Masterchef S03 ep3 : Antoni Luis, Restaurant Mugaritz, [San Sebastien]
Interview with Antoni Luis
3 Michelin Stars Andoni Luis Aduriz cooked with nearly all the Spanish greats before becoming a household Spanish culinary name himself. After studying at the Donostia School of Cuisine in San Sebastian, Spain, Aduriz worked for Ramón Roteta, Hilario Arbelaitz, Jean Louis Neichel, Juan Mari Arzak, Fermín Arrambide and Pedro Subijana. In1993 he joined the team at el Bulli, headed by Ferran Adrià, and in 1996 moved to a chef position under Martín Berasategui at his eponymous restaurant outside San Sebastian. Two years later he began working on his own at Mugaritz, the restaurant he has run since 1998. Aduriz has been described by the international gastronomic press as “the most important gastronomic phenomenon on the world scene in recent times.” He is regularly highlighted in the pages of prestigious magazines such as the Swedish Gourmet, the French Gault&Millau (where he’s received a 19/20 rating), The New York Times Magazine, Saveur, the Italian Gambero Rosso and the Japanese Cuisine Kingdom or Specialités. In 2002 he was awarded the National Prize for Gastronomy, and the Spanish guide Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía named him “Chef of the Year” and “Patissier of the Year.” In 2003 the Basque Gastronomy Academy awarded him the “Euskadi Prize for Gastronomy to the Best Restaurateur” and in 2005 the Michelin guide awarded him a second star. In 2006 Mugaritz obtained the 10th place in the “The World's 50 Best Restaurants” list awarded by Restaurant Magazine. In 2011, Mugaritz is now considered among the world’s top three restaurants.
In essence, Mugaritz was a dream. A dream that was the product of working in many restaurants.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t have an exact idea of the resataurant I wanted
to be in, but I knew what I didn’t want. The essence of the restaurant is that it is in constant
change. Evolving. It adapts, it transforms. Every year it’s getting closer to that dream. That idea I
had when I first started.
When I was 14 yrs old, I finished the last part of elementary school, and I was given the option of
what I wanted to do next. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I got counselling from the school.
They recommended that I didn’t try to get into university because I wasn’t a good student, instead,
suggested to go into a technical school. My parents enrolled me into Culinary School just by
chance, as I was not interested in food or cooking at the beginning, it was just something to do at
the time. One day whilst looking through some magazines, I saw that chefs were actually were
creating new style of food that was very different from what I was learning at school , which was
definitely not interesting. In the magazine, he saw that these Chefs were able to express the way
they felt or how they understood life through their cooking. This appealed to me. I was hooked. I
believe that you can be a part of the world, express the way you feel and think through cooking.
I have great respect for science, for art , the reason for staying with cooking is very simple. You can
take a part of science, you can take a part of art, but you must be truthful and begin an exercise in
honesty. Honesty meaning you are good at what you are. I’m good at cooking, I’m good at
expressing, I’m good at showing emotions through food. If science as a means is helpful to achieve
that end, I will use it, respectfully and thoughtfully. If art is a way to do this, people who find it a
even artistic, some more than others. But it’s not pure art. It’s just a means to that end. I try to
stay focussed on what I do, because what I do is not only cooking, but provides stimulation for
the people who come here as guests. So this is what we do best. Farming and cooking. We create
this moment where you get stimulated.
One of my early idols was Michel Bras . Michel Bras was my reference , not THE reference, but one
of them, because the kind of cooking he was making, the plates he was creating, his creativity, his
way of thinking, was completely different from what was going on elsewhere, and, because he
was honest. He was not , by any chance, one of the best chefs in the world by then, he was just
different, and he didn’t care, he believed in what he was doing, and I could see the honesty in his
work. I saw passion through what he was doing. I saw a reflection of his personality through the
food he was creating. I respected that. I know that in this profession, there is a lot of suffering on
the way to become an important chef and to be recognised. The liberty or the freedom to create
the food that you want to must be earned. And the way to get there is very hard. I know a lot of
chefs who are experiencing extreme difficulty because the market doesn’t understand what they
are doing. I think of Michel Bras as a pioneer and a person who was born ahead of his time. I
know that many of the chefs who are currently misunderstood, will be studied ten years from
now. Currently, they are out of context.
