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Pearls of Wisdom: Elena Arzak

By Emma Eversham , 02-Dec-2011
Last updated on 02-Dec-2011 at 10:37 GMT

Elena Arzak is the third generation of chefs to work at Arzak in San Sebastian in Spain. She currently runs the restaurant, number eight on the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Restaurants list, with her father Juan Mari.

The secret to being a success I think is down to three things: you have to love your profession; you have to be humble and listen to the guests and provide what they like and most importantly you have to do the best that you can.

When I was 11 I started working at the restaurant during the summer holidays. I would do two hours a day. It was a real family business from the start. My grandmother was the chef then, my mother ran the accounts and my aunt was also a chef.

I came to the UK in 1989 to work at Le Gavroche. I was very young and I learned a lot about working in a kitchen and about British life.

My family loves Ferran Adria's food and we love Heston Blumenthal's. We often exchange ideas with them all. We are also very happy for Rene (Redzepi of Noma) with his place on the list. He has become a friend to my father and me.

In Britain Heston Blumenthal and the Rouxs are very inspirational to me, but if we are talking about female inspiration I would have to say of the women chefs I know I like Angela Hartnett and Clare Smyth very much.

My father is very open-minded and generous. He shares ideas with everyone, but he also lets people develop their own.From the beginning he has let me create recipes and I realised I could do it.

Working with my father has made me realise that young and experienced people can work together if they both respect and learn from each other.

San Sebastian is very matriarchal. It is normal for women to work and there are a lot of female chefs. Also, front of house they are all women.

The quality of produce is so important to the end dish. My grandmother said 40 years ago 'if the product is not good you will not make a good plate'.

I always think that one person's taste is not better than another's.

I wish I travelled more, but I aim to be in the restaurant as much as possible so I can be with the guests in the dining room, that's very important and it's the same for my father.

My children are four and six. We'll have to wait and see if they want to follow us into gastronomy. It's a little early yet.

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