Elena runs Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian with her father Juan Mari Arzak, and she has the cooking in her venes since generations back. I had the pleasure to eat her exquisite food, and I have meet Elena both in Sweden and in San Sebastian during Gastronomika. And even if Elena is running a Michelin restaurant, she is as humble as bumblebee! She loves to share her knowledge with others, and is very passionate about what she cooks. She has worked at some amazing restaurants like La Maison Troisgros, Pierre Gagnaire, Carré des Feuillants and Le Vivarois in France, Louis XV i Monte Carlo, Le Gavroche in London, Antica Osteria del Ponte i Italien and El Bulli in Spain. And restaurant Arzak has been awarded with 3 Michelin stars and lots of other prizes and awardsfor their food!Not only that they have 3 Michelin stars since 1989, they have kept them for all those years!! When Elena was in the jury for the Swedish Chef of the Year 2019 I did a short interview with her for Gourmet in Swedish that you now can read down below in English.
Is there any Swedish chefs that has meant something special for you?
-At the time Mathias Dahlgren was running Bon Lloc he introduced the Swedish kitchen for me. He is a very talented chef that I really appreciate. But you have a lot of talented chefs in Sweden like Björn Frantzen, Niklas Ekstedt and Stefan Karlsson from Gothenbourg.
What do you think about the Swedish gastronomy scene?
-It is always very intresting to follow, and I really appreciate what the young chefs are doing. I always get lots of new great influences when I am in Sweden.
And how about the Swedish kitchen, what do you think about that?
-I really like the way the Swedish chefs are plating. Their way is ”Order but disorder” . I came up with that frase when I meet Gourmet’s Tove once! Sweden is really the king of fish, and lingonberry is really my Swedish favourite.
I appreciate the way swedes very often take nature in conscideration while choosing their produce. We also think that way in the Basque Country today.
The Swedish dairy products are fantastic! The butter, yoghurt… I had an amazing breakfast at Bank Hotel this morning with some really great dairy products!
Any thoughts about the chefs in the Chef of the year competition?
-They are full of new ideas, and you can see that they are proud over what they do.
How is it to be a chef in Spain?
-In the old days my father and his collegues had to fight for recognition of their work, today we don’t have to do that. People understand and appreciate what we do. This something I am very happy for! But it is important that you keep your feet at the ground, and to give other chefs the opportunity to show everyone what they know! And I, just like everyone else work at the restaurant!
You are well known for your engagement and with teaching kids to think about what they eat. Could you tell us some more about that?
-I tell them why it is important to eat the right nutrients, to my favour they listen to me and that helps of course. It is so important that the young people know what you are supposed to eat fro the beginning. I also work with San Sebastian Basque Culinary Center SBCC, I give advise to schools what children and teenagers need to eat to get the right nutrients and how they can create nutritional meals. In some other countries I help through some organizations like ”Food for the world” in New York and in Ethiopia. I also work with children that has cancer to get the right nutrition. I am doing as much as I can, and I think that is our duty to help children.
What is the biggest difference between the Spanish and the Swedish kitchen?
-The Swedish chefs often use less ingredients at the plate than the Spanish chefs. We often use a lot of different things at the plate. But both the Swedish and Spanish kitchen are using much locally produced foods. I also think that the Swedes are more daring in extreme flavors than we are.
Did you always wanna become a chef?
-There has never been anything else for me. I had good grades in school and I could choose what I wanted to become.
You have been to Sweden several times, your most memorable meal here?
-Herring is amazing, I had a really good celery bowl by Mathias Dahlgren.
Your biggest passion?
-Everything I do has to do with food, when I travel. eat well everything follow this red line with food. I love everything about it! And I would never travel to a place where they don’t have good food.
What inspires you to create new recipes?
-For the moment it is everyday things, normally the ideas are there right infront of you, you just have to be able to see them. Like here in Stockholm, when I looked at Globen I imagined a truffle with holes in it. I get new ideas all the time.
Your most memorable cooking experience?
-Bartolli invited me to the opera in Salzburg a few years ago, and then I cooked dishes that associated to Rossini. Our 100 years with restaurant Arzak was an amazing cooking experience!
Does your kids cook to?
-They have been cooking since they were 5 years old!
By Malin Nordblom
Selfie taken during Gastronomika in San Sebastian 2019
And I am so looking forward to visit restaurant Arzak as soon as it is possible!