Aged eleven, Elena Arzak became the fourth generation of her family to work in their legendary restaurant, Arzak. Owned by the family for the past 118 years, it was the first Basque establishment to be awarded three Michelin stars, which it has held since 1989. Although she was only allowed to work for a couple of hours a day in the summer holidays, she knew this was the path for her. She spent many years abroad and in other parts of Spain, working and training in Switzerland, France and the UK under greats such as Albert Roux, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Michel Troisgros and Ferran Adrìa. Returning to the fold in 1996, she eschewed favouritism to work her way through the parties like the other chefs in the kitchen, but within two years was on equal footing with her father, head chef Juan Mari Arzak – one of the founders of New Basque Cuisine (Nueva Cocina Vasca).
In 2012, Elena Arzak was named Best Female Chef in the World in the San Pellegrino awards, recognition she proudly accepted on behalf of her mother, aunt and grandmother, who all helped make the restaurant what it is today. Her cuisine has its roots in the ingredients and flavours of traditional Basque cookery, but continues to evolve, with avant garde creations developed in her ‘laboratory’ – a small kitchen and workshop where she conceives new recipes and combinations. The result is dishes such as Monkfish with sea buckthorn, crispy lobster roe, roasted garlic and puffed rice and seaweed ‘cloche’, and Pigeon with grape sauce, pumpkin seed purée, seeded caramel, apple and almonds – dishes that are born of the region and its history, but with wide creative scope and progressive technical execution.