How This 120-Year-Old Restaurant Continues To Turn The Ordinary Into The Extraordinary

Four generations of the Arzak family have headed up their eponymous Spanish restaurant, and it continues to go from strength to strength. 

In the latest episode of ‘The Chefs’ Chefs’, HuffPost UK’s original video series, acclaimed chef José Pizarro meets Elena Arzak to find out how a restaurant built 120 years ago remains a front runner of modern cuisine. 

José meets Elena during a busy afternoon at Arzak, along with her father and fellow chef Juan Mari Arzak. 

Elena explains that the key to their innovation – which has won the restaurant three Michelin stars – is finding inspiration in the world around them.

Elena Arzak (left) and José Pizarro (right)

Dishes on the Arzak menu are inspired by everything from wildlife and humanity to fashion and shop windows.

“A normal situation in life can bring you an idea,” Elena explains. 

“I can see, perhaps, children playing football and I can say ‘okay I can do chocolate in the form of a ball’.

“I can see in a shop window, perhaps I like the colours, and I can bring the colours here.

“When you’re a chef, you look at everything with the eyes of a chef and you will bring everything to your kitchen.”

'Pigeon With Potato Feathers’

During the episode José watches as Elena creates a selection of the restaurant’s most ingenious dishes, such as ‘Monkfish Cleopatra’ – which includes a puree presented in hieroglyphic stencils – and ‘Pigeon With Potato Feathers’ – which looks ready to fly off the plate. 

It’s clear the true secret to Arzak’s longevity is the family’s willingness to move with the times.

Dishes are trialled in a separate room affectionately named “the lab”, which is filled with cutting-edge technology, allowing a team of alchemists to try “what no one else has tried before”.

As Elena says: “Without innovation there is not evolution.”