Chef Elena Arzak is now in the Philippines for Madrid Fusion Manila.
A breakfast for the Spanish business community to welcome Chef Elena was held at The Peninsula’s Old Manila this morning.
Chef Elena gamely took to the podium and answered playful questions from the audience.
No, she has not tasted balut, she said with a smile, but she has tasted adobo.
“I find it interesting that we have dishes with similar names but they are totally different from what we have in Spain. For instance, I tried turron here. We also have turron in Spain but the turron here is not at all like how we know it!” she said, amused.
“We need to come up with a whole new dictionary for Filipino food!” (By the way, Felice Sta Maria is already working on that.
Chef Elena has also tried adobo and kinilaw and is fascinated at how there are different interpretations of the dish per region.
“In that sense the Philippines is just like Spain where we have different versions of a dish in different regions.”
Chef Elena will give a talk at Madrid Fusion Manila on Friday and will also be at Gallery Vask for a collaboration dinner with Chef Chele Gonzalez, a “graduate” of Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian.
It’s confirmed: Chef Elena Arzak, in collaboration with Chef Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez, is designing a menu at the Arzak laboratory using Philippine ingredients to be presented at Gallery Vask on the first evening of Madrid Fusion Manila, April 24.
Restaurant Arzak is one of the most respected and highly acclaimed restaurants in the world. It has maintained, to this day, the three Michelin stars it earned in 1989. Other restaurants lose a star or two along the way but Arzak has maintained its 3-Michelin Star status for 25 years. It has also consistently kept its place in the Top 10 of the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2006.
Chef Elena runs Arzak with her father, Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is considered the father of modern Basque cuisine. He is credited for spearheading the Nueva Cocina Vaska (New Basque Cuisine) movement that laid the foundation for a larger Spanish culinary revolution. Many chefs have been inspired by this movement started by Arzak, the greatest example being El Bulli’s Ferran Adria. Chef Juan Mari was honored with the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
The restaurant is known for its avante garde, sometimes whimsical, dishes. It serves beer pudding literally on top of a crushed can of beer. Sardines are delicately placed inside a potato sphere. And for a trip to the sea with San Sebastian’s red mullet, the fish is served on top of a tablet that has a video clip of waves.
In an interview with Inquirer Sunday Biz at the Restaurant Arzak chef’s table last January, Chef Elena explained that every dish served at the restaurant begins not in the kitchen but in the laboratory, where the item goes through a process of tasting and testing until it merits Juan Mari’s and her approval. This process could take as short as six days but could also take as long as six months.
Which makes the April 24 dinner priceless.
Chef Chele, who worked in Arzak for a year and a half, has been applying the Arzak culinary philosophy of promoting local ingredients in an avante garde fashion to his creations at Gallery Vask. He started a degustation series he calls Kulinarya using ingredients he personally sourced from all over the country, going as far as visiting indigenous tribes in Kalinga and Bukidnon. For his Kulinarya menu, he has an appetizer of eggplants he found in Bukidnon; kinilaw of “uni” that he found in Sorsogon; and cochinillo slices with kalibangbang leaves from Pampanga.
But for this dinner, it is the Arzak team in San Sebastian led by Chef Juan Mari and Chef Elena themselves who will be playing with Philippine ingredients. These ingredients will be brought this March to the Arzak lab in San Sebastian. The creations—or shall we say inventions—produced from the lab will be presented by Chef Elena and Chef Chele at the April 24 dinner at Gallery Vask.
The dinner will be priced at P9,500 a head with wine pairing. This is a bargain considering the tasting menu at Restaurant Arzak is already priced at 179 Euro without wine. Consider it a trip to Arzak without the plane ticket! Plus, your meal may be tax deductible as proceeds for the dinner will go to Fundacion Santiago, a private Filipino charity established in 1993 aimed at using the benefits of tourism for poverty alleviation.
