Eneko Atxa’s restaurant Azurmendi perched on a hillside just outside Bilbao is one of the most talked about restaurants in the world at the moment. Ranked 26th in the World’s 50 Best restaurants, it is also the winner of the sustainability award and has 3 Michelin Stars.
This Spanish chef is making a name for himself for many reasons. His inventive cuisine is among the most innovative in the world but he is also extremely conscious of the environment.
At Chef Sache, in Cologne, Germany, Atxa spoke about what makes his restaurant different. He started off by showing different photos of the ‘complex which includes the restaurant, his house, a wine cellar, a hall which serves as a venue for large events, a garden and a small bistro. “The restaurant is designed to pay industrial homage to the old steel industry of Bilbao,” Atxa says.
The complex has been built in a way which integrates with the surrounding environment. But it also follows the basic principles of sustainability. It is environmentally friendly, using renewable energies to carry out its operations, recycling the waste generated, making use of the rainwater and heating and cooling the facilities through geothermal energy created from 38 holes dug into the ground.
The Spanish chef says that Azurmendi is not just a restaurant but also his home. “So when we welcome guests, it is like they are visiting our home. After you reserve a table and come to our restaurant, you are first welcomed and then given a guided tour of the building. We want our guests to be like members of our family, like friends. We have a vegetable garden even though we are not self sufficient. We want to show our guests that the cooking process does not start in the kitchen but much earlier, i.e. with our suppliers who are the ones that inspire our dishes.”
Atxa said that during the guided tour guests will see the produce and get to taste herbs as they walk along. They then move to a green house where they also start to taste different things including ‘surprises’ that have been prepared in the kitchen and left in the garden. After this aperitif, the chef comes out and offers the guests a picnic basket which includes a millefeuille of anchovies.
“The kitchen has always been a central part of our family home when I was growing up and I want this to be the same at the restaurant. For us, the kitchen is the centre of our restaurant. So, we welcome all our guests into the kitchen before they sit at table. We offer an aperitif in the kitchen.
The first dish he prepared was one of his most famous dishes, egg with truffle. “The traditional recipe of this classic dish has a flaw. Normally the egg and truffle are left together for a few days so that the egg can absorb the flavour of the truffle. But this means that the egg is no longer as fresh as it should be. So what we do is that we add the truffle when it gets to the table. We then inject the hot truffle liquid inside the egg yolk and therefore cook the egg inside out.”
He then made a favourite which is a potato with cream and butter inserted into the jacket of the potato. Peel is fried and used as a decoration on the plate.
Atxa said that he gets inspired by his colleagues. “But when it comes to pasta, for example, we would never be able to prepare it in the way that Italians would. So we make pasta by thinly slicing the squid and removing the skin. We produce a strong stock. We serve the squid is a similar way to pasta, then add onions and stock. This dish is served with basque croquettes that are stuffed with squid ink and served with cod roe.
Another dish he prepared on stage was duck with orange. “This is a classic but we worked on this dish for a very long time. The duck breast is marinated in duck stock, corn starch and an orange stock which we produce. Frozen fois gras is added together with pickled pieces of orange.
Atxa also showcased a pigeon dish and a meringue of cheese with rosemary and thyme.
Read more about Eneko Atxa philosophy in an interview coming up on www.foodandwinegazette.com coming up shortly.