If I could turn back time I would love to see the look on my face when two amazing people invited me to lunch at the 3 Michelin Star Arzak in San Sebastián. Even better, the look on their faces when my original response was a no. I must have had some type of momentary mental lapses or something of the like. Good thing I quickly came to my senses and accepted their extremely generous invitation.
Juan Mari Arzak celebrated his 80th birthday on July 31st. I still can’t believe that just a few months ago I was actually standing in the kitchen of his restaurant. Arzak became the co-innovator of New Basque Cuisine after taking over his family’s business. In 1897 his grandparents opened a wine shop and tavern from the same building where Arzak stands now and his parents turned the tavern into a local restaurant. He earned his first Michelin star in 1972, when I was just barely a 1 year old. I don’t think you can talk about the Basque Country or Basque Cuisine without thinking of Juan Mari Arzak. He learned how to cook from his mother who would take him to the market to select the very best products. This is the prime principal of Basque cuisine. Juan Mari then spread his love of cooking to his daughter Elena who now co-runs the kitchen at Arzak. It’s also nice to mention that 80 percent of the team at the restaurant are women.
Eating at Arzak felt like being in someone’s home. The atmosphere is relaxed and humble. It also felt like a dream come true, because it was exactly that for me. When Juan Mari showed up in the dining room I was completely star struck. Luckily my extremely generous hosts shared the feeling with me or they were just kind enough to not make me feel like a total nerd.
We had the degustation menu with the wine pairing. It was like a finely tuned symphony of traditional Basque cuisine seasoned with the heart and soul of Elena and Juan Mari Arak. I really could not think of a better way to spend an afternoon in San Sebastián. We relished in every course while enjoying great conversation and laughter.
Just in case I wasn’t at my highest nerd level from meeting Arzak, one of the desserts was a medley of chocolate columns and ruins, a history dork’s dream!
After our first two desserts our server asked if we wanted to go down into the kitchen to have a photo with Juan Mari!! IN THE KITCHEN!! I had tears in my eyes, I have to admit, when I met him. He looked me straight in the eyes and said to me, “Contigo me iría al final del mundo”. I would go to the end of the earth with you. Our server was taken aback and said, I have never heard him say that to anyone. It was definitely love at first sight. A moment I will never forget and will always be truly grateful for, thanks to my wonderful hosts who quickly became friends.
I do regret not taking a photo with Elena because she is a true star. Maybe I will run into her in the market or walking through the streets of Donsoti one day. Here is a photo of the menu in English. Thank you from the bottom of my food nerd heart to my lovely hosts!