Elena Arzak, the Basque chef with three Michelin stars, voted Best Female Chef in the World, found inspiration in her visit to Dublin
Elena Arzak, judge at the Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year (front right), with finalists (clockwise from front left), Brian O’Flaherty, Paula Leavy, Kevin Burke, Mark Moriarty and Grainne O’Keefe. Photograph: Alan Betson
Within minutes of meeting Elena Arzak, she has given me a list of her favourite restaurants and tapas bars in San Sebastian (a few of which are listed below), and an invitation to call on her when I am in the city, where she and her father Juan Mari hold three Michelin stars for groundbreaking “new Basque” cuisine at their restaurant, Arzak.
When she tells me that her first visit to Ireland has led her to believe that “the Irish and the Basque people are very similar”, I have to agree with her; she is friendly, charming and generous.
Arzak was named Best Female Chef in the World in the San Pellegrino restaurant awards last year and her family’s restaurant, which bears the family surname, is ranked eighth in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ratings.
The 44-year-old chef was in Ireland recently to join the panel of judges for the final of the Euro-toques Ireland Young Chef of the Year. She also visited Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Restaurant FortyOne at Residence and Chapter One to take the pulse of the Irish culinary scene.
“I knew the food in Ireland was good – friends of mine, chefs – have been here and liked it very much. They told me: ‘you will see’ and I was very impressed. I saw Irish identity; for me that is really very important and I would have been sad if I hadn’t seen that. It was based in tradition, with Irish style, but contemporary, and without forgetting about flavour,” she says.
“I’ve been looking forward to coming here for many years; Irish cooking is very famous in Spain now and we like it a lot. People who are interested in food should come to Ireland.”
Arzak took notes as she explored Dublin’s top tables, jotting down ideas and information. Ross Lewis, co-owner of Chapter One, said she came into the kitchen after dinner with a long list of questions about the meal she had just enjoyed with her architect husband, Manu Lamosa.
So there was little that was going to escape her eagle eye when the five young Irish chefs presented their dishes to her and fellow judges Wade Murphy, Lorcan Cribbin, Ross Lewis, Marc Amand and chairman of the panel Neil McFadden, in the final round of the Euro-toques judging in the kitchens at Google HQ in Dublin.
Arzak was impressed with the standard in the competition, generously saying that she “took away some ideas from all the plates” presented by the finalists. Elements that caught her attention included “emulsions of honey and different nuts”, “a different way of cooking artichokes, even the skin”, “interesting tastes – hay infusion”, and “mixtures like carrot and saffron”. She says she was surprised by the amount of root vegetables she encountered – “ we use them less” – and “ cooking with whiskey, that for me is quite new”.