Rafael Garcia Santos’s Critics Still Don't Please Arzak
Once my collaboration with the newspaper El Diario Vasco was finished, under the pressure of Arzak and of some Basque cooks, I decided to publish Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía 1995 at the end of 1994. According to the all the criteria I explained before, this is the ranking that appeared in the guide:
El Bulli: 9,75.
El Racó de Can Fabes: 9.
El Cenador de Salvador: 8,5.
Martín Berasategui: 8,5.
Juan Louis Neichel: 8,5.
Sant Pau: 8,5.
Needless to say that Juan Mari didn’t appreciate at all the fact of sharing the second position with Zuberoa, a restaurant he had kept away from the picture in many opportunities. This is why he went on manipulating and keeping his distance regardless the apparent positions. We had to deal with each other, especially since I had come back to El Diario Vasco. The relationship was more formal than real, I must confess, because we were separated by my opinions about his cuisine, which was losing competitiveness regarding others. This appears in several texts I published throughout the years. The second edition talks about “Daring and slightly overelaborate combinations, excellent, but not witty, sometimes outlandish”. One year later, in Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía 1997, the text starts this way in order to avoid possible doubts: “Although this cuisine may not really deserve 9,5/10, we gave him the benefit of the doubt because of the historic career and the praiseworthy will of the man”. In the fourth edition, in a context of editorial rigor and search of the critics’ credibility, we corrected numerous marks downwards (El Racó de Can Fabes, Zalacain, Neichel, El Cenador de Salvador, etc.), including Arzak and Zuberoa’s, which went down to 9/10, just like Martín Berasategui, who got promoted.
Juan Mari’s relegation was justified: “Why does Arzak’s cuisine deserve 9 instead of 9,5? From our point of view, the ideas don’t flow spontaneously during the creation process of the dishes. Instead of reflecting the presence of an irrepressible and natural genius, the constructions seem to be a bit unnatural, based more on the huge gastronomic culture of this prestigious chef than on his talent. The cook gives in to temptation of wanting to impact the guest with overelaborate strange mixtures that don’t always match with our tastes. Despite of his enormous quality, we don’t feel completely convinced by the proposals. There is a lack of magic, of pure inspiration”.
All this logically doesn’t make the man happy… A man who used to control the Spanish gastronomic press since the seventies and who was seeing how his role and leadership were being questioned in the last nineties. What he also disliked was the fact that Berasategui, a cook he couldn’t stand, had been put on a par with him. The worst days hadn’t come yet…
Anchovies with strawberries. Who does Juan Mari want to imitate?
When Arzak Wanted To Expel Rafael García Santos From The Critics
At the end of 1991, I used to have a radio programme every Saturday on Antena 3 called “El Circo Serio de la Gastronomía” [The serious circus of gastronomy], which was then broadcasted by COPE and then by Intereconomía, depending on whether the Group El Correo had been able to reach an agreement to mix its Basque radio stations with some national network and harmonize their programs. All this became Punto Radio.
During this programme, a survey was made among the most prestigious gastronomic critics at that time: José Carlos Capel, Víctor de la Serna, Carme Casas, Caius Apicius, Carlos Delgado, Paz Ivison… (I don’t remember the exact list). Every week, two specialists were asked about their own Top 10 chefs in Spain, from the tenth to the number one. After a few weeks of programme, with its corresponding explanations and spiciness, the results didn't please Arzak at all: it was the first time Adrià was hot on Juan Mari’s heels and better considered by distinguished specialists, Rafael García Santos included. A bit later, I took Joël Robuchon to El Bulli. After the visit, the French chef gave his support to Adrià. In different articles dating 1992 and 1993, I proclaimed that Michel Bras and Ferran were the best cooks in the world. Arzak interpreted this as a betrayal, an act of treachery aimed at ousting him which he has never forgiven me. As usual, he associated his personal interests with the Basque cuisine’s, saying that all this was an affront to the Basque cooks and to the Basque Country, because at that time, he already used to compare Basque and Catalan cuisine.
