Andoni Luis Aduriz: "Taste is a Cultural Construct"

An interview with the chef at Mugaritz restaurant, mentor for the chef who will represent the Spain-Portugal region at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016.

Andoni Luis Aduriz knows all about the power of a good mentor. The Basque chef has worked under the capable guidance of Juan Mari Arzak and Martín Berasategui. But it was a stint with Ferran Adrià at the mighty elBulli that really transformed his life.

Today, at Mugaritz restaurant in San Sebastian, his techno-emotional Spanish cuisine is renowned globally for its innovation, and his unflinching creativity has inspired a generation of budding chefs. Which is why he’ll make the perfect mentor for talented young chef David Andrés, who will represent the Spain-Portugal region at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016.

We spoke to him ahead of the competition.

Which chefs did you look up to when you were a young chef?
I admired Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subijana, Ferran Adriá, Martín Berasategui, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Bras.

What impact did working at elBulli have on you?
It changed the way I understood the kitchen and how I perceived the guest. I was taught critical consciousness, the importance and ability of sacrifice, and creative freedom. It literally changed my life.

How important are emotions and memories in food?
From the moment that eating transcended its purely nutritional function, the kitchen became part of the culture and universe of experiences. They are then followed by emotions and memories. We are memory, so any aspiration, both in the future or in remembrance, is linked to previous practice. We must not forget that in our minds, memories are best associated with emotions.

Mentor Andoni Luis Aduriz

Why is it important for young chefs to find the right balance between natural ingredients and technology?
Let me correct this. It should be the equilibrium between a cultural ingredient and technology, because the term “natural” is derived from nature and its products, except for those that are wild, which are products of domestication and therefore are not natural. Another interesting debate is to value what we interpret as “balanced”: a concept that various traditions understand differently. From my point of view, what needs to be taught to young people is the passion for knowledge and understanding, whether they are products, techniques, or elaboration, in order to address them with an analytical point of view.

What is your process for coming up with new ideas and inventing new dishes?
We have spent many years reflecting over creativity, as well as over creative techniques, and there are many. But there is also something important to reflect on. Basically, we need to have the sincere and passionate desire to change things. With enthusiasm, it does not matter if you have not domi-nated a technique, as you will seek another way to achieve your goal.

Mentor Andoni Luis Aduriz

Is creativity something that can be taught to a young chef, or is it a natural part of the chef’s personality?
One of the first questions we ask the interns who come to Mugaritz to work with us is if they consider themselves creative. Many of them say no. From there onwards, the process is simple: if you want to be creative, act as if you are. Aristotle said: "We are what we do repeatedly.” Make that you are creative, and your mind will transform this into a model of thinking, into a habit. Like everything in life, it takes willpower and perseverance.

How can you nurture self-belief in a young chef, and how important is it for chefs to believe in the path they are taking?
In Mugaritz, we like to boast that we have never had it easy. This has forced us to push ourselves and live in discomfort. We have boasted neither our successes nor our failures. Basically we have been dedicated to design our own path. This is success: to harmonise your desires and expectations with your actions. Otherwise, you can see yourself wrapped in aspirations that are not yours, reach-ing successful models that stray away from your character. If you want to be the most famous chef in history, or the one with the most money, then go for it! Fight for it! But do not do it if it is not a genuine aspiration.

In the past, you’ve said: “You don’t have to like something to enjoy it.” What do you mean by this and how important is it as part of your cooking philosophy?
I will try to give you a simple answer to this complicated question. Taste is a cultural construct. We learn as children what is considered good or bad in our social model. From there onwards, many people spend their lives remembering what they already know, and what they have learned within that which is lawful. But there are many other people who enjoy looking, finding and forcing their capabilities and limits. It is the same as when we travel and run into different perspectives other than our own. Maybe we do not share them, but the process is much enjoyed.

What are you working on at the moment, and what’s new for Mugaritz this year?
We are currently working with the first sketches of dishes that will be part of this year’s proposal. Until mid-April, we will have spent more than 9,000 hours shaping elaborations and their place in the proposal. There are many hours of trial and error, reflections and doubts. That is what are looking forward to.

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