Geeta Bansal Interviews Martin Berasategui, Legendary Basque Chef!
Martin Berasategui: Vasca España sans Borders
By Geeta Bansal, Executive Chef-Owner Clay Oven Irvine
When I think of chef Berasategui, the first thing that comes to mind is his smiling face and gentle demeanor. Although he is one of the most successful chefs to come out of the Basque country of Spain, with operations that range from Spain to Mexico, the Dominican Republic to Shanghai, China, he is a very grounded individual. Last year in San Sebastian upon seeing me in the audience while on his way to the podium for a demonstration he stopped and greeted me very warmly before proceeding to the stage. It is these qualities that make him so likeable. Whether in his restaurant or in a social space he is the same unassuming person, despite his six Michelin stars, content to stand back and let others take center stage.
|With Martin Berasategui|
Martin Berasategui is very well liked by other chefs all over the world whether it is Spain, France, Mexico or South America. He is the first to offer guidance and assistance to young chefs starting out in the business. I know numerous chefs who have done stages in his restaurants or sent their kitchen team members to train with him. It is to his credit that he is actively involved in training future talent in his beloved Basque region.
|Training in the kitchen|
It is difficult to stand out in the many-starred countryside of San Sebastian where names like Arzak and Subijiana are known worldwide, but he has been more successful in terms of expanding his operations outside of his region. I admire him for still being in the kitchen and actively cooking for guests at his restaurant Martin Berasategui, in Lasarte-Oria, San Sebastian.
He is an accomplished businessman who founded the Martin Berasategui Business Group in 1996 which managed restaurants in the Kursaal, San Sebastian, Guggenheim Bilbao, Mugaritz, all no longer under his advisement. Then he went on to advise and open restaurants in Barcelona, Tenerife, Seville, China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. He has come a long way from the young boy who slept on a mattress under the stairs at Bodegon Alejandro, his parent's establishment in the old town of San Sebastian. He has over a dozen cookbooks to his credit. Berasategui writes a weekly column, has weekly radio and television shows and is a motivator at numerous food events where I have seen him in action myself. He also runs a school and workshop to train dining room and kitchen personnel.
|The restaurant Martin Berasategui in Lasarte-Oria|
He was born into a restaurant operating family (Bodegon Alejandro) in 1960 and entered the kitchen at the age of thirteen where he started helping out while still in school. Cooking was in his blood and his determination and hard work has brought him to where he is in life now. His first teacher was his mother, and at the age of seventeen he decided to go to school at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie in Yssingeaux, France. Upon finishing school, he worked and trained with chefs like Andre Mandion, Jean Paul Heinard, Didier Oudill and Alain Ducasse at Louis XV in Monaco. To ensure a very well-rounded training, he apprenticed in butchery and pastry before moving to the savory side of cuisine.
At the age of twenty, he took over the family restaurant and at 25 received his first Michelin star. Twelve years later, he opened his flagship restaurant for which he holds three stars since 2001. At present, he holds a total of six stars between his various restaurants. He has received numerous awards and distinctions during his career locally and internationally. Berasategui lives in the region where he was born with his wife and daughter who are also involved in his operations. He continues to amaze and satiate his guests with his skillful combinations of flavors and the most beautiful plates using the best of the products from his region.
|Roast foie gras with seaweed resting on horseradish curd, fermented soy broth and hazelnut salt|
My questions for chef Berasategui: