Michelin-starred Spanish chef Elena Arzak, awarded World’s Best Female Chef in 2012, talks about her achievements and what it’s like working with her father, the venerable chef Juan Mari Arzak.
HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE WOMEN TO JOIN THE MALE-DOMINATED CULINARY WORLD? AND WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR YOUNG FEMALE CHEFS?
Be yourself. The advice I’d give to all young chefs is to be consistent and focused while continuing to learn and evolve. Fortunately I grew up in a matriarchal society where there were not as many differences in the kitchen between men and women.
YOU’VE ACHIEVED A LOT IN YOUR YOUNG AGE. WHAT ELSE DO YOU AIM TO ACHIEVE IN THIS LIFETIME?
My biggest challenge is anticipating peoples changing tastes and staying one step ahead!
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING WITH YOUR FATHER? AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNT FROM HIM?
I have been very lucky to work with him. He encouraged me from a very young age. The most important lessons I learned from my father were respect for the profession and to cook and serve what you would like to receive. My father always said that it is important to think like a child in order to be creative – an innocent childlike gaze allows you to let your mind free and leaves you open to inspirations.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD MEMORY FROM CHILDHOOD?
I have two: At home when they cooked rice milk (rice pudding) every Saturday and when I got into the restaurant and smelled crabs boiling.
WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR THESE COOKS WHO WANT TO DABBLE IN MODERN SPANISH DISHES?
First start with tapas or pintxos. It’s easier to play around on a small scale. I’d like to explain that Spain is a mosaic of different food cultures. They could have a look at traditional plates and then do their own interpretations of popular dishes like gazpachos, hake with clams or egg dishes like tortilla.
Story originally appeared on The Peak.