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Interview with Mugaritz’s Andoni Aduriz

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andoni aduriz_mugaritz2012 - 008-Andoni-Luis-Aduriz_resized.jpgMugaritz, in San Sebastián, is one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world – it has two Michelin stars and was ranked number three in the 2011 S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best awards. With the 2012 awards looming tonight, and Noma having topped the list for the past two years, all eyes will be on the top three restaurants – Noma, El Celler de Can Roca, and Mugaritz – to see whether the judges will crown a new number one. Square Meal talked to Mugaritz’s Andoni Aduriz (pictured) about the 50 Best awards, his chances of winning, and his new book.

Why do you think Spanish restaurants are so well represented on the 50 Best list?

Objectively, I wouldn’t know how to explain it; it’s an ongoing debate. But there is a Spanish way of being that might contribute to it. We have a tendency to be more daring – we live with intensity and we don’t do anything by halves.

In Spain, we’re surrounded by an environment of culinary creativity and healthy competition. This pushes everyone working in this profession to aim for a higher standard. It’s the opposite of a downward spiral: our restaurants generate a favourable climate in which talent can develop. For 30 years, the energy has been generated in one direction [‘la nueva cocina Vasca’; new Basque cookery]. We’ve all been caught up in this dynamic.

So what are Spanish restaurants doing differently from British restaurants, then?

At the end of the day, restaurants and kitchens are very good reflections of the society that they exist in – it’s all about context. Restaurants give a clear reflection of a society’s lifestyle. London is cosmopolitan, fast-paced, both formal and informal, sophisticated and rough-and-ready, with a mixture of cultures – all that is reflected in its restaurants.

What do you thinks of the list in general – is it a good thing?

The awards only started 10 years ago and they have already become one of the most important reference points for food lovers. They’ve also made London a gastronomic centre – every year, all eyes are on London as the list is announced. I don’t think the founders knew what they were getting themselves into – and how big it was going to be.

The 50 Best has been a breath of fresh air for gastronomy that has changed the dynamic – the judges agree on the most influential restaurants in the world, and that has a huge impact on the sector. I’m very proud that Mugaritz has featured in the list for seven years.

Could Mugaritz be number one this year?

I honestly have no idea: there have been no clues; only rumours. And rumours are like opinion polls before an election – they rarely reflect how people vote. I can only tell you for certain that el Bulli won’t be on the list!

Noma is a great choice for number one: it does authentic, avant-garde haute cuisine on a grand scale. El Celler de Can Roca also has all the potential to be number one, as do Alinea and Osteria Francescana – they’ll all be number one one day. There are many restaurants that deserve to be at the top. And I won’t deny that I would love Mugaritz to be there one day, too.

Do you think the list influences where most people go out to eat? Or is it just a specialist interest for certain people?

The list has an extraordinary media profile and I think it serves a purpose as a guide for normal people, not just for professionals. For example, I don’t have any idea about architecture, but when I hear about the winner of the Pritzker Prize, I take it as a given that the judges know what they’re doing and that the winner deserves the award. For a person who’s removed from the gastronomic world, the restaurant choices can all appear very exotic – but to me, the Oscars are exotic! The list also stimulates the restaurant industry and gives it the impetus to move forward constantly.

The best restaurants in Spain, according to the 50 Best, are not in the capital, but in San Sebastián. Why is San Sebastian such a gastronomic city?

I can’t answer that. Thirty years ago, we created a space for gastronomic development, and a context for it, and since we did that it has been an area of great activity – a pole of attraction for like-minded people. From the point of view of tourism and gastronomy, San Sebastián is now one of the most important destinations in the world. But I don’t know how to explain the origin of this.

How has the economic downturn affected the Spanish restaurant industry?

There has been a trend towards ‘gastro-bars’ lately. All over Spain, chefs with impeccable training have put their talent into serving extraordinary dishes at reasonable prices in an informal atmosphere. Gastro-bars are more than tapas bars – the dishes they offer improve on tradition, or look at traditional dishes from a different point of view. I don’t know whether the economy necessarily provoked the evolution of these bars, but they fit in very well with the current climate, which has reinforced their success.

Which do you value most – Mugaritz’s two Michelin stars or ranking number three on the World’s 50 Best list?

The two things are aimed at different publics and they have different objectives. The 50 Best list shows restaurants in terms of how influential they are in the industry. The restaurants can be a bistro, a steakhouse, or whatever, and can still be considered special enough to make the list. Michelin stars define a certain style of restaurant – a know-how and a protocol linked by quality. But I couldn’t measure which brings me more customers – it’s very complex. It’s incredible how much media impact both awards make.

mugaritz book_2012 - MUGARITZ-flat-cover_resized.jpgWhat’s your earliest childhood memory?

As a child, I remember going to restaurants with my parents and my mother would show me the food in terms of its aroma and texture. She’d say, ‘look at this, we eat it at home but see how different it is here.’ My mother taught me a lot. I went to eat at Arzak [three Michelin stars, currently world number 8] when I was about 11 or 12. I remember eating a plate of vegetables that were perfectly cut – they were beautiful – and a transparent soup that was like a lake, with herbs in it [to look like weeds]. I had never seen anything like it. To me it was as exciting to look at as to taste. But my memory of it has got better with time – it’s become legendary in my mind.

What’s the easiest recipe in your book – something for entry-level chefs?

I would say that the recipe for baby green peppers and honey dust is the simplest. This dish is not about technical skill; it’s more about the eating experience – the peppers are all different sizes, which changes their characteristics. And the honey dust is actually really simple. The book [pictured, left] tries to show the reality of the Mugaritz experience – the aim is to give people techniques to integrate into their cooking. And, of course, to inspire them.

Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking, is published by Phaidon and costs £35. It is out tomorrow.

This interview was published on 30 April 2012.

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