Land and sea, sea and land coexist on the stoves of Basque homes. A match made to bestow a highly distinct personality on Basque gastronomy, and which reflects one of its main features, variety. Anyone who delves into the reality of Basque cuisine will find a diverse selection ranging from traditional and customary menus to haute cuisine tasting menus.
This vast culinary range is closely linked to the decision taken by some chefs to seek out, and rescue, virtually forgotten recipes from traditional Basque cuisine. This initiative laid the foundations on which new ideas could flourish and, nowadays, these techniques and recipes, unprecedented to date, reflect the most exquisite culinary culture.
And not everything ends up on the stoves. Bars have converted the aspect of the pintxo (elaborate miniature aperitif) into a pillar for creativity, and meat and fish brasseries give their creations just the right touch to ensure enjoying seasonal produce, yet another virtue of Basque cuisine. The art of char-grilling has reached levels of excellence.
TASTE OF BASQUE GASTRONOMY
Basque gastronomy is imbued with the flavour of pots and pans, coal and wood, traditional Basque stoves, and gastronomic associations. Basque cuisine is enveloped by the aroma of peas, artichokes, beans, mushrooms anchovies…and, of course, the recurring porrusalda (Basque leek soup).
It tastes of shared family recipes and kitchen secrets. Of lunch on a mountain top, a Friday-night soirée with friends or fond memories of after-dinner chats. It tastes of conversations at the market, of how we prepare cod in a pil-pil sauce or how our hake cheeks in sauce turned out.
Basque cuisine is palpable and lives in every port, every fish and fresh produce market. The result is minimalist beauty, vegetables transformed into a magnificent dish and char-grilled fish served open or whole. A savoir faire, a way of understanding cuisine based on traditional wisdom, family secrets, personality, and modernity.
Pintxo Bar in Bilbao. (Picture from Destinoseuskadi.com)
FOCUSED IN RAW INGREDIENTS
Many gourmets affirmed that the best produce on the planet could be found within a 200-kilometre radius from the centre of Euskadi. Although true, nothing would have been the same without the care and endeavour of all of those people who have worked to ensure that Basque cuisine, based on the personality of first-class raw ingredients, has been transformed into what it is today.
Generations of Basque chefs have been aware of the need to defend concepts such as respect for flavours, seasonal produce, market cuisine or ensuring that everything is done to a turn. It is thanks to all of them that, in addition to our produce, we have achieved levels of quality in our cuisine on an international level.
TRADITIONAL AND “NEW CUISINE”
Today, Basque cuisine incorporates both tradition and innovation. Tradition, because of the respect shown to the techniques used by our ancestors. Innovation, because of the regeneration of culinary processes and the improvement in raw ingredients.
Basque chefs work continuously to create new ideas by applying concepts such as innovation, creativity, technique and, above all, by entering into dialogue with science and the addition of new products.
Currently, Euskadi is a territory which is open and modern where it is possible to find gastronomic authenticity ranging from the most traditional to the most avant-garde.
Eneko Atxa. Azurmendi Restaurant awarded with three Michelin Stars. (Picture from eaj-pnv.eus)
With the involvement of a group of Basque chefs, the late 1970s bore testimony to the start of what would be referred to as the New Basque Cuisine movement. Led by Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana and driven by the refusal of all these chefs to conform, they decided not only to recover the legacy received by way of a recipe book, but also to question the actual bases of Basque cuisine.
Arzak, Subijana, Arguiñano, Idiáquez, Fombellida, Gómez, Iza, Mangas, Kintana, Castillo, Roteta, Zapirain and Irizar took up the challenge and, although competitors, committed themselves to collaborating and developing a healthier, more modern, and innovative cuisine. A school of thought which stimulated the development of cuisine and managed to convert it into a culture for the first time.
WITHOUT BREAKING WITH THE PAST
Young restaurateurs from the New Basque Cuisine had the great virtue of quickly joining a culinary revolution and of knowing how to adapt it to their region. Without breaking with the past, the chefs got it right by innovating whilst maintaining great respect, dialogue and attitude for the tradition and legacy of family homes and the wisdom of their ancestors.
BASQUE CUISINE REINVENTS ITSELF
The impeccable trajectory of the most veteran restaurateurs such as Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subijana, Martín Berasategui, Hilario or Arbelaitz, has been enriched with the success and involvement of a new generation of chefs amongst whom it is worth highlighting names such as Andoni Luis Aduriz, Eneko Atxa, Josean Alija, Álvaro Garrido, Elena Arzak, Ricardo Perez, Jose Olazabalaga, Daniel Garcia, Diego Guerrero and Íñigo Lavado. Without forgetting the unparalleled Bittor Arginzoniz, the king of the grill in his Etxebarri de Atxondo, who is setting a precedent throughout the world.
A generation of young talents who have not only joined the movement which started during the late 20th century but have also continued to research and innovate to position Basque cuisine as one of the leading references on a world level.
Chefs from Bizkaia awarded with Michelin Star in 2020. (Picture from El Correo.com)
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