Andoni Aduriz, chef at Mugaritz in the legendary gastronomic destination of San Sebàstian on Spain’s northeastern coast, was born and raised in the city at the heart of Basque culture.
What he may have lacked in traditional academic prowess, he more than made up for at culinary school before his subsequent move to elBulli, home of course to one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, Ferran Adrià. He helped launch elBulli’s legendary research and development kitchen (below), sowing the seeds of the brilliant, imaginative and innovative techniques which have made his cuisine genuinely unique – and impossible to categorize.
To find the master at work, twenty minutes drive from San Sebàstian’s stunning crescent beach and cobbled streets, the road winds up through the hills skirting the region’s largest oak forest.
Aduriz chose the location, a former dairy, before naming it: Muga, the Basque word for ‘border’ and haritz – the word for ‘oak’. He opened Mugaritz back in 1998, long before Spanish cuisine – particularly Basque and Catalan – became beloved by global gastronomes.
Initially the going was tough. His reservations only policy and reputation, further honed at legendary San Sebastián restaurants including Arzak and Akelare, didn’t bring in diners. However the stunning setting allowed Aduriz and team to explore the natural bounty surrounding them, creating extraordinary, avant-garde dishes in the process. In time, the reputation of his cuisine grew and today Mugaritz is showered with critical and public acclaim, lying sixth in the much-coveted ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ list.
In person, Aduriz is softly spoken, unfailingly polite and remarkably thoughtful, weighing up every question before responding through his translator.
He explains that the Basque/Catalan culinary revolution took a generation to come to fruition, but that the movement and passion had to start from the street up: “In the Basque region people are very proud of their restaurants, they know they’re very good. When someone comes to the Basque region, thanks to the local population, they always have the idea that they will eat well, because society talks about it – doorman, taxi drivers, everyone says and knows that the food is so good. You cannot stop that energy!”
At the same time, it’s the chefs who bear ultimate responsibility for celebrating a country’s cuisine on the global stage: “Chefs and others want to create a culinary revolution, but there needs to be a healthy sense of both competition and cooperation amongst them to do so.”
Every year Andoni and his team create about 100 new dishes. The creative process is rigorous; many hours of brainstorming are put into bringing an idea and a dish can take up to a year to be developed. To do this, Mugaritz closes to the public for four months of the year and turns into a buzzing hive of activity, minds and hands at work researching and developing. When the restaurant re-opens its doors, 24 of the new dishes are featured on its tasting menu.
Research is done not only on a culinary level, but on a socio-cultural level as well. Mugaritz works alongside anthropologists, chemists, artists, poets and musicians, with the aim to mutually inspire, innovate and enlighten. In the unique world of Andoni, the scope of gastronomic experience is boundless.
Q: What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without – and why?
A: Without passion, curiosity…these are the ingredients I couldn’t live without.
Q: What was the first dish you cooked for a paying customer?
A: I can’t remember… but probably it was a pizza because of my first stage (apprenticeship), was when I first came into contact with the public.
Q:Which one chef do you admire more than any other?
A: Ferran Adrià, without any doubt.
Q: What’s your perfect family meal at home?
A: A good marmitako – a typical Basque dish that means ‘from the pot’, a simple but delicious stew made from tuna, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and peppers.
Q: Which of your dishes best represents the soul of Basque cuisine?
A: The dish is called ‘Cultural Textures’ – It’s several layers of dressed kokotxas – the throat of the hake or cod.