The Basque Sensivity
Text: Rodrigo García Fernández /©ICEX
Translation: Jenny McDonald /©ICEX
Image: Spanish chef Eneko Atxa Azurmendi
Eneko Atxa defines himself as sensitive and very attached to his homeland. Atxa is one of the young chefs who has worked his way up the gastronomic ladder in the Basque Country, where eating well is no minor matter. As with many of the great Spanish chefs, Eneko came to be fascinated by cooking and the world of food alongside his mother and his grandmother, who over the years taught him about the best products and passed on the lore of the Basque kitchen.
Today he acknowledges that these elements still form the background to his professional philosophy, with all his work revolving round the native products of the Basque Country and popular gastronomy. He then applies techniques as needed to transmit the age-old flavors, and unlimited creativity. The result is top-ranking Basque cuisine with a special personality. Examples of his respect for the local traditions are his recovery of the lukainka, a chorizo handmade from the local farms, and pork from the native Basque breed of pigs. So his cuisine is traditional but it evolves.
Science and R&D
Eneko Atxa Azurmendi studied at the School of Hospitality in Leoia (Basque Country), and worked at some of the Basque gastronomic shrines such as Baserri Maitea, Asador Zaldua, Andra Mari, Etxebarri, Martín Berasategui and Mugaritz. But when the opportunity came to open up his own restaurant, he took it. Azurmendi is a large, spacious establishment with decor somewhere between industrial and countryfied. His colleagues are Gorka Izagirre, who is responsible for the txakoli (a white wine from Basque Country) winery which exists on the premises covering 2,500 square meters / 2990 square yards and producing 600,000 liters / 158,000 US gallons of txakoli a year, and Saioa Goitia, coordinator and head of communication.
Their team efforts were rewarded with a first star in the 2008 Michelin guide. At Azurmendi, they endeavor above all to surprise customers, presenting new dishes every year based on their constant research. In 2004-5, the research into concentrated stock made the headlines. Eneko Atxa sees stock not only as the basis for dishes but as an element that can enhance textures, bring out flavors and add nuances and different appearances to culinary creations. This new concept has led to stocks that can be injected, beaten and even cooked au gratin. In 2005, they surprised people with their vacuum-packed aromas, in 2006 by centrifuging some of their culinary creations, and in 2007 with dishes depicting Basque landscapes and sensations. The goal is the same throughout - to arouse emotions, show sensitivity and encourage customers to enjoy the Basque Country as they dine. A unique experience.