May 16, 2021

Elena Arzak foresees more women in haute cuisine

Elena Arzak foresees more women in haute cuisine

Elena Arzak is the only chef in charge of a restaurant in Spain with three stars, Arzak, which this year celebrates three decades with the highest distinction of the Michelin Guide and is aware of this "exceptionality" that needs "one or two generations more" to change.

Although in this centennial restaurant that his grandmother founded in the city of San Sebastián (Basque Country, northern Spain) "there have always been women in positions of command," he acknowledges that it is not usual.

"It's a social issue, it's going to improve because there is a positive intention, but it needs time and in 50 years it will be different," he says in an interview with Efe in Madrid, where he presented the newly published book "Arzak + Arzak."

"When my father (Juan Mari Arzak) studied hospitality in Madrid there were very few women, when I trained in Switzerland we were between 30 and 40% and today it is practically equal," recalls the cook, for whom, just as in other professions to which the woman joined later, it is a matter of "one or two more generations" that reaches the controls of haute cuisine.

He admits that although chefs now suffer the "pressure" of greater public exposure, their situation has improved "a lot" with respect to previous generations.

"My grandmother worked with less resources and never left the restaurant, my father did fewer interviews than me but he did not have much help, and now the kitchens are better conditioned," he says.

Arzak celebrates three decades this year with three Michelin stars and Elena still remembers when, in 1989, her father phoned Switzerland to inform her that they had achieved the third: "I thought the restaurant had been burned. see how long we lasted with the three and today I still remember it. "

That record in Spain is based on "total dedication, conviction of what you do and a lot of love for your profession", elements that share a father, who achieved the stars, and daughter, who joined the team in 1994 and has gradually taken over the command of the stoves in a restaurant that "remains familiar", with a staff that combines veteran and youth.

"We are very proud of having a loyal team, with a mixture of ages and with many women, and the transmission of values ​​from previous generations is very important in a centennial restaurant," he says.

She has had a teacher in her father and, although she asserts that "it is priceless" to work with him, admits that she knew that she would be scrutinized as 'daughter of'. "Sometimes you have to have patience, although in life there is nothing easy, being a child of or not, I have had to overcome many obstacles but I am aware that many doors have been opened to me".

At age 19 he created his first dish, a salad of bonito-a kind of tuna-with strands of vegetables and his father liked it, although he made some changes. "He told me: 'If you're going to stay with me, I want results.' I saw that I could do things in the future, I felt fulfilled and I stayed."

If Juan Mari Arzak was one of the creators of the New Basque Cuisine, which has given some of the most famous Spanish chefs of recent decades, Elena has been able to anticipate the demand of contemporary diners.

In this sense, he explains that "tastes are changing, today the dishes are lighter and with more vegetables, you eat faster, and you look more at the experience in general, not just on the plate".

Pilar Salas


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