Friend of Hublot since 2021, renowned Spanish chef Eneko Atxa transforms the simple act of eating into a gastronomical experience at his restaurants. He became one of the youngest chefs to be awarded three Michelin stars at his restaurant Azurmendi in 2012. Today, Azurmendi is recognised as one of the world’s most sustainable restaurants. We talked to Eneko Atxa about the values that he shares with Hublot, being passion, excellence, and creativity, and why he considers time as his secret ingredient.
When and how did your interest in cooking start? What are your inspirations, and what motivates you to be at the forefront of modern gastronomy?
I actually started to have an interest in cooking when I was 14-15 years old. This is probably derived from the cultural gastronomic heritage that I received at home, where what was eaten, the products that came into the house each season, etc. was very important, and also because cooking had a romantic halo for me, as an artisan.
Since then I have always tried to respect my culinary heritage, but with a more contemporary look, also applying the most advanced techniques to my knowledge to build a cuisine that does not forget its roots, but that looks to the future.
Your approach is rooted in your personal story, from your friends and family, the land, your culture, and your experiences. How have these factors influenced your approach and in shaping your philosophy on cooking and gastronomy?
I believe that in this globalized world and where trends are increasingly capturing more space, uniqueness is an added value and that is why I believe that we must take the origin as the starting point for any creation. Create something inspired by your natural space, your experiences and your cultural traits, without this meaning that your work will be better or worse than that of others, but at least making it unique and authentic.
Your dishes bring together individual ingredients and their stories to deliver a unique dining experience. What is the creative process behind your dishes, from conception to service?
I pay close attention to the temporality of the products, the story behind each of those products, and then I try to apply a different perspective, always seeking excellence.
How do you see the worlds of horology and gastronomy intertwine? What does time mean to you, as a chef?
I believe that time is that secret ingredient, there is nothing excellent that does not require time, patience, dedication, craftsmanship, knowledge, evolution, and absolute dedication. I think both worlds are perfectly identified in their values.
How did your relationship with Hublot start, and what makes it special?
The meeting between Hublot and Azurmendi was absolutely natural due to the values that we both transmit. We were lucky enough to meet with the team at Hublot Spain who explained to us perfectly what Hublot’s work values were. Afterwards they offered us the opportunity to visit the manufacture, and there we were surprised by the similarities that there may be between our world and that of watchmaking.
Are there any aspects of watchmaking that interest or surprise you? Do you have a favourite Hublot watch?
That is something very complicated, there is so much beauty, so much work, design and so much history behind each of the watches, that it would be impossible to choose one. It’s like when they tell me to select one of the dishes you’ve made, it’s an impossible exercise because they are all appreciated equally.
Hublot is all about “to be the first, be unique, be different” – how does that resonate with you, and in your work? Is there any “art of fusion” in your culinary creations?
Authenticity is one of the most important values, and although a lot of other values hide behind it, that is one that I would highlight, authenticity.
With restaurants in Madrid, Seville, London, and as far as Tokyo, what were some of the challenges in adapting Basque cooking, and your philosophies, in the different places?
Let’s say that we have tried to convey a way of being and understanding gastronomy, rather than bringing exact recipes that would be irreplicable in other places.
They have been large-scale challenges, but above all we have always tried to convey the Basque soul that accompanies everything we do at Azurmendi, but always with respect and trying to blend in with the cultures, products and ways of cooking of the places where we have projects.
Sustainability has a significant place in your cooking philosophy, with Azurmendi widely considered as one of the most sustainable restaurants in the world. Why do you place such importance on sustainability? What do you see as your role in advancing sustainability in gastronomy, and more generally, in society?
I believe that not only in gastronomy, but in any type of discipline, sustainability is one of the most important ingredients that we must value to safeguard everything we have around us.
I also believe that gastronomy has a fundamental value on the sustainability scale, considering how inefficient it is today in the way we eat, what type of products we use, etc. I believe that we are a key sector to build a better future, creating enclaves that are as sustainable as possible, selecting products with better traceability and less harmful to our planet, respecting the people who are behind the production of these same products, making responsible for all the organic waste we generate, and so on.
Even though we are doing or carrying out many actions in the search for sustainability, we know perfectly well that Azurmendi is still an imperfect restaurant in this sense. We are absolutely dedicated to creating new lines of work that bring us closer to total sustainability, but unfortunately, for now, this remains a utopian dream.
Your work has been recognised with many awards over the years, including Michelin stars and Michelin green stars, being ranked as one of the world’s top restaurants, as well as numerous other awards. What do these awards, rankings, and recognitions mean to you?
We are very grateful for how fortunate we are in this regard. Awards are often inspiring and help you continue with the same enthusiasm and dedication in that search for excellence, which is sometimes not so easy and can even be frustrating at times.
It is also true that sometimes I usually try to start an exercise which is to think that every morning when we arrive at Azurmendi none of these awards exist and that we have to win them again with the clients who arrive at noon and whom we must serve. to get them again.
You have to conquer all the clients one by one individually and every day, that is the real objective that ultimately brings you the rest of the recognitions. That’s why for me one of the most important elements is consistency.