Chef Elena Arzak of Restaurante Arzak - Biography

San Sebastian, Spain

August 2016

With a healthy independent streak, 11-year-old Elena Arzak started going straight to her parents’ eponymous restaurant after school, peeling oranges and cleaning squid. Even, and ever, within the family business, Elena Arzak would be an individual.
Arzak left her San Sebastián home to study in kitchens all over Europe, both in restaurant kitchens and a variety of vocational and catering schools. From 1988 to 1991, she studied at the Schweizerische Hotelfachschule Luzern in Switzerland while also working at the International Hotel in Zurich and the Grand National Hotel also in Lucerne. Arzak went on to work in acclaimed restaurants throughout the continent: Le Gavroche in London; Troisgros in Roanne, France; and Carré des Feuillants and Vivarois in Paris. Short but influential stops were also made at elBulli in 1997 and Pierre Gagnaire in 1998.
Though her decade abroad was fruitful and formative, Arzak was committed to her family’s enterprise, which was emerging as a defining voice in Basque cuisine and Spanish gastronomy. She first returned to Arzak in 1996, and defying nepotism of all forms, worked her way through the kitchen. Only after two years did she take the helm alongside her father Juan Mari Arzak. In the company of only six other women in Michelin history, Elena Arzak has maintained the restaurant’s three Michelin stars for 18 years. In 2012, she earned the Veuve Clicquot “Female Chef of the Year” award. In 2013, the Arzaks joined Mikel Sorazu, Xabier Gutierrez, and Igor Zalakain to open a second restaurant, the now Michelin-starred Ametsa by Arzak Instructions at The Halkin in London. Arzak currently holds the 21st slot on San Pellegrino’s “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list.