He started to conspire with one or two close chefs of his. After a few months of intrigue, he tried to expel me from critics and from the Group El Correo for betraying the homeland, the homeland personified by him. He therefore used Salvador Pérez Puig, who was the Director of the newspaper El Diario Vasco by then, he would treat like royalty in his restaurant. The latter fired me from the Basque newspaper but, despite of the coup, he didn’t manage me to be sacked from El Correo nor Antena 3 –that was the plan, actually–, because the specialists who were leading these companies didn’t contribute to that conspiracy. This happened at the end of 1993. Knowing that no wage-earner can avoid conspiracies, I decided to publish Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía Guide in November 1994. This was Arzak’s first battle against Rafael García Santos.
40 years of arzakism.
Juan Mari presented his famous egg flower with truffle, goose grease and dates chistorra (paprika sausage) in 2001, during the 3rd Congress lomejordelagastronomia.com. This was a new contribution to history –to his history– he wanted to share with all the cooks. He took us for a ride again. But on a second-hand motorbike instead of on a Harley Davidson. The form and the cooking method of the dish, wrapped into clingfilm, was nothing new. But Juan Mari, who has always been stealing ideas, like no one else, has presented the same thing but in different forms: the pudding krabarroka (kraba… what?), the brick dough in the form of spider crab legs, his “self- and handmade” Chinese noodles, … All his cuisine has always consisted of introducing existing techniques and concepts with a touch of originality and grace. In an extremely outgoing way, he has undoubtedly been able to promote things people didn’t know; just find out about them. Where did Juan Mari pick the egg flower from?
Arkak’s passion for eggs is common knowledge. To such an extent that the Institute for Egg Studies gave him the Golden Award in 2001. What we don’t know is whether it was for the above-mentioned recipe or for his defence of fried egg –he has always said it was his favourite dish, served together with piquillo pepper. He even added that this was one of his most difficult recipes. We didn’t really understand why he said this, until the day Juan Mari appeared on the Basque TV preparing some fried eggs. And to our astonishment, we saw him putting the egg into cold –not even warm– olive oil. We had to wait until it slowly “cooked”. When he wanted to take it off, he didn’t even dip the skimmer in oil, so that the egg stuck. People burst out laughing and could not believe how he could do such a foolish thing. He unwillingly invented the “fried egg cooked at low temperature”.
He deserves credit for one thing: his ability for always giving the final touch. 40 years of arzakism.
Arzak: 40 Years Of Little Lies
Juan Mari reached such a degree of nonchalance that he doesn’t even bother to find out about the ingredients of the dishes that are served in his own restaurant nor about the cooking times of their components. Why? Because he doesn’t give a damn about anything nor anybody.
One day, he appeared on a TV set to present a recipe of cod cheeks and when the time came to thicken them, he asked one of his assistants: “Give me the flour, please”. Incredible, but true!
Among Arzak’s virtues, the most important is his ability to be ahead of his time. That is why he was in charge of introducing Nouvelle Cuisine in Spain and to lead a constant evolution. In that line, he has always introduced raw materials that were not necessarily expensive nor fresh, like red shrimps, for example, which have been used for a couple of decades and have been prepared in different versions before being cooked with a coffee machine. One day, we asked him:
“In a luxury restaurant, why do you offer such a mediocre, third-rate seafood like these red shrimps at such a high price?
Juan Mari: “Good red shrimps are better than a bad lobster”.
We replied: “But what are you saying? Not only are these just simple shrimps,
but they have been frozen”.
Arzak retorted as quick as a flash: “I get them utterly fresh and I deep-freeze them myself”.
Red shrimps that are deep-frozen with art and added value… Has Juan Mari got any freezing tunnel to deep-freeze at – 50º C? It seems so, because the shrimps he used to cover with a hat of morel, the famous “Red shrimps with Karraspinas (morels, in Basque) and almonds puree” (see picture), also used to be frozen. Apparently, Arzak has a unique deep-freezing technique that critics and guides have not been able to detect. Welcome to the team of the little lies!
A man that lives ahead of his time, in sickness and in health.
Imagen: Langostinos con Karraspinas y Puré de Almendras, publicada en Las Recetas de Arzak
Arzak Doesn’t Even Know What Ingredients The Dishes Of His Own Restaurant Are Made Of
What style, work or school can be defined by a person who doesn’t cook? What legacy can be passed on by someone who doesn’t know how long a peeled red shrimp needs to be cooked? The video clearly shows how Juan Mari unembarrassingly asks Xabier Gutiérrez: “How long does it take? 2, 3 minutes?”. Just as if grandma was cooking. “40 seconds”, clarifies the probable inventor of the recipe.
