Two decades have passed, but Dani García still remembers the moment because it was his first visit to Arzak's restaurant. He ordered one of the most popular dishes on the menu: the 'sorta de cigalas', or 'bundle of crayfish'. The other evening he reconstructed that same dish at a dinner in Marbella, which was held as part of the A Cuatro Manos gastronomy conference so that many of Spain's greatest chefs could pay tribute to Juan Mari Arzak. They had been wanting to do this since 2014, but he was strongly opposed to the idea. It wasn't until last year that they finally convinced him.
The date of the dinner, 19 March, coincided with Father's Day in Spain and Arzak, precursor of Basque nouvelle cuisine and recognised as one of the driving forces behind modern Spanish gastronomy, is also considered by many of the Michelin-starred chefs in this country as a true 'aita', which means 'father' in Basque.
“What is happening today is very moving for us and I am delighted for him because he deserves it. I have experienced his energy all my life and seen how much he loves cooking and the respect he has for his colleagues. What better way could there be to pay tribute to him than for his fellow chefs to hold a party like this?” said Elena Arzak, herself a holder of three Michelin stars and the daughter of the famous chef who was the guest of honour at this event.
The tribute dinner brought together some of the greatest names in world gastronomy: Martín Berasategui, Joan Roca, Quique Dacosta, Ángel León (three Michelin stars) and Ferran Adrià. Also there were Andoni Luis Aduriz, Paco Roncero, Toño Pérez, Diego Guerrero, Ramón Freixa, Paco Pérez, Francis Paniego, Nacho Manzano, Paco Morales and Pablo González (all of whom have two Michelin stars), and Albert Adrià, Josean Alija, Marcos Morán, Ricard Camarena and Aitor Arregi, with one star each.
All, with the exception of Berasategui and Ferran, put their aprons on to reinterpret Arzak's cuisine in a dish which featured on a menu for nearly 100 diners. They included the chefs and guests of Arzak and of the Dani García Group. Among them were Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada and Simoneta Gómez Acebo.
Notebook in hand
This kitchen in Marbella became the centre of operations for the 20 chefs. They began to arrive on Friday evening, took up their positions and by Sunday some of them were already lighting the cookers.
The menu included some of Arzak's favourites such as hake in green sauce, prepared by Joan Roca; paté of scorpionfish from Andoni Luis Aduriz and suckling pig in orange sauce which was prepared by Ángel León, who is normally known for his seafood dishes.
The guest of honour was almost rendered speechless right from the start, when he was greeted upon arrival by the sound of the traditional La Tamborrada march of San Sebastián. He conducted the melody with gusto, just as he does at the doors of his restaurant every 20 January, the day of the patron saint of Donostia. Ferran and Berasategui, his great friends, became quite emotional as they watched. Elena Arzak was moved to tears.
Arzak said he felt “emotional” to be sharing this tribute with his daughter, “who is my rock”, and admitted that even on such a special night as this he had brought his beloved notebook with him. He takes it everywhere, so he can make notes and not miss a single idea. “Of course I've brought it, I couldn't be without it!” he said.
His visit to Marbella has given him numerous ideas, which is not surprising bearing in mind the talent which had gathered at Dani García's restaurant at the Puente Romano hotel.
For the fifth year running, this chef from Marbella brought together his friends and colleagues for a special event. The gastronomic conference has included a tribute night since 2015. The first year it was for the revolutionary Ferran Adrià, who was followed by Jöel Robuchon in 2016 and Nobu Matsuhisa last year. This time it was Arzak's turn. The standard could not be higher.