Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz, Spain: What Lies Ahead

Andoni Aduriz is respected, liked, and admired by his peers around the world and it’s my privilege to know him and have the opportunity to have these continuing conversations with him. He exemplifies professionalism, and an interesting anecdotal aside is that besides Albert Adria, he is one of the few chefs who I have seen visiting an event site not just hours or minutes before going up in front of  the audience as many other presenters are prone to do. I remember a few years ago on a cold September morning  before even the event staff had arrived at Mistura in Lima, Peru, and though Andoni and Adria were scheduled to go onstage a day later, both chefs  were there checking out the equipment and the backstage prep area. 

I believe that understanding his outlook  on gastronomy in general and his thought process contributes to an even richer experience at his Mugaritz restaurant. I am posting my latest interaction with him which was published in the Daily Meal a few weeks ago.Now that he has considered venturing out of Spain with overseas projects we spoke about these and other aspects of his work.

Chef Andoni Aduriz
Chef Andoni Aduriz

Andoni Aduriz of Spain’s Mugaritz: Exposing Food Ideas

by Geeta Bansal

Set amongst the picturesque Basque countryside of Northern Spain, on the outskirts of the gastronomic hub of San Sebastián, sits the world-renowned Mugaritz restaurant. In the past two decades after an initial rocky start, acclaimed chef Andoni Aduriz has created a true international culinary hot spot. Not just proud Spaniards but international guests are drawn to the unique experience that Mugaritz offers in the redefined former farmhouse. The two Michelin-starred restaurant, which over the past few years is consistently in the top five of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, is located up a winding country road in Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, in close proximity to the French border.

The cuisine at Mugaritz is representative of the region’s local produce, traditions, seasons, and the enormous respect Chef Aduriz has for the gifts of nature. His style of cooking is sometimes referred to as neo-naturalism due to his proclivity for changing the properties of foods while preserving the original form or sometimes transforming them completely using advanced scientific processes. The constantly changing seasonal menus (a result of the work of the research team at the restaurant) ensure that every dining experience at Mugaritz is different and unique. A meal at Mugaritz is much more than a dining experience; it is in fact an intellectual dialogue between the chef and the diner. Aduriz plays with the diner’s intellect and emotions by introducing new concepts which stimulate not just the palate but also the mind. The connection between the terroir and the cuisine is easy to understand in the contemporary and elegant dining room where the real art appears on the table as beautifully plated food.

Food is the essence of a culture of a certain time or place encapsulated and presented on a plate or a menu. Aduriz exemplifies this concept brilliantly, as he presents the Basque culinary traditions in a modern format, re-imagined and representative of here and now. He is a dignified, intellectual chef, part food researcher; part philosopher looked up to with reverence by his peers. Aduriz has also dabbled in the world of art, theatre, and music in the form of a collaborative music project and a play titled The Degustation de Titus Andronicus. The research aspect and the scientific approach, both elements he absorbed at his time at El Bulli, are nevertheless entirely his own interpretations at Mugaritz. His appearances at food congresses such as Madrid Fusion and San Sebastián Gastronomika draw record crowds of his peers and culinarians.

Restaurants like Mugaritz are what bring food fanatics and other chefs to the Basque country and eventually influence restaurant kitchens all over the world. San Sebastián is a must for anyone desiring a unique food experience, and a meal Mugaritz a must at least once in a lifetime. In a recent conversation we spoke about his new upcoming project in Cuba (with Chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena and Chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol in Mexico) and other aspects of the industry and his work.

So far you have not ventured out of Spain with any projects. What made you choose Cuba for your recently announced joint project with chefs Bottura and Olvera?

It is the fruit of a desire: doing something together with two chefs of great talent who I not only admire but with whom I also maintain an extraordinary relation. It is also a challenge: finding a place with the energy that this singular project requires. Cuba has its obstacles but also holds unique possibilities. In addition, limitation is an exercise that is very creative.

You were recently at Massimo Bottura’s Refettorio in Milan helping feed the homeless from leftover produce at the Expo Milano. Is the Cuba project in any way related to this social responsibility to end hunger, or is it solely a business venture?

It neither one nor the other. Taking into account the differences between them, nor Mugaritz, nor Osteria Francescana, nor Pujol are accessible to all of its neighbors. I understand that even a restaurant in The Havana would be very economical but it would not be accessible to all Cubans. This does not detract from the pinnacle of the social responsibility it possesses: creating jobs, stimulating competition, helping development in other sectors. It is not a big business venture.

Mugaritz and Hotel Abadía Retuerta Le Domaine in Valladolid are situated in idyllic country surroundings. Havana is not even close to that tranquility, so what kind of location are you contemplating?

Fun, fresh, informal. A place that is casual but with quality. The comfort and quality are concepts that do not always go in the hands of luxury.

Do you enjoy playing with dualities since your cuisine plays with the natural and the man-made, the real and make believe, and if so, why?

We like to explore new paths, making proposals that inspire and share all our knowledge. One day, a neuroscientist Antonio Damasio gave us the key when he said after eating “your creativity is very good, but what really transcends from your creative work is that you make diners creative.” Since that day we put the focus on the transmission of information that takes the form of plates which will bring something more than just a subject matter to people who visit us.

In some ways every meal at Mugaritz takes me out of my comfort zone and sometimes unwillingly on a voyage of discovery and inevitably I end up with a new favorite. Is this consciously planned and is it risky?

