//by: José Berrocoso//
“Cooking is not just a job for me but it is more so a way of life”
The Real Food Capital of Europe is Basque Country, of course. Located in Spain’s northernmost region and lying just below France’s southern border, this must-visit destination for food lovers is one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world with a true respect to the Slow Food actions in Europe.
Yoseba Egaña is one of the most prestigious chefs in the recent New Basque Cuisine movement. Despite his traditional old-school kitchen background, Yoseba is an approachable, modern day chef. This modern approach in the kitchen is also visible in his cooking style, each of his dishes have a fundamentally traditional flavour pairing and cooking technique involved, which he uses to support contemporary dishes.
After some years working in the award-winning kitchens of Akelarre of Pedro Subijana, Yoseba found in the Slow Food movement his great passion. The focus is not only on nutrition, but also on preserving culture and heritage as it relates to food. NEBAK is Yoseba’s latest project, a 100% gluten-free restaurant. We meet Yoseba to learn more about this exciting venture, the revolutionary Basque cuisine and the Slow Food movement.
CP Magazine: What is your dearest memory related to food?
Yoseba Egaña: My dearest memory relating to food is definetly when I went to my granmothers’ houses for lunch. Loved the way they allowed me to play with the kitchen stuff, the food and even get my hands dirty!
CP: What first inspired you to become a chef?
YE: Probably because I loved the way people was happy with my grandmothers’ dishes: cooking at home, boiling crabs, chopping vegetables… it was fascinating to learn from them. That moment stayed in my mind. I wanted that experiencia for my day to day.
CP: A few years ago you were training with prestigious and referent of the Basque Cuisine worldwide Chef Pedro Subijana. How was that period?
YE: It was a fantastic time, I learnt a lot, enjoyed a lot and met great people.
CP: What was the best advice that chef Subijana gave you?
YE: Unlike what we say at the table, with food you do play.
CP: Tell us about a time when you remember making a mistake as a young chef: what happened, where were you working and what did you learn?
YE: While I was in the cooking school, we had to caramelize some creme brulée and we added baking soda instead of icing sugar, you can imagine the toxic smoke after burning the creme.
The best thing I learned was that before adding anything you always have to try it and it is a tip that I always give to new members in my team. Your eyes can deceive us, the palate cannot.
CP: It´s well-known that you are an icon of Slow Food. What does the movement mean to you?
YE: It means eating slowly. The movement preaches to eat consciously and pleasantly, with quality food. It’s not a vegetarian, vegan or radical trend as some unfortunately try to impose. With the movement, we encourage food producers and consumers to embrace and promote sustainable foods, local businesses and a slower pace of consumption.
CP: Basque cuisine has famously been avant-garde. What is currently happening within Basque cuisine that is exciting you as a chef?
YE: The new approach is rooted in the traditions of Basque Cuisine, pairing the earthy flavours and techniques of Spain’s Basque region with no make-up, no extravaganza. Fresh, locally sourced and organic produce from land and are are the Basque Cuisine building blocks right now.
CP: Your latest project, Nebak, is a 100% gluten-free restaurant. What inspired you to start a gluten-free restaurant?
YE: I noticed that were were more and more people with gluten intolerance. At the same, talking to my colleagues we realized that the original Basque cuisine does not contain gluten in much of its recipes. So we decided to start Nebak with the main idea that it would be a kitchen of integration, not of differentiation between celiacs or non-celiacs.
CP: Nebak’s gastronomic offer is a tribute to the authentic basque cuisine. In three words, how do you define Nebak?
YE: Traditional, inclusive and with an eye to detail.
CP: Is there anything that you are currently working on that we can look forward to seeing on your menu soon? How long does it take to develop a new menu or a new dish?
YE: Time is relative. It could be totally different from a dish to another. Sometimes an idea comes to you and you write it down. Then you find the best ingredients and play in the kitchen until you got what you have in your mind. Sometimes you have to try several times to find the exact flavour and texture that was In your mind.
CP: How would you add ingredients of Arab cuisine into a traditional Basque dish?
YE: Actually we already work with harissa and curry, they are some of my favourite spices. I´m always open to try new ingredients. I would love to make a gluten-free cous-cous or even a a good phyllo dough to make baklavas.
CP: Any plans to open Nebak in the GCC?
YE: My best friend, who lives in KSA, is pushing me to open Nebak in the GCC. However, I´m putting all my energy in the restaurants in Bilbao and Madrid.