Author: Rodrigo García Fernández /©ICEX
Translation: Jenny McDonald /©ICEX
Herbs, flowers, sprigs, sprouts: nature at its purest. This is one of the keys to the appealing, yet complex culinary and existential universe of Andoni Luis Aduriz (Donostia-San Sebastián 1977), standard-bearer of young Spanish cuisine at its best. In a constant dialogue with the natural elements that surround him in his bastion at Mugaritz, Aduriz devises dishes that stem from intellectual considerations and express a marked personality.
At his Mugaritz restaurant, atop a green hill just outside Errenteria (20 km / 24 miles from Donostia-San Sebastián), visitors note a perfect blend of rural and cosmopolitan influences: a traditional Basque farmhouse (caserío) containing a small, simply-designed dining-room served by a very international team. The garden grows the herbs, flowers and vegetables that are served at their freshest in the restaurant, as well as wild, local flora, and the whole area is wrapped in a mantle of silence and aromas, helping set the scene for a very unconventional chef.
Poetry, philosophy, science, knowledge and nature all participate in the creation of a very personal concept: "Haute cuisine is achieved when nothing stands out and there is balance." Andoni Aduriz has gradually developed a new approach to the task of the restaurateur, which he has laid down in the prologue of Clorofilia, one of the books launched by Gourmandia. "Improvement and perfection means making the technique so much a part of the dish that it is no longer noticed. Haute cuisine is when the hand of the chef is camouflaged in the dish to the extent that the foods seem not to have been handled at all. It is natural, the reflection of something that must in itself be simple".
Poetry, reflection and cuisine
These reflections and conclusions evolved in the mind of Andoni throughout his years as apprentice, and have finally come to the surface in his Mugaritz restaurant. Before it was opened in 1998, Andoni worked in several of Spain's most influential kitchens. First he studied at the Hospitality School in Donostia-San Sebastián, where his teachers included Ramón Roteta, Hilario Arbelaitz, Jean Louis Neichel, Juan Mari Arzak, Fermín Arrambide and Pedro Subijana . In 1993, he went to elBulli, where he spent two years, ending up as sous-chef to Ferran Adrià. In 1996, he was appointed head chef for Martín Berasategui in Lasarte with whom he established a very fruitful professional relationship which was to lead, in 1998, to Mugaritz, Andoni's hilltop refuge. In late 2008, Berasategui and Aduriz went their separate ways: Mugaritz continues but no longer as part of the Berasategui group.
Andoni was clear about what he wanted. He was grateful for everything he had learnt, but was determined to do something new on his home ground at Mugaritz. One of his hallmarks at the start was the creation of dishes using just two or three ingredients. What might seem excessively simple in fact involved a complex process of preparation, adding intellectual touches and details. The idea was, in the words of the chef, "to keep diners awake and alive throughout, so that they never know what to expect from the next dish".
So, complexity in the process and minimalism in the choice of products. Andoni conceives cuisine as going beyond the four walls of the restaurant. Customers should enjoy with all five senses, and he adds another: imagination plus evocation. This Basque chef talks openly about one of his aspirations. "I dream of a restaurant with 25 individual tables, where nothing, not even conversation, can distract the diners from the world of sensations we offer them". Meanwhile, in addition to managing the Mugaritz team, Andoni travels the world in response to invitations to gastronomic meetings and events.
At one of his presentations, the chef prepared a dinner for 50 but, instead of accompanying it with cava or wine, he served water and infusions ("the perfect harmony of my dishes can be achieved with infusions". Initial puzzlement gave way to admiration and curiosity when Andoni explained that the water came from a spring in the Navarran district of Baztán which was soon to disappear - pure, crystalline water that was much venerated by the locals. This way of adding value to the product is another of his obsessions.
The creative and reflective machinery at Mugaritz never stops. The menu is regularly changed in line with the availability of ingredients. Andoni Aduriz and his team have brought out some very carefully published books: Clorofilia and Bestiarium, as well as monographs on salt cod, foie gras and the apple. Since 2007, they have been producing a quarterly magazine called SIC (sensus, intelligentia et cultus) in collaboration with the Ysios (DOCa Rioja) winery, where the former sommelier at Mugaritz, Ruth Cotroneo, created a wine especially for the restaurant. The team has also been producing the Papeles de Cocina (Eurotoques) periodical since 2007. As if that was not enough, Andoni and his colleagues are working on a research project with Ibermatica, a Basque company, for the creation of a protocol for measuring the degree of innovation in a restaurant. Under the name of Mirac, 95 variables have been drawn up allowing a restaurant to analyze its real situation, so that it can determine what it can become in the future and the goals it needs to set.
At the end of 2008, the Berasategui Group underwent a thorough transformation. Andoni Luis Aduriz and Bixente Arrieta broke away from Martín Berasategui, retaining full control of Mugaritz, El Bodegón de Alejandro and the Guggenheim restaurant. Martín Berasategui meanwhile focused on his restaurant in Lasarte and on his gastronomic advisory services.
A few months after this news, Aduriz and Arrieta announced that as from 1 January 2010 they would also be taking over the restaurant at the Kursaal, the Auditorium and Congress Center in Donostia-San Sebastián, which had so far been in the hands of Berasategui. For this purpose, they have created a new company, Ixo, in order to combine the gastronomic and financial aspects of these prestige restaurants with culinary research. In addition, Andoni Luis Aduriz and his team have been working with the Basque company Azti-Tecnalia on the production of a news bulletin on Science and Gastronomy
Success, recognition and plans for the future. Andoni and his Mugaritz have no intention to slow down on the road towards achieving their real goal: "We want to steal our diners' hearts". A question of sensibility.
A wave of support
In February 2010, Andoni Luis Aduriz suffered one of the greatest setbacks in his career. In the early hours of the morning there was a fire in the kitchen at Mugaritz (at first thought to be caused by a short circuit) and years and years of hard work, study and dedication went up in smoke. The kitchen was reduced to ashes in minutes, while fire fighters managed to prevent the fire spreading to other areas of the restaurant. After the initial upset, some kind of comfort could be found.
Messages of support poured in from cooks, the media, business and political figures, as well as from personalities from cultural and social life across many countries. In Aduriz's words, "the wave of solidarity from all over the world has astonished us, but it has also fired us with energy and hope and brought us back to reality". They were bound to come out of this situation much stronger, as neither their spirit nor their talent had been consumed by the flames. And that was exactly what happened. On 15 June 2010, Mugaritz re-opened, symbolically on the very same day that elBulli opened for its 2010 season.