2014 International Chef Of The Year: Andoni Luis Aduriz

For the second consecutive year, The Daily Meal's International Chef of the Year recognition has been awarded to an innovator from Spain. This year's honoree is Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in Errenteria. Last year's winner, chef Albert Adrià, had familial ties to world's most famous chef: his brother Ferran Adrià of the now-closed elBulli. Like Albert, chef Aduriz has ties to Ferran, having apprenticed for him from 1993 to 1994. But just as Albert has established success outside his brother's shadow, chef Andoni Luis Aduriz has also demonstrated a culinary force all his own. 

The Daily Meal's Chefs of the Year 2014
2014 American Chef of the Year: Sean Brock

Just two years after opening Mugaritz in 2000, Aduriz earned his first Michelin star; he nabbed another five years later, and has been on San Pellegrino's list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants for nine years (placing sixth last year). Even as the world waits to see what Ferran Adrià's elBulli Foundation will become, Aduriz has picked up the culinary baton for the avant-garde in Spain — and, you could argue, for the world.
You can find chef Aduriz talking about creativity and memory at culinary summits, participating in scientific conferences on applied cognitive psychology, and speaking at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Alicante and the Congress of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Seville. Aduriz is a prolific author of books on food. He innovates food products like New Food Spray (tempura spray? churros spray!) and collaborates with the technology center in marine and food research AZTI-Tecnalia. Like former countryman-turned-American citizen José Andrés, he's also involved with charities, promoting culinary initiatives to raise money for organizations like Asteamur (a non-profit dedicated to helping people with autism), Ataxia Charlevoix-Saguenay Foundation (dedicated to scientific research into ARSACS, a muscle condition), UNICEF, and Starlight Children's Foundation Australia.
Then, of course, there's his innovation at Mugaritz (ranked 31st on The Daily Meal's list of the Best Restaurants in Europe in 2014), a former dairy in the hills above San Sebastián, on the other side of Spain from Roses, where Aduriz worked at elBulli. Of its name, he explains, "Our haritza ('oak' in Basque) is strategically situated beside the line dividing Errenteria and Astigarraga. Thus, this tree delimitates the muga (frontier) between both towns. Muga eta haritza. Mugaritz." 
Taking a leaf from Ferran Adrià's book, Mugaritz closes for four months each year, during which time its team devotes itself almost exclusively to creativity. Notes the website of Mugaritz, "It's a place where we sometimes even serve meals." It's also the kind of restaurant that serves edible trompe-l'œil like potato "stones" and locks of "hair" made of tapenade and seaweed. You put yourself in the chef's hands and open your mind to journeys through memory and emotion, as prepared by a modern melding of mad scientist and magician.
In 2015, if all goes well, chef Aduriz plans to open a restaurant in the United Arab Emirates. Along with Enrique Olvera, chef-owner of Pujol in Mexico City (ranked 1st on The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in Latin American and the Caribbean), he has also signed an agreement to collaborate on a restaurant in Havana, and he is also considering an offer in Holland. (As this interview notes, he's being encouraged to open in America as well.) 
For his innovative thinking and approach, his leadership and creativity, and the fascinating food journeys he offers intrepid, open-minded diners, we're pleased to announce that chef Andoni Luis Aduriz was singled out by The Daily Meal as 2014's International Chef of the Year (joined this year by The Daily Meal's 2014 American Chef of the Year Sean Brock). [pullquote:right]
We reached out to bith chefs to discover where they, and along with them the state of food, may be heading. In this interview with Andoni Luis Aduriz, the chef discusses what makes the Basque Country such a culinary powerhouse, the influence of Ferran Adrià, what he'd like his legacy to be, and philosophizes about tasting menus using a corkscrew metaphor.
The Daily Meal: What is it about the Basque Country that has made it such a culinary powerhouse in 20th and 21st century Spain?
Andoni Luiz Aduriz: And not only in Spain, and not only in the 20th and 21st centuries. If we work intelligently, the Basque Country will remain a [gastronomic] reference in the future. In my opinion, the keys are the scale of the country, which is small, full of diversity, and open to the world; the character of its people and their ways, who are reserved but friendly and sincere; and the philosophy of life: We are a small population who respect the differences among ourselves, but also entrepreneurial, creative, and hard-working. If to all this you add a passion for cuisine unique in the world, a reflection of which are the gastronomical societies [clubs of dedicated amateur cooks who meet to cook and share meals], it makes the Basque Country an irresistible destination for food lovers.
