Food is a fundamental part of a Spaniards identity, especially those from the North of Spain where the most ancient culinary traditions are the gastronomical societies. Txokos, as they are called in the Vasque country, are food clubs, where groups of friends – mostly men – get together with the excuse of cooking, drinking and sharing their passion of food, something transmitted in their families through the generations. These clubs are similar to the underground “by introduction only” restaurants found in Japan. (If you can get into one of these clubs you can bet it will be one of the most intimate and unique meals out there.) Going to Azurmendi in many ways feels like going to Eneko’s own personal txoko: it was an incredibly intimate experience hosted by Eneko himself, one of the most passionate and down to earth chefs.
Azurmendi is located in a modern restaurant near Larrabetzu, a rural and tranquil town a few miles outside Bilbao. (15 min by car) This modern glass building by Vasque Architect, Naia Eguino, integrates beautifully with it’s surroundings, in a similar way to that of Michel Bras’ restaurant does in Toya. The building and it’s surroundings serve as a is a multi use space that combine a kitchen/dining area, a banquet space, a modern day greenhouse, culinary lab and a winery.
Not only is this building a beautiful piece of modern architecture but it is also Green (sustainable). This beauty on a hill seems to be completely self sufficient: heating is done by way of geo-thermal energy, rain water is recycled and there are electric car chargers for guests. It is one of the first times that I truly felt that the architecture was an integrated living breathing thing that had a symbiotic relationship with the culinary process.
The sustainable architectural methodologies are not very different from that of Azurmendi’s: be thoughtful and mindful of tradition, focus on local sourcing of produce/product and explore the science/culinary techniques that will help develop flavor.
Looking at this incredible edifice one could expect pretentious food but like the transparency of the walls, Azurmendi is honest in the kitchen and does not hide behind fanciful technique or ingredients. Everything you put in your mouth here has a purpose and it all tastes damn good! Here at Eneko’s house there is no room for ego, the only thing as big is Eneko’s passion for food and ensuring guests have a great time.
Upon arrival you are immediately greeted and whisked away on a glorious tour of the grounds and building. First stop is the greenhouse, where there are endless beds of beautiful green leafy things all grown in a perfect computer monitored atmosphere.
It was here that we got to meet Eneko and learned about his interest in not only growing gorgeous ingredients but his mission to bring back ingredients that have been extinct or endangered. It was clear from this conversation that this was so much more than your standard restaurant garden or green house, Eneko was crafting his own micro ecosystem.
Eneko showed us around the humid interior and then insisted that we “Eat Eat!”… we didn’t know where to start. … are we supposed to ravage the hydroponic garden and stuff our mouth full of exotic hard to find ingredients? As we walked around you couldn’t help but notice a few details that were slightly out of place; a perfectly perched tomato here a flower petal holding another ingredient there. All of these tasty vignettes subtly whispered to us, shhh.. eat me… we looked around to see if anyone was watching as we covertly slipped these beauties into our mouth. It felt wrong but let me tell you, they tasted oh so right. This scavenger hunt in the garden brought us into a vulnerable and playful place and in doing so transported us all right back to our childhood . What an incredibly playful way to start a meal.