Basque-born chef Eneko Atxa is known for taking traditional Basque cuisine and adding a pinch of modernity. His restaurant Aziamendi has received multiple awards including three Michelin Stars, Most Sustainable Restaurant by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and more.
Eneko has brought his love of Basque cuisine to London with Eneko, Basque Kitchen and Bar, inside One Aldwych hotel. On a special evening, highlighting the extra virgin olive oils from Jaen, Spain and wine from Gorka Izagirre in Basque Country (founded by Bertol Izagirre, Eneko’s cousin), Adrienne Katz Kennedy sat down with Eneko to find out more.
What was it that made you want to become a chef?
As a child I loved the food that was cooked in my house and the atmosphere that was created around the table; where I could listen and absorb all my elders had to say. That is probably the reason behind why I became a chef. I can’t guarantee if someone else in my family will continue with this profession (we must let everyone be free to follow their dreams), but of course it would be fantastic.
Who have been your mentors in the kitchen and out?
Without a doubt, my parents and my family have always been my mentors, inspiring me with values such as respect for others and universal justice. In the world of cooking however, I would say all those with whom I cook are my mentors; I like to learn from everyone.
What fundamentals of Basque cuisine or culture do you try to express with your style of cooking?
I believe that Basque cuisine, as well as many others, is built upon its local products and its traditional culture. Once you understand the traditions you can use them to form a new style whilst still offering the best flavours and values from that place.
Your restaurant Azurmendi (just outside of Bilbao, Spain) has been such a phenomenal success. What made you want to open up in London?
London is a magical city, a true reflection of the world where all trends coexist, and so it’s very important for me to have a small embassy in such a wonderful city.
You are well known for your dedication to sustainability; any tips for home cooks who want to shop and cook sustainably?
I think you have to use common sense and try to understand that any of our actions, no matter how small, have an impact in the environment. Every gesture matters. Therefore, in the same way we try to take better care of our health to live better and be happier, we must do the same with the environment. I encourage everyone in their homes to carry out small, daily gestures that can help to change the future.
Having partnered with Jaen Selección Extra Virgin Olive Oils tonight, how do you feel your cooking ethos and the culture of olive oil production in Jaen are similar?
The very good thing about Jaen’s Extra Virgin Olive Oils is that they pair with everything you want to cook, helping us to enrich flavours. This is the greatness of an exceptional product that adapts to any kind of cooking anywhere in the world. Olive oil production is part of Spain’s culture, and it requires a large number of dedicated people to harvest in the most artisan and sustainable way.
What does an ideal family meal look like to you?
The secret is in the market; buying seasonal products and then cooking with respect for the product. I try to promote cooking for our families with the same love we have when we cook for customers: in a balanced and sensible way.
Any tips you on how you source ingredients?
I can think of wonderful products that are very affordable if you know how to buy them in their season and cook them properly. Remember, a high price doesn’t always mean the best product, sometimes most humble are best.