As the video proves, Juan Mari says: “You can put any kind of infusion or light sauce in there”. And the maker of the dish has to whisper in his ear, murmuring the answer: “apple juice”.
A few years ago, when Arzak’s mark got from 9,5 down to 9 in Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía’s guide –before dropping on to 8,5 in 2006–, Juan Mari, having a premonition about what could happen sooner or later, because he knew about my opinions on culinary methods and results as well about my reticence on the visual and flashy style of his constructions –which were always aimed at attracting people’s attention–, he invited me to his kitchen to taste things and to “talk deeply for clearing up some doubts …” and to know about my impression and position in situ.
I then gave him some contradictory indications: “Juan Mari, this aniseed hint and the sweet counterpoint it produces is really brilliant”. “This dish is so complex and these nuances are so subtle that I can’t tell you what it has been seasoned with”. To give me more details or explanations, Arzak had to rush away and find the sheets of paper with the recipes. At that moment, I realized that, not only did he not cook, not only did he not create, but he didn't even bother to find out about the ingredients that were used in his dishes. This happened to him during one of his speeches; he lost his self-control and the situation went really grotesque.
Imagine putting a red shrimp that has previously been concentrated into a vacuum bag and cooking it under a steam jet for 2 or 3 minutes … He would deserve to be sent to some Vocational School. Please have another look at the video in order to confirm what we already knew about him.
What makes people so nonchalant?
Arzak and His Assistants' Cuisine
Let’s go on asking questions so that everyone can think it over carefully and draw their own conclusions. When Arzak was asked the following question by Diario de Noticias newspaper: “Which recipes of yours have really been transcendental?”, he only mentioned the pudding of krabarroka. Kraba… what? When he was asked the slightly insolent question about his contribution to cookery, after a few seconds of hesitation, he started giving a series of explanations like “raising the profession among cultured people”. Of course… and what about the fact of catapulting the chefs to their present notoriety… Just what Bocuse did on a worldwide scale. In both cases, we should ask ourselves whether these were real contributions to cuisine. And this leads to other questions. Thousands of young chefs have spent some time at Arzak’s restaurant to serve their internship, which obviously gave them an innovative spirit and some professional skills. But, to what extent has Arzak set a trend? Which one? Who are his followers?
Although the results are arguable, the key of their relativity is the lack of a well-defined and constant content throughout his work. The fact that Juan Mari has never been conducting the daily work in his kitchen –Has anybody seen him cooking?– has been decisive. So has the fact that nobody knows what his daughter has brought about. Except Rafael Ansón –I was about to forget it, sorry¬¬–, who has just given the National Gastronomy Award to her. The man who both appoints the voters of The Restaurant’s ranking and personally counts the votes. The only person who knows who votes and who for. The man who promotes Arzak in so many places, both private and public, and who is also promoted by Juan Mari in other spots, like the Basque Culinary Center, among many others. Juan Mari should maybe do something nice to Sir Ansón, like giving him an apartment in San Sebastian Bay. The fact that the culinary line has not been defined by the family and has been transferred to Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutiérrez’s minds and criteria –if not, why should Xabi have signed the books containing concepts over the last few years, then?– has been decisive to justify the lack of clear personal style, of self-made work, of trend and of followers. Some think that Arzak’s cookery depends a lot, not to say completely, on his “assistants”.
Please don’t miss the following video about Arzak’s red shrimps cooked with the use of a coffee machine.
Arzak and Bocuse
From 29 November to 2 December 1976, Madrid hosted the “I Round Table on Gastronomy”, organized by the brand new Club de Gourmets magazine. Juan Mari Arzak and Paul Bocuse, among others, took part in it. In February 1977, Arzak and Subijana went to Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or to visit the restaurant and find out about Nouvelle Cuisine on site. Both facts gave birth to the New Basque Cuisine. And to the close friendship between Juan Mari and Paul.
