Elena Arzak: "Believe in Yourself"

The acclaimed Basque country chef from Arzak and judge at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 shares her advice for young chefs in an evolving gastronomic landscape.

Widely considered one of the best female chefs in the world, Elena Arzak heads up the team at the San Sebastian family run three Michelin star restaurant, Arzak.

Listed in the World's 50 Best Restaurants the father and daughter team behind the hugely respected restaurant were the early pioneers in re-defining Basque cuisine and remain dedicated to pushing culinary boundaries with ever more experimentation.

Elena explains how they evolve whilst remaining true to their culinary landscape ahead of her judging role as one of the Seven Sages in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 Grand Final (You can livestream the event here on 15 October at 7pm CEST.)

What advice would you offer to the young chefs of today?
Be well trained. Get a good education. I recommend going to culinary school and doing lots of internships/stages. You need to work a lot to develop your personality in the kitchen.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given to you?
Only serve what you’d like to be served in your kitchen. My grandmother gave this advice to my father and he passed it on to me. Accept criticism positively.

Tell us about a time when you remember making a mistake as a young chef: what happened, where were you working and what did you learn?
I was working at a restaurant in Paris and was making a tarte tatin. Instead of using sugar I used salt. When I realised I told them immediately but since they saw how upset I was they told me not to worry. It showed me that not everything is so obvious and cooking is not as easy as it seems.

Elena Arzak Dish

What do you miss most about being a young chef?
The spontaneity. When you are younger you can be more spontaneous because you don't realise the consequences of your actions.

What would you say to young female chefs who are passionate cooking, but feel put off by entering such a male dominated industry?
Believe in yourself. The world is changing. There will be more and more women in all professions as time goes by.

Basque cuisine has famously been avant-garde. What is currently happening within Basque cuisine that is exciting you as a chef?
Basque cuisine never stops. Today’s Basque chefs are each developing their own style and it’s very deeply rooted and concerned with nature while being very contemporary.

Elena Arzak Dishes

What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the immediate future?
Work is changing, gastronomy is changing, techniques are changing and so is Arzak. I’m very interested in rethinking everything. I am re-evaluating tastes and the gastronomic experience. Cooking should also be about pleasure and enjoyment. Our plans for the future are to reclaim happiness in the kitchen and in the dining room, while respecting our environment, culture and the sensibility of the guests.

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