Why have tasting menus become so popular and ubiquitous? There has been a backlash in the United States against tasting menus, and some chefs are dropping them or adding back à la carte menus. Are there disadvantages — for the chef or for the diner — to this approach? 
A corkscrew can serve to open one of the best wines in the world, but also to kill your neighbor... with tasting menus, the same thing can happen. Some people use them to display a selection of the best dishes to their restaurant's customers, and some people use them as a way to clean out the larder. From the perspective of diner, I prefer that the chef at the restaurant where I am dining chooses what I should eat, because he or she is the one who knows his or her products and which techniques he or she has mastered. In 10 percent of the cases, I'm wrong, but in 90 percent I eat better than I would have if I had chosen from a sea of abstract listings.
Ferran Adrià has compared haute cuisine to Formula One racing or avant-garde jazz, saying that it will always appeal only to a small group of connoisseurs. With that in mind, do you think that "fine dining" restaurants have a future around the world, or will changing tastes, economic conditions, and dislike of formality on the part of diners lead to them becoming rarer and rarer?
With the culinary avant-garde, the issue is not economics so much as mental attitude. I know rich people who have no interest at all in restaurants serving creative cuisine, and I know people of very modest means who save all year for an experience like the one offered at Mugaritz. This is not something that happens only in the field of gastronomy, but also in culture. In our societies, art, architecture, poetry, classical music, are not for mass consumption, but there would be no way to explain what we are as a species if we didn't have these disciplines. Avant-garde haute cuisine, if it's real, authentic, and of good quality, will be more and more exclusive; that will be the result of us doing things well. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't make an effort to explain what is being done.
Speaking of Adrià, you worked under him and then went off on your own and developed to the point that he seems to think of you as an equal. How strong was his influence on you, and how did you emerge from his shadow enough to establish your own style and culinary language? What can you take away from somebody that influential without copying him or her?
The neuroscientists with whom we work constantly remind us that we are memory. I am a sequence of patterns and ways of thinking, intertwined, starting with my family, continuing with the training I had in cooking school and what I learned from my teachers in the restaurants where I spent time, among whom was Ferran Adrià. Beyond the recipes, techniques, and values that he gave me, he pushed me to have freedom of thought, creativity, and critical awareness. People think Ferran is a visionary who is looking at the moon waiting for inspiration, but the truth is he is one of the most industrious and self-critical people I've met in my life. He has always spurred me to seek new paths. He is a genius because, beyond his own interests, he is always thinking in terms of collective evolution.
Adrià aside, is there a chef who challenges you? Who inspires you to do better things?
Michel Bras, Thomas Keller, Pierre Gagnaire, and so many others, like my colleagues of my generation who are at the forefront: Massimo Bottura, Grant Achatz, Daniel Humm, Pascal Barbot, Alex Atala, Gastón Acurio — to name a few. Of course, it's also exciting to see how young people are pushing hard, like Rodolfo Guzmán in Chile, Rafael Costa in Brazil, Paco Morales in Spain, Matthew Lightner in the United States, Jose Luis Gonzalez in the Philippines... who, together with the guys at Mugaritz, inspire me and oblige me to keep concentrating. Fortunately, there are better people, brighter and more dedicated, all the time, and this is very good for gastronomy.
What are the most interesting things happening in the food world today, in Spain or elsewhere? If you have any experience of dining in America, what do you think are the most interesting things going on there?
When I started as an apprentice cook, almost 30 years ago, I had to travel to see the world. Thirty years later, if you stop and observe what is going on around you, you will see that the world is passing in front of you without your having to go get it. Without completely being up to date (and I seriously doubt that anyone is), the most exciting thing I am seeing is the change in the business model. One no longer needs to make a choice: eclectic cuisine is as inspiring as thoughtful innovation. The review is over; now we need journalists to help us build the contexts and the whys of things. The world we inhabit is pluralistic, fast, and exciting if we give it values, even if we don't understand them at first.
Your restaurant, Mugaritz, is consistently ranked as one of the top restaurants in the world. Meanwhile, you are involved in other restaurant projects (Abadía Retuerta in Ribera del Duero, for instance), you are a prolific author of books on food, you have food products (like New Food Spray) and collaborate with AZTI-Tecnalia on new projects, etc., etc. Is it no longer enough for a chef to have a restaurant? Must chefs diversify, both for financial and creative reasons?