Bocuse proved he was gifted for culinary marketing. So much so that he turned to be the leader of Nouvelle Cuisine although his work hadn’t involved any conceptual nor technical change. The real responsible chefs for the revolution were Alain Chapel and Michel Guérard, followed by the Troisgros brothers, Alain Senderens and Outhier, who also set trends. However, Bocuse has always proposed a moderately evolved classical French haute cuisine. His most famous recipe (see his books) was Valéry Giscard D’Estaing ‘s soup, dated 1975, when he was awarded with the French Legion d’honneur at the Elysée. A palace, out of time, nineteenth century recipe that was not in line at all with Nouvelle Cuisine. This was actually a chicken and vegetables soup enhanced with foie gras and truffles –something utterly common in France–, covered with a millefeuille, a historic contribution aimed at preserving aromas. This passion for puff pastry appeared again in another of his historic proposals: the entire salmon totally covered with puff pastry, baked and grilled; as well as in the sea bass filled with lobster mousse served into puff pastry with Choron sauce. Nouvelle Cuisine? Did you say Nouvelle Cuisine?
What was Bocuse’s style? What recipes did he create? Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Best Cook in France, in the World, the most awarded, the most decorated … the best communicator. Whose decrepit cuisine still sports three Michelin stars.
What do Arzak and Bocuse have in common? The unbeatable ability to manage their image and the fact of being professionally and socially well-considered, above their work. Although their philosophy and skills are completely different, we must ask the same questions to Juan Mari: Which is/are your culinary style/s? Which recipes of yours have really been transcendental?
Let’s remind the answers Juan Mari gave when he was interviewed by Noticias de Gipuzkoa newspaper on 17th April 2011: “If I have contributed to something (a few seconds of silence while thinking), it must be the fact of raising the profession among cultured people; I really fought for it. Cooking flows through my veins, it’s my passion, my life. I look at the world from a culinary point of view. Cooking is all for me. My job is my hobby, and I’m really happy about it. Working is a real pleasure to me”. Regarding the second question, Juan Mari is even more clairvoyant: “The pudding of krabarroka, I think, one of our first hits. Although we create around 40-50 dishes a year, this one really made history”.
In short, apart from some differences, both of them have got a lot in common.
Cray fish “bunch”: Arzak thinks we are so naïve
Lack of definition, mockery, big lie … These are some of the words that justify the matter that is tackled here. Let’s not exaggerate. Let’s just talk about little lies. Juan Mari has never been beyond the picaresque genre, that typical Spanish literary style Spain has got real masters of, and not only regarding literature. According to the Real Academy’s definition, the culinary meaning of a “pícaro” is “kitchen assistant”, the one who provides auxiliary services. A level some have never reached, because to deserve it, you need to cook. And if you don’t cook, you can’t become a kitchen assistant. Why don’t some people cook? Maybe because they can’t. And why can’t they? Maybe because they don’t like it or because it requires a lot of sacrifices.
In the later nineties, Arzak surprised us with a spectacular dish we sang the praises of: the crayfish “bunch” served with rice vermicelli and foie gras mayonnaise, whose principal merit was the visual aspect. It really looked like a coral.
When I naively asked Juan Mari about the method he used to make the vermicelli, he answered: “It took me a lot of time and efforts to create the rice pasta. It’s a really long and complex process”. He didn’t even know how they were prepared and couldn’t take the merit away from himself; he just cunningly hushed up the “secret”.
Saying that the dough used by a restaurant is processed food is not a sin at all. What really discredits people is the fact of lying. More so when there are thousands of lies. Like the fact of making people believe that some vermicelli you can find in shops specializing in Chinese gastronomy have been invented by Juan Mari himself –the great creator– and that his cuisine is all based on hand-craft –the great craftman.
With the time, some of the people who used to cook for him ended up providing us the recipe: “Put the rice and the water into a saucepan and boil for 35 minutes from boiling point. Strain and mix the rice dough. Spread a thin layer on a Silpat baking sheet with a spatula and make vermicelli using two spatulas. Leave to dry”. What a precision! According to this description, there is no doubt about it: the vermicelli have never been made; they have always been bought in a 20 p shop.
Arzak’s cuisine is full of examples of this trend for cultivating “handmade” cooking. Like when an impulse for originality “inspired” him to fill some brick dough with spider crab a la donostiarra and to serve it with vermouth sauce and saffron. A dish he christened with a pure Basque name: talos de txangurro (spider crab thallus). This is Arzak Basque cuisine. A unique kitchen assistant who transformed processed brick dough into hand-crafted and patriotic thallus.
