Elena Arzak, head chef at Restaurant Arzak (San Sebastián-Donostia, Spain)

Elena Arzak, head chef at Restaurant Arzak

Elena Arzak. Photo: Laura Lajh Prijatelj

Elena Arzak was born into a great family with a rich culinary heritage. Restaurant Arzak, which is now working under the creative direction of Elena and her father, the legendary Juan Mari Arzak, was founded in 1897 by Juan Mari’s grandparents. The Arzak cuisine is about reworking of traditional dishes from best local ingredients using cutting-edge techniques and is today a symbol of the Spanish Basque gastronomy. Their passion and hard work were awarded 3 Michelin stars and with 8th place on the World’s 50 best restaurants list.

Elena fell in love with cooking and the creative atmosphere in the kitchen as a child, when she was allowed to stay in the kitchen for two hours per day. Today she said cooking is for her like breathing – she needs and loves to cook, to be creative, to feel the buzz in the kitchen, to talk to the guests. Her eyes shine when she talks about it and she still gets goosebumps when she sees guests travelling hundreds of miles to try their cooking. She is not just a great chef but also a wonderful lady.

We talked about chocolate at Ametsa in London, the restaurant with their instruction, which under head chef Sergi Sanz Blanco allows Londoners to get an idea of the Arzak flavours right in Belgravia.

What does chocolate mean for you?

Chocolate is for me something marvellous because almost everybody likes chocolate. I like to see it as an artisanal product which is alive and requires to be handled with care and love.

The Big Chocolate Truffle

The Big Chocolate Truffle. Photo: courtesy of Arzak

Why have you chosen this dessert? What is in your opinion so special about it?

I love very much our dessert which is called the big truffle. It is made out of chocolate and carob, which was after the second world war used instead of chocolate. It’s taste is a bit similar to liquorice and it has different texture than chocolate, but I think they combine very well and both are very healthy.

The truffle is made of a ball of cotton sugar which hides inside a chocolate mousse and bread crumbs with carob. The truffle is covered with cacao and carob powder. It really looks big and everybody who orders it is surprised by the size, but it’s just an illusion. It is served with a chocolate sauce which melts it. This chocolate sauce is full of flavour. We add some Karpy orange liquer to it which was used already by my grandmother and this gives it a flavour that is very dear to me.  It’s really a light dessert. The trend of desserts goes versus lightness. We don’t want heavy desserts that we had in the past. I believe a tasting menu needs some chocolate, but not too much of it, that’s why I like this dessert.

I would also like to say that people are, even if they come to the restaurant for food, looking for something that will satisfy all their senses. So not only the taste but also ambience, the playfulness and surprises in the presentation of food … and our chocolate truffle is incorporating all this.

Does it require any special technique?

Yes. You have to dry the carob, so it concentrates the aroma and we then make powder. And of course you must choose a very good chocolate. A good 70 or even 80% chocolate is the best for this dessert. You also have to be careful not to crush the cotton sugar too much, otherwise that effect of melting doesn’t happen.

What was the special challenge with it?

All the challenge is in finding the right balance between cacao and carob and to dry it well. You also have to be careful about the temperatures – the sauce should be just the right temperature because if too warm it would destroy the organoleptic properties of the truffle. Best is around 28 degrees C. Another important thing is the serving of this dessert. Too much sauce would cover the taste of the truffle.

Any final message for our readers?

Today everybody cares to be healthy. For me chocolate is very healthy – not just for the body but also for the general wellbeing. So never give up chocolate. It gives you life, it makes you feel good, it’s good for your mood. So even if you are on a diet, enjoy some chocolate. It would be shame not enjoying it.

You can enjoy the delicious Arzak specialities at Arzak in Spain or at Ametsa in London.