Gallery Vask can only accommodate 40, so book a table now!
Arzak, Mugaritz Back to Back at Gallery Vask
If you’ll miss this dinner, not to worry. Vask is set to hold three special dinners on the three evenings of Madrid Fusion Manila (April 24, 25, 26). The 25th is Chef Chele’s night while on the 26th, Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, currently No. 6 on the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is also set to cook at Vask.
Gonzalez keenly points out, “I believe this is the first time in Asia that two chefs in the Top 10 of the World’s 50 best will cooking in an event. Madrid Fusion Manila, I believe, is a great opportunity to (make Manila) become a culinary destination.”
Mugaritz is a two-star Michelin restaurant in Spain but currently the No. 6 Best Restaurant in the World as ranked by the World’s 50 Best.
Aduriz is regarded as a genius, renowned for his culinary innovations. He was influenced by Chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli, which held the No. 1 rank for many years. Aduriz says that El Bulli, where he used to work, changed his life. (When El Bulli closed, Adria was quoted by The Guardian as saying that now the best chef in the world, aside from his brother Albert, is Andoni Luis Aduriz.)
Aduriz is passing on the inspiration to chefs who had in turn worked with him at Mugaritz. There was a Mugaritz tribute at Madrid Fusion where chefs who had worked at Mugaritz but now spreading their wings abroad were called on to the stage. Among these chefs was Vask’s Chele Gonzalez, of whom Aduriz is very proud. In an interview in Madrid, Aduriz described Gonzalez as an ambassador of Mugaritz and said that he was looking forward to exploring the Philippines with Chele.
The Mugaritz dinner will also be priced at P9,500 a head. Proceeds will go to the same charity that the Arzak dinner will help.
Chef Ivan Brehm of Singapore’s Bacchanalia, also a Mugaritz ‘grad’, will be doing a collaboration with Chef Jordy Navarra at The Black Sheep.
It’s going to be a hot culinary scene this April indeed on the week of Madrid Fusion Manila.
Gallery Vask 5/F Clipp Center, 11th Avenue corner 39th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. +63 917 546 1673. Reservations required.
The World’s Best Female Chef* Elena Arzak has personally confirmed that she will be coming to Manila this April for Madrid Fusion Manila.
*Elena Arzak, in tandem with her father Juan Mari Arzak, pioneer of Modern Basque Cuisine, is the head chef at Arzak, a fourth generation restaurant housed in an 1897 home in San Sebastian, Spain. (See why Arzak is worth traveling to Spain for here.) She has many accolades to her name including the National Gastronomy Award for Best Chef in 2010 and the title of Best Female Chef award, voted for by a prestigious global jury of chefs and food critics, at the World’s Best Restaurant Awards in 2012.
At an exclusive interview with yours truly for First Class in Inquirer Sunday Biz and margauxlicious.com, Chef Elena Arzak said that participating in Madrid Fusion Manila is like a dream:
“I’ve been invited to participate in Manila Fusion and for me it’s like a dream. I am so happy to go. Finally I am going to Filipinas and the event is going to be a very important event in Asia.”
The multi-awarded chef said that she has been wanting to come to the Philippines for ten years.
“Finally after ten years, I am going to the Philippines. Thank you (Madrid Fusion Manila) for my invitation.”
She also said that she is so happy that she will finally try Filipino food and meet Filipino chefs whom she described as “so good”.
Chef Elena Arzak is set to give a talk at Madrid Fusion Manila, from April 24 to 26 at SMX. It is yet to be known if she will be cooking at a chosen host restaurant.
There are many chefs the world over who now do “modern cuisine”.
A couple of years ago, I was blown away by the creations of Heston Blumenthal at Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Hyde Park in London. As an appetizer he served something that looked like an orange but was in fact foie gras. It was a bewildering yet delightful illusion!
