A steak holds no secrets from him. He, better than anyone, knows how the fire should caress it, the amount of salt it needs, the perfect size. He has had the best teacher, his father, Matías Gorrotxategui, who has been grilling steaks 30 years at Julián de Tolosa, the home of Basque grilling par excellence. That’s where everything started, when a bright fruit grower called Julián Rivas, who had started out selling ham sandwiches, opened a restaurant in 1954, inventing the first Basque steakhouse in history. He was also the creator of the first grill made with rods – the Argentinians ones are v-shaped – ‘to allow the fire to penetrate much better, browning, perfectly searing the meat,’ says Iñaki, a grill that he also placed in the centre of the dining room, like a precursor to the now common, open kitchens in contemporary restaurants.
Gorrotxategui father, who had a bar in the town of Tolosa, spent a year learning with Julián, a true master through and through. In 1981 he took over the business of his mentor. He studied meat, cuts, breeds and processes. And he improved the way that red meat was grilled. The restaurant has become iconic. Matías, now 77, is still there and as sharp as a tack, although he has delegated a lot to one of his sons, Xavi. His other two sons – Iñaki and Mikel – are in Madrid, in the emblematic establishment on the Cava Baja that the family inaugurated in 1989. They have just opened a third restaurant on calle Ibiza, with exactly the same name and along exactly the same culinary lines, linked almost exclusively ‘to the idea of the steak; a meat-only place with reasonable prices,’ says Iñaki, who is at the helm of the new eatery.
At a time when meats that have been aged for a long time are so fashionable, he advocates ageing for two weeks, three at the most, and seeks a balance between texture and flavour. He also aims for the grilled meat to be juicy, ‘that juiciness that some people want to lose during the ageing process.’ He learned everything from Julián, who was ‘very meticulous, very firm, almost like a general’. Today, he would be 100 years old. Iñaki and the other Gorrotxateguis now face the challenge of continuing to honour the legend.
By Raquel Castillo
Photo: Luis Gaspar