Many years ago, a friend of mine told me "Concentrate on doing things right, and everything else will come later." When you don't have much time, all you can do is to make sure it's quality time. That's what I try to do with my family, friends, or colleagues: give them 100 percent of my attention when we spend time together, without being distracted by anything. But from a professional standpoint, I try not to waste any time. If I had to develop a casual dining project today, no matter how much talent and experience I had, if I had to start from scratch, it would take months to develop. A trick I use is to store concepts or ideas related to projects that aren't even in future planning yet on my cellphone. They could be ideas for dishes, notes for an article about sustainability, or ideas to develop a beer. If I had to start these projects from scratch, it would take months or even years to submit something worthwhile, but when real life is giving the orders, in a month you can synthesize years of work related to the project.
Do you have plans to open more restaurants? Would you ever consider opening in America, and if not, why not?
Mugaritz has been around for 17 years, and there hasn't been a year when we didn't get an offer to open a restaurant somewhere in the world, from Japan to Russia through the most unexpected places on the planet. In 2015, if all goes well, we will open in the United Arab Emirates. We are also considering an offer in Holland and things are buzzing with the Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine, which has just been granted its first Michelin star, and with Healthouse, a wonderful high-level project on haute cuisine and health that we have in Estepona, in southern Spain. America is not in our immediate plans, but I wouldn't rule out landing there. We have many friends who encourage us, like José Andrés, Enrique Olvera, and Wylie Dufresne.
Do chefs have a responsibility to be socially and politically active, concerned with issues such as the environment and world hunger, or is it enough for them to just cook good food, responsibly produced?
An answer to a question very similar to this, published in a well-known U.S. media outlet, provoked a storm of bad reactions and a host of immense critiques, so I will try to be concise and clear. I think it's a privilege to possess both visibility and voice, along with resources, talents, and abilities. What I should do with all these attributes is to try to improve the world. But we must not forget that this is a free choice, more a matter of conscience than of necessity, and can also be addressed on a small scale, at home and at the individual level, anonymously. For example, whenever we buy a product, we decide on one means of production over another. There's no use complaining about the bad things others do if you don't act responsibly yourself. The world transforms itself through millions of small decisions, rather than the actions of a few.
If you were to reflect now, what do you hope your legacy as a chef will be?
Let me dream... I would love that the legacy of Mugaritz, which goes far beyond Andoni Luis Aduriz, would be an ode to effort, respect, loyalty, solidarity, prudence, and, especially, seeking and creativity. Maybe not today, but I am convinced that the collective work we do, despite the mistakes we make, will be tremendously inspiring to others in the future.
Please answer the following Pivot Questionnaire-style questions in as few words as possible. Have fun with it... or be absolutely serious. Completely up to you:
What's your favorite flavor?  
Diversity. What my brain desires and enjoys depends on the moment and the context. I am so abnormal.
What's your first food memory? 
I remember doing homework in the kitchen of my parents' house while my mother prepared food. There are many, many aromas and flavors stored in my brain, and, according to my neuroscientist friends, these are distorted and well-conditioned by affection.
What one food can't you stand? 
I find it hard to eat insects. I respect them as the cultural heritage of many peoples and in my travels I've eaten them, but it's not something I like.
When did you first realize that you were going to be a chef? Was there one moment? 
When my mother was eight years old, the Spanish Civil War began, and she was displaced, a refugee, and often hungry, which left a large mark on her soul. When she saw that her little son was neither a good student nor had any vocation, she thought "This guy is a disaster," and then, "but he will never go hungry." So she decided to enroll me at the Cooking School of San Sebastián, because if I were in a kitchen, I would always have something to eat — so I'm a cook.
What's your favorite tool in the kitchen, besides your knife? 
Who told you that it's a knife? My favorite tool, like yours, is memory. If necessary, you can cut food with the lid of a can.
What qualities do you look for when you're hiring a chef? 
Passion, critical awareness, capacity for suffering, and an irrepressible desire for happiness.
What's your favorite sandwich? 
Many, many, many, many. From hake fillet with peppers, to confit chicken wings and fresh garlic toast, to a good burger or milk-fed veal.
What's your favorite alcoholic drink? 
Ask the question in reverse: What alcoholic beverage don't you like? Wherever I go, I eat and drink the local culture. I try to understand it and enjoy it.
What are you reading right now? 
¿Cuanta verdad necesita el hombre? by Rüdiger Safranski [a translation of the German philosopher's book Wieviel Wahrheit braucht der Mensch?, or How Much Truth Does Man Need?)
Who are your heroes? Who are your villains?
I don't believe in good and evil, but in situations that make people develop their best or worst selves. Basically, we are all heroes and villains. We take advantage of the benefits of the social, political, and technological developments that our species is capable of achieving, even as we suffer common delusions or tragedies. Human beings create heroes and villains. Be careful who you sit next to!