I admire and learnt many things from everyone I worked for, because you learn from what you
like and you learn from what you do not like – learn, what not to do. Within these environments, I
felt great respect for Pedro Subijana, from Akelarre, Juan-Marie Arzak, from Arzak restaurant, I
learnt a lot from them, but I’m very aware that the Mugaritz of today is a consequence and a result
of my experience in 1983 and 84 at El Bulli with Ferran Adria. I remember that back then El Bulli
was not a popular restaurant, not by peoples liking, but the credibility it had , people did not
believe in the food that was being done. Regardless, Ferran Adria was committed to what he was
doing, he had very clear ideas of what he wanted to be, he was committed to his guests,
everything was about quality, about great produce and the manning level was great, if I had not
lived this experience, I’m not sure if I would have been possible to endure the first 8 years of
Mugaritz because they were really tough.
It was very difficult when we started, We had large numbers of critics who wrote the food was
plain, food was simple, people were saying that it was flat, there were no flavours, it was nothing.
The critics were very harsh. I understood that this wasn’t bad, it gave me the chance to do
something else, to work on other things, regardless that people do not understand what you are
doing at that precise moment. When there is something behind it, it will be recognised. But it will
take time. Time is always just. Ten years later, you can see that the very same things that were
attacked and criticised, were copied or taken as a reference to create new inspiration in many
places around the world. Take one thing that was criticised harshly from the essence of Mugaritz
10 years ago, and it is now the essence of at least 10 new restaurants around the world.
In the year 1998 when Mugaritz began, the common elements on a plate that Chefs would create
was a little bit baroque , baroque meaning many ingredients and overloading what was on the
plate. Maybe two products with small details, with aromas, flavours, sparkling, whatever. Eight
elements in one plate. One of the things Mugaritz was doing was talking things away from plates.
Leaving the essence. 2 ingredients, 3 ingredients. The main focus was no longer on the lobster,
foie gras or scallops. It was in milk, for example. In this example, milk was the essence of a plate,
and it was naked. There were just two things around it. It was radical, but you could really taste the
flavour of things. Another example is the use of flowers, herbs. Were completely radical, we were
not the only ones doing it, but we certaiunl;y helped to democratise the idea of this usage, of
foraging your environment and adapting it into the plate. The third example is the transformation
of elements. What you were taught in culinary school, or the style of food, was taking a protein,
serving a protein, or taking a protein and making a sauce. Here, we decided to change the state of
things. Instead of making a sauce of Squid or instead of serving a chunk of squid , first thing what
is what Squid gives to your plate? Is it flavour or texture? OK, I want flavour. If it’s flavour, I don’t
need to put the squid. I don’t need to make a sauce. I need to take the essence. I need to take The
soul of the squid and make a juice. The same thing happened with Hay, for example. Elements of
our environment which weren’t associated to food give a great importance to aromas, flavours or
In 1992, we signed up for a cooking competition where the finalist was to go to Madrid and
compete to see if they would be sent to the Bocuse D’Or. We did not win because we did not
agree or were not in compliance with the rules that had been set. The rules were simple, you were
given 3 ingrediests which you must use as the main ingredient and serve with 3 garnishes around
it. We didn’t believe in this, so instead, we made integrated food. Not three garnishes around one
product, but one whole thing where the flavours complimented and matched. We took it well, we
were told that we were not going to win, but we told the organisation that we had this idea that
things should not be separated but they should be integrated, and compliment each other. This
has been the idea here since we started. A few weeks ago, I was with a Spanish philosopher Jose
Antonio Marina, the philosopher was speaking about families or companies and he was talking
about ingredients where the same rule applies. The most outstanding combiunations are made
when you get one element or one person that has nothing and another person that has nothing
and put them together, and by some mysterious circumstance they can create something that is
genius. The same philosophy applies for companies projects or ingredients.
