Andoni Luis Aduriz is one of the leading avant-garde Spanish cuisine. Mugaritz (Guipúzcoa) is considered one of the best restaurants in the world by Restaurant magazine, has two Michelin stars, plus a host of awards for its innovative and creative activity in gastronomy.
– Sustainability and haute cuisine, is it an impossible love?
This is a philosophical debate I’ve been dealing with for the past 17 years as a conscious chef. Is there any sense in what we do? We need 70 people to feed 50 when just 1 person can cook for 500. We change the napkin every time the diner goes to the toilet. Can this be sustainable?
The Renaissance was a period of misery and war, but also flourished art, science and humanism in such a way that it still influences our culture. We must escape from radical rationality for the boundaries of sustainability are beyond the tangible consumption. To build and maintain a culture we must ensure sustainability, but from a broader perspective and not becoming radicals. We always strive for excellence, but we also believe the need for a socially and environmentally committed gastronomy.
– Where does Mugaritz’s commitment to sustainability lie on?
We source products from our own organic garden, but also support what we call singular suppliers, local and sustainable farmers that we know and trust on. We respect the seasonality of ingredients and we adapt to what nature gives us.
– In other words, your focus is local economy?
Yes, but without dogmatisms. We are living in the era of trade of pirated agricultural goods. The laws of the market rule mostly everything, if it’s not cheap, then it doesn’t work. In other minority milieu, locally produced, organic and seasonal goods are sold. Okay, I’m on that side too, but I think you have to flee radicalism, even as far as sustainability is concerned.
I recently met one meat broker who used to move the meat from northern to southern Europe and vice versa. In northern Europe is valued lean meat, and in the south they appreciate more fat meat. Picasso would have never gotten that far by selling his art in his immediate surroundings. A real Iberian acorn ham costs about 800 € and, if it wasn’t for external demand, this great sustainable product would have been lost.
Clearly, it makes no sense to transport fresh oranges from Chile so we can consume them all year long. But I think when there is a clear added value to a well-known product or you’re seeking for exceptional products, transgressing the totem of local food is worthwhile.
– But, what about the environmental cost of transporting this exceptional products?
In the early 20th century, we used 3,000 year-old mummies as fuel for locomotives and now we use a 1200 kg car to transport one person. I trust science development to reduce the environmental cost of transportation, and I do not see unreasonable that in the future, transport may be cheaper and less environmentally harmful. Today, it is an important environmental cost, so from Mugaritz, we are committed to the locally sourced product without excluding products from a bit further to add value.
– Besides recent controversies concerning processed meat, it’s clear that meat consumption in our society carries a significant environmental cost. How does this fit in a restaurant concerned about the planet?
We do not exclude meat from the menu, but in many cases, it is not the star. Furthermore, the meat that we buy is sustainably and free range produced.
– Now everyone is talking about the problem of food waste. How do you deal with this issue?
It has always been a concern to us, but we have it quite controlled. One of the strategies we have used to reduce food waste is to eliminate the concept of long menus. We offer a variety of seasonal dishes with small portions. When it’s over it’s over. Besides this, in the kitchen we try to optimize all processes to reduce food waste. We compost the rest for our garden or we use it to feed the pigs from a farm nearby.
– Another aspect that encompasses sustainable restaurants is corporate social responsibility: engagement with the community, fair labor relationships, etc. In our country this is a thorny issue …
Haute cuisine is a high performance center. Our employees and apprentices want to seize their time here and that means many intense days of work. However, we respect the non-working two full days, personal days and paid vacations. Apart from this, we try to compensate with other non-tangible opportunities.
On one hand, we create autonomous groups that manage themselves. Everyone organizes their time and tasks. Then we put together and make decisions as a group. The organization of the kitchen is quite horizontal. Apart from the kitchen staff, we have the waiters, cleaning and administration staff. Sometimes they are forgotten however, they’re crucial for the process so that the customer have a great gastronomical experience.
On the other hand, we teach our staff our philosophy by taking them to the mountain, visiting suppliers, etc. We want both apprentices and permanent employees, to impregnate our philosophy and to provide them with this content, not just practice.
– School canteens serve green beans all year long and tomato salad never lacks even in cold winter. Then we surprise ourselves when children aren’t aware of food season. Apart from school, do you think great chefs may also contribute to the transformation of these consumption patterns so disconnected from nature?
I think it is very important that we give example with our own businesses and we should also express publicly our opinion. In my articles I try to discuss about relevant issues related to sustainability and I take up my stance every time I can. In addition, I participate in initiatives such as Oceana that promotes sustainable fishing.
– Some people believe that sustainable gastronomy is a fad for hippies and snobs who can afford it. What would you tell them?
Not at all. Sustainable food sourcing is a must in food service and there is much evidence to prove it. Both, people and companies live with our own inconsistencies, but it is clear that living and working in a respectful way with the natural and social environment is the only way forth.