Restaurant of the Year: Mugaritz : New Worlder

Our restaurant of the year might never fit into the rigid criteria for three Michelin stars (it has two), nor might ever be popular enough to be awarded to the top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list (though it is the only restaurant to be in the top 10 every year since 2006). If anything, Andoni Luis Aduriz’s restaurant Mugaritz, in Errenteria in the hills above San Sebastián, Spain, proves the shortcomings of lists and rankings. It doesn’t quite fit into a neat box.

Each year Mugaritz closes for a few months. During that time forty or so new dishes are created in which no single team member can lay credit, as everyone is involved. When it reopens, it the menu is completely new and as the weeks and months go on the dishes evolve and are recreated, often looking quite different by the end of the season. From the side of the staff, it’s one of the most intensive culinary experiences they will ever be a part of. For the diners, it can be a challenge. Many are enchanted, while others find it too much of a mind fuck.

Every preconceived notion of what an ingredient or dish should taste like gets tossed out during a meal at Mugaritz. They have served edible river stones, macaroons made from pig’s blood, and edible bubbles made from sun-ripened berries and beetroot. There have been singing soup bowls and live cannellone. Then there was the time they just served a tomato because it was a good tomato.

Mugaritz continues pushing the boundaries and asking the questions about fine dining like no other restaurant is currently doing. Never do they take the easy path and sometimes what they do makes you uncomfortable. Despite key staff departures over the past several years, the 2017 menu has set it apart from the rest of the world of fine dining. They served a menu almost entirely without cutlery that included dishes like beef lard roasted on a bone and an apple inoculated with penicillin and covered with mold spores that was paired with four botrytis-affected wines. Sweet things appear throughout the menu, though there are no dessert courses. At the end of the meal comes bread. In a world where fine dining restaurants aware starting to all feel like a blur, Mugaritz, nearly 20 years old, still manages to be completely original.

Additionally, the restaurant’s impact on fine dining in Latin America should not be ignored. For anyone opening a restaurant in the region, it might be a good idea to spend some time there. While there are successful chefs all over the world that have worked at Mugaritz, the amount that worked in the kitchen that have had a significant impact on the trajectory of modern Latin American cuisine is staggering. Rodolfo Guzmán, Diego Muñoz, Oswaldo Oliva, Kamilla Seidler, Michelangelo Cestari, Diego Telles, Karime Lopez, Thomas Troisgros, Julieta Caruso, almost the entire staff of Lasai, and many others scattered around the region have all spent time there thinking about the creative process as it applies to fine dining. Applying this process to Latin America’s astounding number of ingredients, many of which are completely untested, is creating a sea of possibilities.

We asked Aduriz why he felt he has had such an impact on chefs in Latin America and this was his answer:

“The truth is that I can only speculate the answer,” he said. “It’s very possible that the underlying ecosystem behind the idea of Mugaritz, where we let the kids grow up, develop their abilities and believe in them, is one of the keys. There are no limits other than those that your own mind creates.”