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"My great secret: my infallible palate"

Yaiza de la Campa. Journalist

Wiki Spanish Food- First and foremost, congratulations on the 20th anniversary of Martín Berasategui. How would you take stock of the last two decades? What do you believe has been the key to your success?  

Martín Berasategui- I think that an important part of our success is due to our tenacity, a belief in what we're doing, and to tremendous perseverance by myself, my wife Oneka, and our team. As for the last 20 years, I would describe them overall as happy, but also difficult, marked by an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice, but also extremely gratifying. I do what I love, what has been my passion since I was a little boy and, on top of it all, I have the good fortune of working in the place that my wife and I chose for our project, so I am extremely fortunate. A lot has changed in the last 20 years, and for the better I think. But from the very first day, we have worked tirelessly in search of excellence, pleasure and maximum comfort for guests. We have gone through many phases and worked to perfect all of our processes. I am very pleased with the result. Today Lasarte is the great bastion that we always dreamed it would be.  

W.S.F.- Martín Berasategui restaurant was initially a risk that required an unprecedented investment in terms of money and time, but which put you on the international gastronomy map. What do you believe others, in Spain and in other countries, consider to be your most valuable quality?  

M.B.- That's a question for people who value what I do, but I would hope that the level of our cuisine would be our most valued characteristic and our commitment to innovation and organizational capacity, which we are always working to perfect.  

W.S.F.- Your work has been described as "an exquisite convergence between traditional Basque, nouvelle and original cuisine". What is your secret to achieving this balance?  

M.B.- I have an extremely powerful secret weapon: my own palate. It never fools me. If someone asked me about my best quality, I wouldn't say that it's being a hard worker, or having years of experience. My best asset is my palate and, of course, Oneka’s support. When we like something, I believe that our customers like it too. You're born with this ability, and you learn to train and fine-tune it over time. I always look for the "exquisite" within that balance—the spark, that "something" that causes excitement.  

W.S.F.- As an expert chef, and like any good Basque person with a passion for quality produce, fish and seafood, you most likely use the very best raw materials. How do you choose suppliers to ensure optimal quality?  

M.B.- The product is the first thing that the chef must focus on. I no longer go to the market with my shopping bag; now, the suppliers come to stock our kitchen. In that sense, I’m privileged.

I like to work with products when they are at their peak of ripeness for the recipe I have in mind. In the case of vegetables, I work with a lot of young species which haven't had time to spoil. For example, I prefer to use baby squid that are smaller than eight centimeters, whereas, with certain wild animal species, I am more partial to larger sizes: a two kilo turbot is not the same as a four kilo one. It all depends. Every product has its moment, and you have to experience and learn to recognize what you have in front of you, but essentially you have to keep in mind that fresh top-flight products don't travel well. The fish that my fishermen bring me is incredible and very difficult to find elsewhere.  

W.S.F.- Do you believe that companies' formats and products are adapted to restaurants' and quality requirements?  

M.B.- Yes, indubitably. Companies also make very high-quality products that can absolutely be used by a restaurant. Fresh products are one thing and manufactured goods are another. The latter are also required and there are vast differences in terms of quality.  

W.S.F.- Is the crisis affecting haute cuisine? What strategic decisions have you had to make in connection with your restaurants?  

M.B.- I don't like to generalize; logically, every case is different. But broadly speaking, this sector, like others, is being hit very hard by the crisis. The situation has made us sharpen our wits and reinvent ourselves to some degree, because we have to try to weather the situation and be more imaginative than ever. In my specific case, at the restaurant in Lasarte, we have maintained the same approach and philosophy as always; however, a haute cuisine restaurant with three Michelin stars has a very specific infrastructure with extremely high costs. The service is in line with the price, but I believe it is a very specific restaurant model that, if changed, would lose its essence.  

W.S.F.- On a personal note, do you shop at the market? What kinds of products do you buy and what do you cook at home?  

M.B.- I usually eat at the restaurant, but on the few days off that I have I like to cook for my family, and if need be, I absolutely go shopping at the market. I like to grill fish, and I enjoy the best steaks in the world, which I get from my good friend and supplier, Luismi.  

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25/07/2017