Elena Arzak was born into a family that has cooking in its blood, and is destined to succeed the world-renowned Juanmari in the family’s restaurant, Arzak, the first Basque establishment to be awarded three Michelin stars.
Elena was lucky to discover her gastronomic vocation at an early age, insisting to her parents, Juanmari and Maite, that she wanted to follow in their footsteps. They did everything they could to dissuade her, but Elena was determined. At the age of 11, she used to go straight into the restaurant kitchen on her return from school to peel oranges or clean squid. Clearly, a cook was what she was meant to be.
From the age of 18 to 26, she traveled all over Europe learning the restaurant trade. Elena acknowledges that many cooks are self-taught, but she chose to undergo thorough academic and vocational training, with languages, in catering schools and in prestigious restaurants.
From 1988 to 1991, she studied at the Schweizerische Hotelfachschule in Lucerne (Switzerland), doing her practical work experience at the International Hotel in Zurich and the Grand National Hotel in Lucerne. The European restaurants where she worked included Le Gavroche in London, Troisgros in Roanne, and Carré des Feuillants and Vivarois in Paris. She also had some short stays at the Restaurant Louis XV in Montecarlo (Monaco), Antica Osteria di Ponte Cassineta di Lugano (June 1996), elBulli (May 1997) and Pierre Gagnaire in París (May 1998).
In 1996, she returned home and joined the staff at Arzak, working in all the parties, without having too much direct contact with her father. She preferred to follow the path set for her colleagues in the kitchen, without any sort of favoritism. Two years later, she started to manage the Arzak kitchen on an equal footing with her father. They are now inseparable, working together, creating together and attending all sorts of congresses and gastronomic events together. Elena knows how to manage a team and she feels completely at home in an environment she has known since she was a child.
However, where she really brings all her creative potential to the fore is in the laboratory, a small kitchen and workplace housing her own library of flavors. There, in collaboration with her father, and with Xavi Gutiérrez and Igor Zalakain, Elena devises new recipes, experiments with surprising combinations and works on textures which she then transfers to the tables in the hope of arousing the interest of her customers.
Elena Arzak likes to describe the cuisine offered at her restaurant as "singular, Basque, evolving, research-based and avant-garde". Singular because a meal at Arzak turns into a unique experience, Basque because they use Basque products and because their recipes tie in with the region’s code of flavors, evolving because they enrich the local ingredients with those from other countries, research-based because they are in contact with the latest culinary technology, and avant-garde because her style has developed within this culinary era.
The Arzak pantry is never without olive oil, garlic, vegetables and eggs. She always stresses the importance of top-class raw materials and insists that their flavors should not be altered too much. She loves the texture and flavor of fresh squid, and likes to use liqueurs such as pacharán to flavor her desserts.
Although this restaurant is at the spearhead of the Spanish culinary avant-garde, "family restaurant" is the perfect description for it. Not only because the father, mother and daughter work together in it, but because when the whole team comes together for meals, they all sit at the same table, talking, joking and sharing concerns together. Just like any other Spanish family at table.
Juan Mari and Elena Arzak are definitively expanding their empire. The team announced in december 2012 that it is branching out from San Sebastián, and heading to London. The home of the duo’s second restaurant will be none other than the Halkin Hotel, a luxurious 5-star venue in the city’s Belgravia district. The team behind this project is equally star-studded: Juan Mari and Elena will join forces with chefs Mikel Sorazu, Xabier Gutierrez, and Igor Zalakain.
- Prologue to the 21st edition of Guide des Gourmands, by Elisabeth de Meurville
- 2015 Augie Award by The Culinary Institute of America
- 2012 World’s Best Female Chef (Magazine Restaurant).
- 2010 Best Chef National Gastronomy Award, Spanish Gastronomy Academy.
- 2010 Eckart Witzigmann Award, Eckart Witzigmann Foundation
- 2008 Award for Gastronomic and Tourism Innovation, Fundación Cándido.
- 2001 Chef l’Avenir 2000, Académie Internationale de la Gastronomie Gastronomy