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Searching far and wide for culinary inspiration : Spain’s Mugaritz aims to bring diners on a journey with each visit

May 09,2018
Above, some dishes that have been served at Mugaritz in Spain. [JosE LUIS LOPEZ DE ZUBIRIA]
ChefAndoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in Spain came to Korea for a week to meet with students at Woosong University in Daejeon as well as to learn more about Korean influences he can adapt into dishes served at the restaurant. [ALEX ITURRALDE]
An undying passion for researching ways to make creative dishes has brought the team from Mugaritz - considered by many to be one of the world’s best restaurants - from Spain to Korea last week. Chef Andoni Louis Aduriz, who has led the restaurant for the past 20 years, brought his team to Korea for over a week to discover what elements here can help the restaurant go above and beyond what they have done. He also taught three master classes organized by Woosong University in Daejeon.

Chef Aduriz calls himself a “rebel” in the kitchen. He believes that great dishes don’t really come from spending hours and hours in the kitchen, but from experiences he has in his day-to-day life. For example, he took the time to study the DNA of goose liver at a college in order to have a better understanding of the ingredient and develop a new foie gras dish.

“The most important tool of a chef is the mind,” said Aduriz, who is better known as Andoni, in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The mind allows you to be creative and to use your memory to improve gastronomy.”

The chef’s visit to Korea was arranged thanks to an invitation from Woosong University, which just celebrated the opening of its Institut Paul Bocuse, a globally renowned culinary institute based in Lyon, France. The university has become the 15th member of the Institut Paul Bocuse Worldwide Alliance. The alliance aims to build culinary networks through schools in different countries including Japan, Singapore, Finland, Chile and many more. To celebrate the opening of the institute, Woosong University invited the team from Mugaritz, which is ranked No. 9 on the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants and has received two stars from the Michelin Guide, to give lectures and cooking demonstrations.

“Cuisine is science and science has to be for everyone,” said the chef, who is known for breaking down ingredients to their finest details, even to a molecular level, when trying to develop a dish. He applies the scientific mind to make his ingredients a medium for communication. “Gastronomy is also a language to share our own way of understanding reality and to express our emotions,” the chef said.

The team travels from time to time to find ways to make its menu more diverse and international, yet simple and very local for diners.

The chef shared his experiences in Korea and what the restaurant has planned this year to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Q. Why is traveling across the world so important for the Mugaritz team?

. [During] every trip we achieve and record a lot of new ideas. Then in our creativity period - from January to April - we develop all the new dishes using all the information and inspiration we collected during the year. Sometimes inspiration comes from a product we have not seen before. Other times, it comes from a traditional technique or emotions we [experienced during] our trip [as well as] the things we have seen in the countries that we have visited [over] all these years.

How much do international influences impact your style of food?

It is inevitable to be affected or influenced by what happens in the world. Many of the cooks and workers at Mugaritz, as well as the vast majority of customers we have, are international. Moreover, the richness of [having] a creative base provokes the same ideas that inspire the dishes of Mugaritz. All of them end up working as message multipliers. Mugaritz respects and admires the surprising culinary cultures that make up the rich mosaic of diets around the world; it is wonderful to observe the varied manner in which each society has solved something as basic as the need to eat and as the repetition of culinary formulas to do so - it has made infinite heritage recipes. There is no doubt that our trip to Korea, which further increased our admiration for the Korean kitchen, will leave a visible fingerprint on the next creative processes to carry out. Textures, scents, techniques, ingredients, tableware, ways to eat, restaurants, bars, markets, shops and the Korean house (hanok) can all be and will no doubt be inspiring elements that will influence Mugaritz in the near future.

Is there particular food culture in Korea you want to study more or try using at your restaurant?

We [plan to] bring back a lot of fermented foods. I think that Korea’s future food objectives will be set up with these fermented foods [enjoyed over the years and now considered to be traditional.] We believe that the new research topics have to be focused on health and fermentation. [Janire Zubizarreta of Mugaritz’s communications team added that the team is very interested in the pickles that Koreans make with vegetables and herbs, and it will try to use the same technique to work with Spanish herbs and vegetables.] We have visited several restaurants, markets and [research centers for fermented foods and traditional farms], and will try to use all the new [lessons] in our kitchen once we go back home.

What could help Korea develop and promote its cuisine more effectively?

I think the key point is to be able to be creative and to work on avant-garde ideas and techniques without forgetting tradition, the soul of one’s culture. Nowadays in Europe, we are very interested in Korean fermentation, but through the lens of our own heritage.

How is food now being served at Mugaritz different from what you have served before?

I cannot share with you many details at the moment because it is a surprise. It is true that this year is very special for us because it is our 20th anniversary, which is a miracle for us, because I always say that Mugaritz is a system error. Every year is very special for us because somehow we start again. This year we invite our guests to actively participate in the construction of the experience: a narrative which will last for approximately two and a half hours. A series of intertwined elements will welcome guests and they will be left to question whether to eat and drink or to seize the occasion. We will celebrate 20 years of teamwork, pledges, hopes and efforts focused on consolidating a proper language within gastronomy to share an approach to living through our menu.

How has Mugaritz changed over the past 20 years?

It is clear that we have gone from a kitchen where food was simply handcrafted by cooks to another level where the ideas behind dishes are more highly valued. We say that there has been an evolution to perhaps a more reflective kitchen or at least the restaurant is projecting further than just providing a purely sensory experience. Let’s say that the team currently knows and recognizes the implications of what eating has on the life we live, the way in which we behave as a society and the impact of these actions on the planet we inhabit. We are in a position to make a kitchen more responsible.

What is the biggest source of power that keeps the restaurant going strong?

Attitude is a must. We have a sentence written in the restaurant’s kitchen: The difference between the possible and the impossible is measured by man’s determination. That sentence is our philosophy. We never had a lot of resources but instead we have a lot of different takes on attitude. It is also important that we managed to have built an ecosystem where creativity and pushing one another to go beyond their limits is already a routine. My kitchen is not in the territory of comfort which people sometimes expect from a restaurant. We are completely on a search and what we can offer to eaters is a journey through those doubts. For example, one of the dishes this year is a reflection on life and death - it is a live, baby eel swimming in a warm broth. It is challenging for the guests.

What is creativity to you?

Creativity is principally a state of mind. And creativity is also a tool. It is a tool to solve our problems. If we want to achieve some dish, we take it as a problem to solve. So we start [by doing] research and doing tests until we finally achieve what we want. But creativity is also a way of being and a routine at Mugaritz. Creativity has to be experiential. Mugaritz is a live environment. We change things every day because creativity never stops.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]