Here in Southeast Asia, Iggy’s in Singapore has become renowned for his “modern European cuisine”. It was here, around eight years ago, that I first experienced the incorporation of Pop Rocks on an elegantly plated dessert. The waitress even made us guess what it was and it was Chef Rolando Laudico, the chef in our party of four, who correctly guessed that it was that favorite childhood candy that was crackling in our mouths. Back when Andre Chiang was still at Jaan at the Swissotel, I had the privilege of tasting his “modern French” creations. And recently, Ivan Brehm, who had worked with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, has been making waves at Bacchanalia.
But nothing quite prepares you for Arzak, a home that has been around since 1897 and where modern gastronomy had its beginnings – in the mid ’70s!
There is – oddly – no train that goes direct from Lyon (where we were for the World Pastry Cup and the Bocuse d’Or) to San Sebastian. Instead, the trains go via Paris and Barcelona, which are actually longer routes! So we chose to see Barcelona instead of going back to Paris and then got a car to drive to San Sebastian.
It was an easy but very long six hour drive (mas malapit pa ang Baguio-Manila!). On top of that, the winds were very strong – we had to drive slower because our car was being blown by the wind! We did not realize until our concierge verified it that there was in fact a storm. All we knew was that from the B10 to A2 to AP7 highway, it felt like a never ending road.
But Arzak was absolutely worth the long drive. You understand, after dining here, why it is considered one of the world’s greatest dining destinations.
You are greeted with a can of beer. Andy Warhol would have fallen in love with this. “This is black pudding and beer,” the server explained. “Did you crush this can yourself?” I teased her. “Yes, we play football every morning,” she joked back.
You don’t eat the can of Kellerbier, of course, but can pop the entire pudding on the chard leaf in your mouth. Then boom! Umami with a little dot of spiciness in the end. “How?!” you ask. This is a question that you keep asking all throughout the meal.
At this restaurant, there is no one tiny amuse bouche as is the custom in other fine dining places. Instead, they introduce you to Basque culture by loading you up with at least five of these introductory pintxos that tell you what the restaurant is all about.
Following the black pudding and beer, we were served: 1) Kabraroka pudding wrapped in kataifi. This is a pudding made of scorpion fish, an otherwise overlooked fish because it is described as “ugly” but made famous by Restaurant Arzak (check out this site). 2) Sweet chilly pepper and sardine sphere. The sphere felt like a round Filipino barquillo so it was interesting to note that this was made out of potatoes. And then inside, a burst of the flavors of sardines. These fish appetizers immediately tell you about the philosophy of Arzak of finding local produce and making these come alive in their restaurant through their incredible techniques.
It did not end there. We were also served: gyoza of prawns and moringa. This was an astonishing creation. It takes the concept of the Japanese gyoza but instead of the steamed dough, the cover on this one is crackling. But inside, the meat is sweet. And finally, a lentil cookie with ssam-jang, a spicy Korean paste. These creations show you that Arzak is committed to discovering the unique ingredients each country has to offer, allowing guests flavors that they may never have experienced before.
“It felt like a trip around the world,” I said to the legendary Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is, to this day, in spite of his lengthy list of accolades, still present every day in the Arzak kitchen. “Yes, we get ingredients from around the world,” he said (through a translator), “but the end product is from Kilometer 0. It is absolutely Basque.”
After eating all that, our tummies were good to go. But the menu said we were just getting started!!!
The official starter that we had was entitled “Cromlech” because it is made to look like a prehistoric megalithic structure. But in fact it was made of manioc (or what we call cassava!) and huitlacoche (which is disgustingly described on the internet as ‘corn smut’ but in Mexico is a prized kind of mushroom that is considered part of their culinary heritage, used in cooking since pre-Hispanic times). You are instructed to turn these cones upside down and eat it “like ice cream”. It looks odd but inside there are caramelized onions and my sister Goldee immediately detected foie gras. It is crazy good!
This was followed by three seafood dishes: lobster, scallops and red mullet. Remember that San Sebastian is a coastal city and therefore abundant in seafood.
