Andoni Luis Aduriz lets our imagination fly
For Andoni Luis Aduriz, the chef at two-Michelin-starred Mugaritz, which reopens on 1 May, eating no longer just means eating. It provides a way to connect with the world – and with ourselves.
Halfway through a conversation with Andoni Luis Aduriz (San Sebastián, 1971), I began to wonder who exactly I was talking to. In theory, this was a chat with a chef. And – one assumes – when you’re talking with a chef, you talk about cooking, dishes, flavours and techniques. A bit of science. But with Aduriz – just as with Mugaritz, his two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Rentería, Guipúzcoa, which is a perennial fixture on the list of the world’s best eateries – being certain of something means absolutely nothing. Instead, uncertainty is served up with an eye to eliciting excitement or surprise. In his dishes, as in his discourse, there are no textures, but rather ideas, and – more than an interview with a chef – this seems to be a conversation with a philosopher, a quantum physicist, a preacher, a rhapsodist, an anthropologist – even a mad professor. Or all of them at the same time. In fact, it’s probable that Andoni has something of all these characteristics. It was cooking school that marked a turning point in his life, and it was working at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli that inspired him to come up with new ideas and think outside the box. On 1 May, Mugaritz opens for its new season, which will last until 31 October. Aduriz will also take part in Madrid Fusión, an event returning to Ifema from 31 May to 2 June: a symbol of the long-awaited recovery of a sector that has been especially impacted by the pandemic. This new season comes – quite literally – hot off the stove.
The new season of your restaurant starts on 1 May, with an offering aimed at ‘reimagining those first times’. It sounds as evocative and nostalgic. Where does your head go when you hear about the ‘first time’?
It’s a first-time trap... What we’re interested in is the second time you experience something for the first time. I came up with it because I do it all my time with my son. I enjoy his first times, which are my second times. Above all, it’s an intention aimed at not losing the ability to feel joy and expectation.
Mugaritz has always had something related to the first time...
That’s right, and for many reasons. Among other things, it’s because new staff join us at the beginning of each season. But, more than anything else, it’s because almost all of the menu is also new. So, it’s always the first time.
This culinary offering includes an invitation to kiss for the first time. Can you tell us more about the story behind it?
We’ve invented a kiss. To do it, we made tableware from the faces of the people on the team. We place a titbit on the lips and – since we don’t serve it with silverware – you have kiss it. It’s more of a symbol, just like everything that goes on at Mugaritz, because we don’t really recognise the concept of ‘good’. We don’t believe in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – we prefer ‘interesting’.
Instead of how good something tastes, what do you prefer people to say to you?
I'd love them to say, “Wow, that’s exciting!” I want people to feel moved and excited by our food and the experience.
What has been this year’s biggest innovation? What do you feel most pleased with in such a challenging year?
It depends on what prism you look at it through. Over the years, Mugaritz has been successful at doing something very special. Ferran Adrià told me that it’s one of the few places – or the only one – where he’s offered things where he doesn’t know how they are made. Innovations can be something technical, or a product, or the way you look at something. It’s all part of it. But what I often like most are concepts that intersect, which is something more ambiguous and ethereal. All of Mugaritz is a concept in itself.
When creating, there are sometimes results that might be considered jarring. Where do you put limits, or what filter do you use?
When we are being creative, there are no limits. But this creativity produces dishes that we have had to set aside, dishes that are taboo – for one reason or another – and that we can’t serve to everyone. You have to be polite to your guests. Don’t offend them. Or, at least, not too much! For example, this year we’ve created something that I’m still not sure we’ll serve. It’s inspired by a breast…
With so much innovation, is there a risk of people forgetting that they’ve gone there to eat, or do people no longer go to a restaurant like yours to simply eat?
We have to explain that, if you want to just eat without the experience, you’d be better off going elsewhere. Mugaritz has been open for 23 years now and we like to state – so that there are no misunderstandings – that we’re an unusual and expensive restaurant. What’s so marvellous about Mugaritz is that it’s not a space of certainty, as restaurants usually are, but rather of doubt, which we travel through together. We sow seeds in the mouth that are question marks. We do this through matter, but that isn’t the main thing.
What is the new frontier in culinary innovation? Where is it headed?
Gastronomy always welcomes new products and technical challenges. It’s always been like that. Even some foods we think are natural also have a process. Tomato and corn don’t exist in nature. They’re an intentional exercise. For me, what changes everything is putting ideas to things, giving them an intention. It’s no longer just matter, technique or flavours, but rather what their intentions are, what it is that you want to say. And that’s what I think will gradually expand. Most of the time, I go to places to eat, but sometimes I want to eat up someone’s ideas or culture, or eat my past, which is full of symbolism. You eat things, but you eat up what they mean.
Each year, you close for three months to prepare the next project. You call it a “period of creativity”. During that time, you work with ‘experimental guests’. This year, well-known figures include the writer Juan José Millás and the palaeontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga, among others. How do you express that relationship in the dishes?
Ultimately, the people who come to eat at Mugaritz want to find out how we see things and how we decide to make them. In this respect, all we have to do is just be exactly who we are, without any help. But we’ve discovered that sharing generates wealth and that we can grow with shared ideas. That’s why we have those guests. That’s what these get-togethers, especially, are all about: seeing how they look at our work. They’re like guinea pigs. But we listen to them...
Mugaritz is located in a unique setting of centuries-old oaks. Does that setting – which seems to exemplify the permanent compared to the ephemeral – create constraints?
Everything influences it. Our goal is that the presence of many things will change everything. Like the environment. And it’s achieved by an enormous window that displays a living picture. But that’s not all. It’s the temperature you might not notice, or the hidden smells, like the grapevine shoot embers we sometimes use to perfume the dining room so that it’ll smell like burnt wood. All of that changes everything.
During this pandemic, you’ve been critical of governments and the restrictions on the hospitality industry. What do you think the possible recovery might be like?
I wouldn’t say that I’ve been overly critical, but I wanted to point out that, as a society, we can’t do without the things that bring it wealth, interest and a future, such as the hospitality industry. It’s Spain’s culture, past, intentions and lifestyle – a lifestyle that is recognised the world over. This crisis has caused us to lose a lot. And the worst thing is that we in the sector felt as if we were expendable. It’s been mismanaged from an economic perspective, but also from a symbolic and emotional perspective. A lot of places have closed up, but a lot of trust has also been broken. And it’s sad. What will happen? We’re in an economic crisis, but – unlike the 2008 crisis – people want to live more than ever. If you allow people to go to restaurants, they’ll go. And that opens interesting options for the sector… or for what’s left of it.