An ever-dedicated student, Andoni Luis Aduriz learned his craft from several of Spanish cuisine’s greats, including Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak. Winning over discerning palates with his culinary creativity and ardent passion for the art of cooking, Andoni’s restaurant Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain, was named at number six on this year’s list of ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’. But while the earnest chef finds inspiration in the work of many of his peers and predecessors, he firmly believes that true success lies not in following someone else’s path, but in carving out your own.
What was your childhood dream? When I was young, sitting in front of the television, I would watch a particular competition where the winner had the opportunity to travel the world. To me, it seemed incredible and yet inaccessible at the same time. I would imagine how great it would be to know other countries, cultures and people. Luckily, cuisine has helped me get to know more than 50 countries, visit wonderful places and experience very memorable moments in my life.
Were your parents an influence on your career? Absolutely. My mother decided for me that I was going to attend culinary school. She is now 85 and when she was eight, she had to live through the Spanish Civil War. Sadly, like many children during that time and environment, she starved. When I turned 14, my mother saw that I had no special talents, nor was I a good student, and so she thought it was best to put me in the kitchen – in that way I would never starve. This decision was ingenuous but it was a motivated one, due to a life lived so dramatically. That’s how I became a chef.
Can you remember a time when food first really had an impact on you? Finding out that there were chefs who would not just interpret but change established practices took me aback. When Michel Bras´s first book fell into my hands, I was shocked that he was able to change my perception of cuisine and made me thirsty for knowledge. Also, when I was a teenager, my family celebrated a birthday at Arzak, and the food impacted me so deeply because it was more than food – it was as if the dishes were small pieces of art.
Do you feel a great pressure to be constantly innovative as a chef? I won’t deny that when discomfort doesn’t come from the exterior, we tend to generate it ourselves from within. Critical thinking and nonconformity are two elements that will always give you the necessary alertness to compete in a world with so many rivalries.
Tell me about why you place a broken plate on your tables? It’s a sculpture, named ’Par Móvil´, by the Basque artist Manu Muniategiandikoetxea, who, himself, was inspired by the work of universal Basque artist, Jorge Oteiza. All the sculptures on the tables are different and play a game of shadows over the table and with the light that is projecting onto them. They promote an atmosphere of peacefulness and observation.
What dining experience do you hope to create at Mugaritz? Cooking tends to be deconstructed through cultural keys; if the cuisine is avant-garde and it doesn’t hold any references to what helped form it, you manage it through absolute abstraction. As we all know, through a particular dish, a person might imagine, remember, or even discover … it’s practically impossible to create an experience that stimulates everyone the same way. Furthermore, we’ve focused on our condensed knowledge and our own way of seeing and understanding gastronomy. In constructing an experience based on 20 proposals – along with integrating games, rhythms and unexpected elements – we are able to create a narration through a menu, which, in one way or another, won’t leave anyone indifferent and is able to stimulate thought in everyone and wake up his or her creativity.
Why do you think shock and surprise are important in a restaurant? We like to find a way to play with unexpectedness and we know that introducing counterintuitive elements –those that crush the expected and force you to step out of the established ideals – help to stimulate and move the guest. Our dishes summarise a quantity of extraordinary knowledge and we think that, instead of showing it in a transcendental way, it is better to present it in a lucrative one.
Describe your most memorable eating experience … My last meal at elBulli the year it closed. It left me moved for several days.
Would you consider yourself a success and how would you define success? In general, success with the public needs to be visible and recognised, but, for me, real success is what you achieve in integrating who you are, with what you feel, and doing what you want. When you arm yourself with these three things, it could be said that your life is exotic even if the public does not recognise or see you.
What has been your greatest challenge? Over the years, we had to fight against a very complicated environment due to indifference, lack of resources, a deficit of means, a fire … even the incomprehension of certain people. But the most difficult task is to lead oneself, and I try to do this better every day.
What is something you are most proud of in your life? That I was able to bring very extraordinary people to Mugaritz who have made the restaurant their own. And that I was able to build an ecosystem of values that stimulates certain attributes such as creativity, sensibility, solidarity and critical thinking.
What advice would you give aspiring chefs looking to emulate your success? Don’t be fooled by appearances. I know there’s nothing more exciting in life than being inspired by others, and seeing someone we would like to become, but we mustn’t forget that every life and its path is unique, and that each and every one of us must create our own path and adjust our dreams to our own possibilities, capabilities and desires.
Who inspires you? The people I work with and with whom I share successes and failures, projects and dreams – and also those who I share my daily life with. But also the farmers who I buy vegetables and fish from.
What inspires you? The energy that people bring when they visit us; it’s contagious and when our work is able to reach, or even exceed, their expectations, extraordinary moments are created that are tremendously inspiring. They make us excited about the line of work that we do and give us the strength to strive for excellence.
Which five people would you share a bottle of wine with? Just one bottle of wine? I wouldn’t share it with anyone!
Where do you find peace in life? Reading, going to a concert, enjoying a good movie, playing with my son, and achieving things that are totally abstract to me and that help me reach a serene state.
What are your words of wisdom? I would share Sartre´s saying that every man is what he does with what made him. We have a great responsibility to become what