The taste is a cultural construct. From childhood we have learned to see, smell, touch, taste and hear in a certain way by cultural patterns that discriminate between what is good and lawful and what is not. In this network of convictions intertwined with emotions, we bounce all the latest news and evaluate by comparison. Each diner is a universe in itself and reacts to a plate in relation to their way of living and understanding the world and life. We simply expose food ideas.

Were you always interested in science as a young child or did this aptitude and interest develop later in life? Is the R&D unit expanding at Mugaritz?

Our relationship with science and an affinity for artistic disciplines is a derived consequence of the recognition of our own limitations and also the result of curiosity. For over a decade by relating the AZTI-Tecnalia technological center, where we count on a kitchen-lab space and three people working on the projects we have in common. We launched the first science and cuisine journal, published by Elsevier, and we have participated and currently participate in several exciting research projects.

Looking back over the years, which part of life and your work has brought you the most satisfaction?

As my colleague Dani says in Mugaritz, the most risky projects have given us the greatest satisfactions. The reward itself is to see how a restaurant so unique and personal as Mugaritz has endured over time, almost two decades, and that today it is filled with customers that come from more than fifty countries. To see a person that is moved is a large reward for us that compensates all the doubts and fears along the way.

What did your interlude at El Bulli with Ferran Adria bring to your life other than cuisine and technique?

A lot of creativity, boldness, and consistency. When El Bulli was a fragile project and some had questioned and criticized it harshly, Ferran was not discouraged and argued for better quality and ideas.

The gospel of your kitchen has influenced kitchens as far away as Chile, California, Paris, Mexico, and Peru. Do you feel a sense of pride when you see your ideologies being adopted far from your own kitchens?

Obviously! I always tell the people that passed by Mugaritz, that the recipes, the products, the techniques, and the elaboration change in the future. But that attributes such as critical conscious, innovation, sensibility, respect, perseverance and solidarity never change. I get emotional when I see the people, who have passed through Mugaritz, be able to do what they want in life without any pressure.

You have said that for a chef, “to align yourself entirely with the idea of sustainability makes chefs complacent and limited.” In this recent bandying about of the term “sustainability” what is your advice to young chefs jumping on this bandwagon?

The best wines in the world have evolved to excellence because its market is global and they are not exclusively consumed in the territory where it is produced. The same happens in great restaurants who find themselves sustainable, thanks to an audience from around the world. If we did not consume coffee, because it is not a product that is produced in our environment, and in addition, stopping a habit that is already part of our culture (Italy and its coffee are insoluble words, for example), we would leave millions of people without a job who use this type of cultivation as a way of life. It is unsustainable what comes from outside to add value. It is unsustainable what comes from outside and destroys what is good in origin. For example when for purely economic reasons, vegetable mass production make local production unviable.

Meals at Mugaritz are much more than that since there is a lot of engagement between the guests and the content and context of what is on the plate. Why is it so important to you to build this dialogue along with a playful relationship?

For me cooking is something very serious but this does not mean that the dining tables are a party. Humans learn more when they are having fun. On the other hand, in Mugaritz, we tend to say that we do not do “rich” things but we do things that make sense, and that is why it is so important to contextualize things.

With the globalization of products, kitchen personnel, and techniques taking on an international identity, how can ethnicity and cultural context be maintained?

It is certainly difficult, but we cannot ignore that the authorship itself is a differential factor. It also happens in tradition. For example, the products of all the Mediterranean countries have almost the same types of vegetables but in Italy, France, Lebanon, Greece or Spain, the types of cuisines that are elaborated are very distinct. There are similarities but also a lot of diversity.

You are described as an avant-garde Spanish chef and also as a radical when it comes to innovating. Which description is more apt?

I try, with my team, to share the knowledge that we have accumulated throughout our path in a dreamy way and with a style that is not detached from containment, naturalness, and unpredictability.

Chefs are traveling en masse with their teams to do short-term or longer pop ups far from home. You recently did one in the Philippines. Are any more planned in the upcoming future?

It costs us to cook outside of our restaurant, but when a colleague or a person who has gone through Mugaritz requests us because it is important for their project, we feel obliged to. They have made Mugaritz possible and it is our way of thanking them.

Recently the Gelinaz Shuffle took you to California on an adventurous assignment. How and why do chefs such as yourself become part of this elite club, and what interested you personally in the experience?

Andrea Petrini, the promoter of this idea, told me that many chefs who were part of this project asked for Mugaritz and me to be included as well. I felt it was beautiful that my colleagues asked for it and this got us excited. For me, the experience was very intense and obligated me to give the best of me and to push me, which has made me better.

You are consistently in the top ten on the World’s 50 Best list, yet the third Michelin star has inexplicably eluded you. Have you moved on, or it is still something that you aspire to for your team?

What I have been obsessed with in my life is to conquer spaces of credibility that give us freedom to work the way we would like. I believe we have reached it. From this point onwards, they award us more or less depending on our work. It does not disturb me, the fact that they do not recognize us; what irritates me is to feel that I am not doing what I wish to do.

What are your upcoming travels or collaborations?

We will be traveling to Malaysia, New York, Cuba, Brazil, and Argentina before the end of the year. And our agenda for the next year is just as full.

What global influences are appearing on your menus in this season? You have said before that these influences are not premeditated, so have your travels introduced new ideas on the present menu?

Mugaritz does not reinvent itself but it evolves. We develop ideas, techniques and reflect on each year. It is possible that from one year to the next, not much change of style is perceived but the guests who have been coming for three, four or five years do feel the change.

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