Chef Eneko Atxa on sustainability and the future of eating out – The Week UK

Restaurant News

In 2012, at the age of just 35, Basque chef Eneko Atxa won his third Michelin star for his restaurant Azurmendi.

Not content with the achievement, Atxa continued to adapt his cooking techniques in a bid to reduce the environmental impact of the restaurant until, two years later, Azurmendi was named the most sustainable restaurant in the world by The World´s 50 Best Restaurants.

Tomorrow night, Atxa will host a party in London – a “multi-dimensional Basque dining adventure” – which shows off his interest in both creative cookery and sustainability. Ahead of the event, The Week Portfolio caught up with the chef to discuss awards, environmentalism and the future of eating out.

You wear your Basque heritage with pride. Have other cuisines influenced you and your cooking or do you regard yourself as a purist?

Overall my biggest inspiration comes from my essence and roots but I also like to learn from what is being done around the world. I feel it is possible to adapt different tools and techniques to my own fundamentally Basque cuisine.

You have said that your kitchen aims to bring back plants and produce that is on the verge of being lost. Why are biodiversity and environmentalism important to you?

At my restaurant, we always talk about nature as our primary inspiration. Today, in a global world, the unique thing makes my business different is the products I use and the way my team works with ingredients.

I believe that we must do our best to value and preserve local products, which is why I have helped create the largest seed bank in the Basque Country. It is very important in terms of both biodiversity and sustainability, to embed ourselves in the local area. It is the only way not to fall into the push towards globalism – and to continue to be both honest and genuine.

When you wrote for us two years ago, you said that sustainability was very important to you. Two years later, do you think enough is being done by the restaurant industry to address the issue of sustainability?

We all have to continue working in the same direction and doing more to reduce our global impact, to help preserve the environment and to make the future more sustainable.

Aside from your own, which restaurants and chefs in the UK and around the world do you most admire at the moment?

It’s impossible to identify just one. The UK, and especially London, is a big place where you can find a lot of different projects and a huge variety of restaurants. I love this diversity. For example, I can enjoy visits to either a very humble restaurant in Chinatown, or the project of Heston Blumenthal that I visited some time ago. I also really like Clove Club and of course visiting my friend Nieves Barragán at Sabor.

Eating out has changed an enormous amount over the past two decades. What do you think the restaurant experience will look like in another 20 years time?

It’s impossible to know but I hope that chefs and restaurants will be working for guests and also for society, fighting for a more sustainable and healthy future.

You have said that you are more interested in your guests than in Michelin stars. But accolades are surely always nice. Having achieved three Michelin stars and served many thousands of guests, what continues to motivate you today?

Every day we start from zero. We work and we live for our clients and know that each day, just before opening the restaurant, we have to forget everything we have already achieved – all the awards, recognitions and positive reviews from the previous day or throughout your career. Because before you open the restaurant doors, you have to feel naked, without any of your prizes or recognition, and you have to start from the beginning to earn that prestige all over again.

Eneko Atxa’s immersive dining experience will be held on Wednesday 4 December, 7pm to 1am. Tickets £90pp including all food and drink on the night.

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