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The chef at three-Michelin-starred Azurmendi talks to Lizzie Frainier about the best scrambled eggs, where you should have on your Bilbao hit list and why it’s important to always order local
What is your first food memory? - I always enjoyed my mother and grandmother’s cooking. But above all, I remember one thing: my mum making the dough for croquetas, the base for custards and other sweet things. I would always come into the kitchen and dip my fingers into the pot.
Where should we go on a weekend in Bilbao? - Of course, you can enjoy the Guggenheim [Museum], but I think the Museo de Bellas Artes is also incredible. In the Old Quarter, there are many bars to visit that have a certain charm to them. It’s also worth the trip to Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve; it’s close to the sea and has the most beautiful views I know. The town of Mundaka is one of the best in the world for surfers because of its left-breaking waves.
And where should we eat? - I love Sergio Ortiz’s restaurant, Zarate, in Bilbao. We’ve known each other since school and I love how he cooks. He worked in a town near the coast for a long time, so he has excellent fishing contacts. I still go back to Andra Mari, where I worked for many years. The waiters all wear traditional clothes and there is a lot of spirit in the roots of the local cuisine, but it’s evolutionary, too. Markina is also very traditional and friendly. It does a great revuelto (scrambled eggs with potatoes) and carne asada (grilled and sliced beef).
Why is cuisine in the Basque region so darned good? - We are very privileged. We live very close to both the sea and the countryside. We have excellent producers who interpret what the ocean and the land give to us. We also share wonderful raw materials and have four very clear seasons, giving us lots of diverse products from winter through to autumn.
Where do you like to travel? - When I was young I didn’t travel very much – just close to the Basque Country. It was when I became a chef that I started to travel. Recently I went to Guadeloupe and Thailand. In the streets of Bangkok you can breathe in the food and the way of life. I’d like to go to Prague and Belgium next for the gastronomy.
What are your favourite ingredients? - I’m lucky to live somewhere where there are very distinct seasons, so I’m always inspired. Right now I’m happy because las zizas (chantrelle mushrooms) are coming out. But also because of the peas, especially the lágrima de costa (tear-shaped peas unique to the Basque country), which have a wonderful sweetness.
We’re buying: what’s your order at the bar? - Txakoli wine. I couldn’t choose anything else: we’re producers of it at Azurmendi, too. It’s a very particular wine because it’s made with two types of grapes that you can only find in the Basque Country – the hondarrabi zuri and the hondarrabi zuri zerratia. I believe when you go to a bar you need to try the local specialities.
This article was published on 10th August 2016 so certain details may not be up to date.