October 3, 2018
There are places that now form part of the geographical history of our gastronomy. Among them, San Sebastián holds a privileged spot, as it is now one of those destinations of legendary resonance that cooks and gastronomes alike speak of with respect.
Likewise, there are surnames, though not many, which are part of the global gastronomic memory: Pic, Troisgros, Adrià, Roca. Surnames that speak of dynasties, of traditions that leap from one generation to the next, yet remain relevant despite the passing of time. Of all of them, Arzak must surely be the one with the deepest connotations due to its foundational character, and its almost totemic nature in our gastronomic collective imagination. Elena is responsible not only for keeping its legacy alive, but also for evolving it.
Elena Arzak is a perfect example of the post-New Basque Cuisine generation; able to project the philosophy of her predecessors elegantly towards the future in a natural and seamless way. Elena does it – and keeps doing it – without fuss; aware of the huge burden of responsibility that the surname has placed on her shoulders. She works alongside Juan Mari, and is surrounded by an unusually tight-knit team, but this has not stopped her from developing a cuisine, that of the restaurant Arzak, which remains a benchmark of international cuisine yet has never stood still.
Hers is a cultured, calm cuisine that does not shun experimenting, yet it is deeply rooted in tradition and to the Basque lands; a cuisine that is aware of its past and open to the future, is inquisitive, mature and also able to preserve its hallmarks, a style, a character that is now indissolubly bound to the restaurant. To internalize a legacy of this dimension and to bear it with a belief in the future is not an easy task. Few cooks would be able to achieve it. And that is, surely, the main merit that this discreet, methodical and essential cook has for our understanding of contemporary Basque cuisine.
By Jorge Guitian