As foreign ambassador on the Spanish culinary scene, we can’t deny that he is the very best. Try to appear on TV next Friday cooking the vermicelli, dear Juan Mari. We want to see you in action.
Arzak and the pudding of … what?
Arzak “created” the pudding of krabarroka (scorpionfish), his most famous recipe, in the early seventies. Since then, he hasn’t been able to do anything better. According to this “bolero-wearing” cook (no one has hardly ever seen him cooking), he would have been inspired by a bar located in the Old Quarter of San Sebastian, Astelena, in which hake cake was served. He might have not read enough … Juan Mari has always been an extremely lazy man who used to spend most of his time on the phone in order to “condition intentions”; a man who lived in Madrid for free, making the most of the system, and who, with the same nerve, is now appropriating a chef’s hat just to appear on the picture. Instead of being “inspired” by books, Juan Mari was inspired by a bar. From the early 20th century on, all the recipe books contain some recipes of hake cake. So, what has been Jose Mari’s contribution to the dish? Changing the type of fish. A whole historic change … Anything else? Yes, a bit of cream, according the French doctrine –Well done, master, well done! This is the way Arzak’s most famous recipe was born, in fact.
The truth is that I have tasted it around thirty times, garnished with an amazing lucidity: a lettuce leaf filled with two spoonfuls mayonnaise. What a great chef you are, Juan Mari! After, he proposed the dish as an appetizer. Before and after their visit, the guests always wonder about the same thing: Does this taste like Krabarroka? What does this cake taste like? Nobody has been able to answer yet. This is the way the ………………………………………………………………..began.
Complete with the most appropriate word.
What began? …………………………………………………………………………….
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Come back next Tuesday for further and better things.
Picture taken in 1986 in Restaurante Arzak
Has anybody ever seen Arzak cooking?
Has any of the hundreds young people who worked as trainees at Arzak’s restaurant ever seen Juan Mari cooking? Has any of the cooks who received Arzak’s restaurant at their house for some event ever seen Juan Mari cooking? Has any of the attendees to some gastronomic congress ever seen Juan Mari cooking? Has anybody seen Juan Mari cooking in any TV programme?
Don’t laugh, please. This is a serious matter.
The Restaurant: Arzak and Elena: 2 for 1
Fantasy or reality?
This year, Belén Esteban (bullfighter Jesulín’s ex-wife) ‘s favourite magazine has presented another scoop. On the front page: “Arzak, eighth in the world, is a whole success at the Eurovision contest: Juan Mari gets the well-deserved Award for the Best professional career and Elena gets the Bronze Medal of the Best Female Chefs. Which is the subliminal message? “The daughter inherits her dad” or “Like father, like daughter”? Arzak and Ansón, Ansón and Arzak; this is all about cooking things up. Together in the Basque Culinary Center; a den of … After this lollipop, the last thing we need now is them to propose a shot of Pop Rocks water to make us gargle.
The Restaurant: Arzak “tries to intimidate us”
We are not going to discuss if Noma, El Celler de Can Roca and Mugaritz are indeed the first, second and third best restaurants in the world. What is clear is that the list reflects some interests that are determined by a kingdom of maharajahs. In Spain, these interests are controlled by Rafael Ansón and Juan Mari Arzak. Judging by the results, in other countries, the list seems to be manipulated by specific cooks and their critics. It is so outrageous that Le Chateaubriand, a Parisian bistrot rated 6,5/10, turns to be the best restaurant in France and one of the top 10 best restaurants in the world. Isn’t that funny? And this is only one example among many others. Our opinion is very clear: this ranking is conditioned by the Press Offices of determined cooks, by their connections and their business. From here, from Brazil, from Mexico, from South-Africa, from India, … they are able to sell Gastronomic Polynesia to the world.
After this editorial was published, Arzak called me on my personal phone to “intimidate me” (the conversation has been recorded) and to tell me that I was not allowed to talk about him and his actions. Dear Juan Mari, the fact you introduced “nouvelle cuisine” in Spain is a major merit on your favour, I admit, but the fact remains that you have embodied a major manipulation of Spanish cuisine for the last decades. If you want to talk about it, we can start mentioning your acquaintance with the mayor of
Do you fancy going on talking about it? About you and other cooks of your kind who milk the system dry and manipulate it …