The lobster was an example of gorgeous plating. For some reason it reminded me of impressionist art, with Van Gogh’s Starry Night coming to mind. Probably because of the green crispy crepe that looks like a starfish. But its purpose was to add not just color but dimension to not only to the texture but also to the flavors of the dish, as it had hints of turmeric. Meanwhile that lovely orange dash of color is a zucchini flower and they all lie on tomato water that totally compliments the juiciness of the lobster.
From impressionism they move on to realism with the scallops, which arrives on the table enclosed in two long bamboo leaves. Can you imagine that – we have so many bamboos in the Philippines yet we usually just use banana leaves in the presentation of our food. But the first thing that struck me here was the fragrant whiff of earthiness which I guess was from the leaves. “You don’t eat that,” the server said, laughing, as she opened the leaves to reveal the scallops.
And from realism they end the seafood series with pop art. This one was absolutely avante garde. I was startled when a kind of ipad/tablet was placed before me instead of a plate. It had a video of waves. And then the dish arrived on an elevated glass plate: the red mullet – so it appeared as if the mullet was still swimming in the sea! (Well, minus its head, haha!) Around it were “leaves” – they looked like leaves but they were actually not leaves but made with anis, pepper, beetroot and other spices. What was really fascinating was how the taste of the fish would change with each bite of a different “leaf”. It’s absolutely trippy! Yet in spite of all illusions, the dish was still centered on something very popular in Basque cuisine: the red mullet. It was also accented on the side with a Basque favorite, the “crispy tail” – piniritong buntot sa atin.
The chefs are kind enough to welcome guests into the kitchen after their meals. We saw several groups come in. While speaking to the legendary Juan Mari Arzak, he said that even in cooking, they strive for utopia – that imagined place where everything is perfect. Well, that’s what I felt when they brought out this truffle dish.
You see, truffles are a tricky thing. Unless you get the entire block, you hardly really smell that distinct truffle aroma. A chef once told me he cheated by adding the synthetic truffle oil to the real thing (que horror!). Chef William Mahi (who, by the way, is Basque) over at Tasting Room at the City of Dreams Manila, does an excellent job with shaved Perigord winter truffles with his 52-degree egg starter but the egg is the star of that show. Here, the truffles rightfully play the lead role, with the potatoes and the egg singing glorious back up. Like Destiny’s Child and the truffles here are Beyonce, hehe – and she will make you sing!
For the final dish, we had deer. This comes wrapped in lettuce leaves and the use of lemongrass brought me to Southeast Asia. It shows you how well-traveled their chefs are.
Finally, dessert. And they continued their A-game. “It’s a giant truffle,” the waitress joked as she presented a block of chocolate. But it’s not chocolate, explains Elena Arzak, who runs the restaurant in tandem with her father. “This is carob,” she explained. “It is like chocolate but it is not chocolate. During the war, it was used as a substitute for chocolate but now people are also exploring its health benefits.”
I had heard many times in the past about Restaurant Arzak. You can’t avoid hearing about it as it has consistently been at the top of the list of the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant awards and has been a three-starred Michelin restaurant since we were in diapers. You also hear about Arzak from chefs like Chele Gonzalez of Vask, who had worked at Arzak, and has brought the Arzak philosophy of modern Basque cuisine to the Philippines. So you feel like you have an idea of what Arzak is all about.
But you don’t. Not until you have dined there.
Arzak is like love. You may have an idea of it from what has been written but it is something you must experience to fully grasp and understand.
And it is, truly, a one-of-a-kind experience. Absolutely magical and definitely worth the trip. Even in the middle of a storm!
PS. GOOD NEWS:
Chef Elena Arzak is coming to Madrid Fusion Manila this April! Come back to the Madrid Fusion section of this blog for updates on Madrid Fusion Manila! I will keep you posted 🙂