World’s best female chef. I did not know there was such a title until I heard it attributed to Elena Arzak, who with her father Juan Mari Arzak, runs the famous San Sebastian restaurant which bears their name, Arzak.
Preconceptions shattered, entering the unassuming building on a busy road, felt like walking in to a family home for dinner with old friends.
It was refreshing to see how such a world-renowned restaurant could be so unpretentious, even irreverent. An example of their tongue in cheek attitude was serving one course of the extensive degustation (13 courses) on a crushed can of tonic water (a nod to the fact that the chorizo had been marinated in same). Another such example was when the seared tuna was served on top of a tablet computer depicting the flames on which it was cooked. It made the diner smile and puts you immediately at ease.
Upon realizing we came from Melbourne, the Arzak team enthused about Arzak’s fondness for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and we found ourselves whisked off for a secret tour of the extensive cellaring system, the test kitchen where 100 and 100s of herbs are stored (including many from Australia), and where they test new recipes and ingredients. And then to the working kitchen, a bustling hub of creativity.
A mother of two small children and holding the mantle of the world’s best female chef (Arzak is also ranked 8th best restaurant in the world) must be a daunting task some days, but Elena was inspirational to meet and at the end of the day you can tell that she loves what she does. And when you adore what you do, how can the outcome be anything but a success.
Salud! to you Elena, you have earned every one of your accolades.