Five minutes with… Eneko Atxa

The chef at Spain’s three-Michelin-starred Azurmendi and London’s Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar on Basque cooking and running marathons

Food and Drink 1 Aug 2019

Chef Eneko Atxa
Eneko in Aldwych
Modern Basque restaurant, Eneko

Is there advice you always give to younger chefs you work with?

For me, it’s very important that we preserve Basque culture in the future and we are pushing and working very hard for this. Our junior chefs start with us very young and learn with us, so educating them on old Basque recipes and traditions is crucial, as well as showing them how to use new tools that allow us to work better.

Who is your biggest role model?

I don’t really have one; my big influence comes from the traditional food cooked in my country. The recipes from my home, the landscape, history and the farmers and fisherman are the biggest inspiration for me

What ingredient can you not live without?

It’s difficult to choose only one. For example we have incredible onions in the Basque region, but perhaps the most iconic ingredient from the area is cocochas; it’s very traditional in the Basque country. It’s the underside of the jaw of cod and hake, and when you cook it very slowly it releases a gelatine-like jelly that is used in a Basque sauce, pil pil. Cocochas al pil pil is one of my absolute favourite recipes.

You travel a lot, is there something you always try to do when abroad?

I always try to visit the markets, the local and traditional restaurants and even the more avant-garde restaurants. I always try and find out the history of the restaurants too, the story of the chef and what ingredients they are using. In London, for example, I recently had dinner with Nieves Barragán, chef director at Sabor, to talk to her about her suppliers she works with, including one that sells incredible smoked fish that I’m crossing my fingers I get to try the next time I’m in London. She also introduced me to an incredible olive oil that we tasted, from a producer that only makes 18 boxes a year. It was very special.

Do you have a favourite place to eat in London?

Sabor is one of my favourites, for sure, and the other day I also discovered Arros QD from Quique Dacosta, and I love it. Coppa Club is one of my favourites also and A Wong in Pimlico is also very interesting.

Has travelling around the world influenced your cooking? Especially as you have a restaurant in Japan.

People ask quite often whether we have been influenced by Japanese cuisine, I think because Azurmendi [Eneko’s three-Michelin-star restaurant in the Basque country] is very connected with the landscape and nature, and is quite spiritual. But that’s because Basque people have the same values, and see the table as a spiritual, special place where you can share knowledge, and learn from the previous generation.

Apart from cooking, what are your biggest passions? What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Sharing my time with family and friends, but I am also a marathon man and I love mountain biking.

If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, who would it be?

I don’t have anyone that I’d especially want to invite to a dinner party. For me, at Eneko and Azurmendi it’s all about the guests who come to the restaurant, who have chosen to come to your restaurant rather than any others in the world and have worked hard to get there. These are the people I think are special.

Do you have a favourite dish that’s served at Eneko?

My favourite dish is the next one we will create. Like the new dishes for Eneko we’re working on, including a new dessert with chocolate, olive oil, salt, spice, and bread. We’ve only started cooking it in our minds, but we are very excited about it.