Both cheese and wine are great examples of great thing, genius things, through one simple
expression of nature. You take milk, you take grapes, and through tradition, through technology,
through processes, through many things, it ends up being something different and great.
There are many reasons why there is a great concentration of Chefs in this area. One of the
elements is the human factor. There are 3 or 4 restaurants that compete at the same rank, the
same level, the same quality. They are competitors to each other, but they understand that if they
work as individuals, they won’t be able to bring tourists in, they don’t compete as a region, they’re
alone in a struggle for survival. If you come together as a group and overcome your personal
ambitions for the health of the whole group, you become more than one thing. You are a magnet
that works together to bring critics, to bring tourists, to bring guests to bring press , so it’s a healthy
Of course there have been changes, but the essence is the same. The focus of attention has
changed. Nowadays we realise that most of our guests come from outside Spain. All these guest
come looking for more than just food. They want to live a moment. They want to buy an
experience. All of our resources are focussed on fulfilling this need of an experience. We no
longer focus on a plate as an individual circumstance that will make you remember this plate. All
the plates in our menu are addressed individually until they are ready but it’s importance is not
within them. The importance of a plate is when it comes together in a sequence that might help
you live the experience. Every element in the restaurant is there for you to enjoy an experience.
Light, temperature, smells, timing, smiles...everything counts. If you take a look at the food, you
will see that the essence is the same, there is no longer a menu that you can choose, the way we
are working with products now is like a dream for everyone because we buy straight from the
producer , we buy fish straight from the boat, there is a great advance in techniques because we
have a creativity department which never stops but it’s not the essence of the restaurant. The
essence is about the experience.
Last year, 94% of all the people who visited Mugaritz, were from outside a radius of 100km. From
that 94%, half were from Spain. The other half from all over the world. Last night for example, we
had people from many foreign places. Taiwan, USA, parts of Europe, The commitment from our
part to them must be a great exercise, it must be addressed very carefully, and we must
understand that right now, in our hands, lies much more than just the responsibility of serving
food. We need to fulfiill all these expectations, and we can, as we’ve been doing it for a long time.
We’re good at it. People are beginning to recognise this.
The first thing I ask from my staff, is not to be called Chef. Once you’re familiar with how things
work here, you’ll see that there is no hierarchy. We work horizontally. We are like a big family.
Everyone is like a small leader. This is the only way to create. A few weeks ago we had to go to a
very important dinner, that we had to serve, for a very important congress. There was a lot in
jeopardy for us because it reopresented the culmination of an important congress in the region. So
all our resources were dedicated to this. We rented a bus, to put all of our special plates, we
closed the restaurant, we transferred the entire restaurant to this congress. The morning we were
to leave, everything got loaded into the bus and the bus left. Some time passes until I realise they
left me behind. So I called them and said Hey you guys, where are you?But they left me behind!
We always ask our guests if they have allergies and tolerances or if there is anything that they can’t
eat or don’t like, and one day I was asking a lady if there is anything she didn’t like to eat and she
replied “ Yes, she couldn’t eat anything that ever had “eyes” on it “
Once we had a lady guest who came with her husband come into the kitchen . First thing she said
was “Before you start, I don’t like this kind of thing. For me, this is shit. I don’t believe in this food.
I don’t enjoy it, I’m not liking it, it’s all messy. But my husband likes it. This is his birthday present.
More than a sun, after a long period of time when France was the reference because of their
perfectionist technique and very suave plating, more than a Spanish reign, or Spanish glory, it was
more about Spain giving the world the chance to be free. You can do whatever you want. In fact, it
has been a very short period of time that Spain has been influential, and now this period is over.
There are people all over the world now who are free to experiment and develop their unique
concepts of cuisine. Chefs will take the initiative. There are great cooks in Japan, in Australia, in
Soth America, it’s about the individual all over the world that will shine . Maybe Eventually there
will be individuals who will come together in the same region and then there will be magic again.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Antoni Luis, Restaurant Mugaritz, [San Sebastien]