"The arrival of the creative spirit of Juan Mari Arzak and his increasingly consolidated team has helped this family house to stay at the forefront of innovation through contrasting eras for more than 100 years."
From 1897 to 1942
The building housing the restaurant was built in 1897 by the grandparents of Juan Mari Arzak - Jose Maria Arzak Etxabe and Escolastica Lete - to become the wine cellar and tavern of the village of Alza. This area of the Alto de Miracruz belongs to the village of Alza and is currently part of San Sebastian. As Juan Mari himself recognises and does not mind admitting it was due to the poor quality of the wine offered at the bar - as was always almost the case in those days - that this place became known as Alto de "Vinagres" (the height of "Vinegars") much in keeping with the humorous sarcastic nature of the people from Guipuzcoa and even more so from the outskirts of San Sebastian.
The tavern continued to enjoy great popularity until the parents of Juan Mari (Juan Ramón Arzak and Francisca Arratibel) took over and transformed it into an eating house of certain standard and refinement, led by the excellent cook Paquita Arratibel, who was already renowned for her stews and basic Basque recipe interpretations and more especially dishes from San Sebastian - the humble fish soup, the squid from the harbour in its own ink, the merluza (hake) both in batter and in parsley sauce, the then affordable baby eels and a wide array of dishes deeply rooted in fish.
From 1942 to 1951
Against this backdrop, Juan Maria Arzak was born in San Sebastian on the 31 July 1942, on the day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (the patron of Guipuzcoa) which is a special day of celebration for the people of Guipuzcoa. When his father died prematurely, his mother took over the management of the family business. Then, Juan Mari, an only child, was nine years old. The name of the business changed to Viuda de Arzak (Arzak’s Widow) and the restaurant became increasingly prestigious with family celebrations a speciality. It was claimed in those days that wedding dates were decided more according to the availability of the restaurant than of the parishes.
From 1951 to 1966
At 10 years of age, Juan Mari, who would later become one of the main instigators of the New Basque Cuisine, went away to El Escorial (Madrid) to study; and at 19 he joined the school of hotel and restaurant management Escuela de Hostelería de la Casa de Campo in Madrid: "Although my relationship with food started when I was a child I never thought I would become a chef. When I completed my baccalaureate I studied technical architecture in Madrid and in those days a friend of mine was at the Escuela de Hostelería and encouraged me to join in. There I learnt many things, but my main teacher was my mother. She taught me that affection is the most important thing - affection towards the produce and the people. She taught me that it was very important to look after the fishmongers and farmers because we would be absolutely nothing without them"...
From 1966 to 1976
In 1966 he took over the business where his mother Paquita still worked. Actually, the mother lent her son a small diner to carry out his experiments where a grill was installed (to cook grilled meat) and both kitchens lived together happily for years. At this time when Juan Mari started to explore contemporary gastronomy, his mother was asked for her opinion in that regard, and she clearly replied: "as long as it tastes good, I don’t care". Maite Espina joined the Restaurante Arzak in 1967, improving the service, style, decoration and administration up to the present day. During this period they had two daughters - Marta and Elena. In 1974 at the age of only 32, the chef was awarded the national gastronomy prize and the restaurant obtained its first coveted Michelin star.
From 1976 to 1977
The New Basque Cuisine movement started in 1976, triggered by a meaningful event - the Round Table on Gastronomy I - called by the recently born magazine on good food "Club de Gourmets". In December 1976, this magazine defined Juan Mari Arzak at the age of only thirty four as: "perhaps the best chef owner in Spain today and his customers crowd his small premises in Guipuzcoa". One of the key contributions to the Round Table was Paul Bocuse’s speech focussed on market cuisine. From that day on, a restless desire to research took over two restless souls: Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana (lifelong companion and colleague for whom Juan Mari feels great devotion for his help). Without thinking twice they packed their bags and travelled to Lyon two months later, to the temple of the most famous chef in the world in those days to learn the secrets of the "Nouvelle Cuisine" in situ. This became the cornerstone for the serious work related to the new Basque cuisine… In March 1977 some ideas came to light and among them, the decision to organise a monthly dinner to be held at each restaurant of the movement, each time and prepared by the whole team… Among many other things, this initiative was the starting signal for what later became the Round Table on Gastronomy II.
From 1977 to 1989
Following a proposal by most of the attendees to the Round Table on Gastronomy I, the subject of "regional cuisines" was selected for the second symposium, which gathered in San Sebastian (almost a year later) an important group of prestigious experts in the field, professionals from public restaurants, gastronomy specialists and journalists. There, the urgent need to encourage Spanish chefs willing to promote our regional cuisines was highlighted. To bring transformation and dynamism to regional cuisines
After the event, the Basque gastronomy renovation, and more particularly from Guipuzcoa, stopped navel gazing and began to abandon the narrow local framework. The first outing with the aim of disseminating their new ideas in February 1978 was the restaurant Bogui in Madrid. This continued in other cities and innovation theories started spreading and bearing fruit, disseminating the Basque culinary tradition worldwide. Almost at the end of the decade, in 1989 Arzak restaurant was awarded their third Michelin star.
From 1990 to 2011
These two decades were key for the international unveiling of Spanish cuisine. Led by Ferrán Adria himself was strongly bonded with Juan Mari Arzak and the rest of the Basque chefs, for whom he feels great admiration. Far from resting on its laurels, this centenary house is committed - more than ever - to a decisively cutting edge cuisine of everything cooked worldwide, without losing its identity. This can be defined as: an ancient oak, its leaves to the wind - almost a tempest of innovation.
Elena Arzak studied hotel and restaurant management in Switzerland and broadened her culinary knowledge in prestigious French, English and Italian restaurants. At this time she joined the restaurant in a tandem kitchen with her father, along with the invaluable support of the restaurant’s team. Marta Arzak, an art historian, is a key adviser to the restaurant and at the same time manages art and gastronomy related issues.
Arzak’s contribution - understood not only as individual inspiration but as a team effort is: consistent, educated and cultivated, fraternal and disciplined - and has been crucial in every national and international forum created and implemented along the years and such as the Salón Internacional del Club de Gourmets, Forum Gastronomic, Madrid Fusion, BCN Vanguardia, San Sebastian Gastronomika and many more.
Travelling the world - in enriching gastronomic appointments of return trips, from right next door to the furthest reaches of the planet. Always in solidarity, in close cooperation with the most relevant, acclaimed or would be chefs. Most of the chefs are very young - and are already shining worldwide with their decisive creativity based nonetheless in the most cutting-edge techniques and strict research, but most poignantly in ideas distilling fantasy.
AVDA. ALCALDE ELÓSEGUI, 273 · 20015 DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN / T. +34 943 278 465 · T. +34 943 285 593 / CONTACT