a restaurant like this?

We try to create a space where guests feel at home. We try to create an experience where guests don’t just sit, eat and leave.

At Azurmendi we try to offer a whole experience using the food as guiding thread. We introduce our guests to an enjoyable experience full of identity, incorporating our tradition, our culture, our way of understanding enjoyment, and above all, our ingredients, our suppliers and our way of cooking.

Your restaurant showcases the best of Basque country’s local ingredients. What are some of the ingredients used and why it is important for you to use local produce?

The ingredients of the surrounding environment are very important to me. They are produced nearby and the quality is very high.

Besides, I get to create a special and tight relationship with my local suppliers because they are the ones who work first for our recipes. We reiterate that the recipes do not start in the kitchen, but in the field. The chefs who pre-process and manipulate the ingredients are our suppliers.

They process very special ingredients for us. We have the fishermen, who provide us good fish such as hake kokotxas – I love them, and squid…. Or we have vegetable suppliers, who bring me purple onions from Zalla, potato from Gorbea, leek from Durango, tomato from Antzuola, which we are trying to get back as it was almost extinguished. We also have cheese suppliers who make cheese with local sheep races like Idiazabal, Black Face sheep of Carranza… We have an extensive larder of ingredients.

What drives and motivates you more than anything?

Undoubtedly, I think that gastronomy is a universal language that speaks out about our environment, our culture and us. I believe that being able to communicate with this on daily basis and express our ideas is a great motivation to me.

What is one of the best meals you have had in the past 12 months?

There have been several. For example, I really liked André Chiang in Singapore [Restaurant André], and the spectacular lunch I had at Martín Berasategui in the Basque Country.

Which young chefs would you tip for the future?

There are a number of young chefs I love. They are of my age and they are very committed and work very well. I cannot forget my chefs at Aziamendi (Phuket), Alex Burger and Adria Buch.

What’s the future for fine dining, in your opinion?

I hope there will be many and different gastronomy proposals in each territory. I also wish that each chef will have his or her own world and performs his or her particular vision of gastronomy.

I believe there will be several and diverse projects, where each one will perform a singular cuisine, giving it more personality and creating lots of small worlds within the gastronomy universe.

What do you have planned for the future?

New proposals may come up but as I mentioned before, for us, the most important goal is to continue improving and being better than the day before.

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