It took 20 years for Spanish chef Andoni Luis Aduriz to finally decide to open a new venue other than Mugaritz, his lauded restaurant in Errenteria, which is considered one of the pioneers of Spanish the modernist cuisine movement. Aduriz’s long-awaited follow-up, Topa Sulkadería, opened in the beginning of March in San Sebastian’s De Gros neighborhood, and it’s Aduriz’s homage to Latin American cuisine — which he says is one of the most interesting in the world today.
But not surprisingly, Aduriz shies away from the word “fusion.” Topa — which in Basque, in Castilian Spanish, and in some indigenous languages means “meeting point” — serves what Aduriz calls “contact cuisine,” using Basque ingredients and Latin American recipes and cooking habits. The causal San Sebastian spot also serves as a testing ground for a more ambitious project: to expand Topa into a worldwide concept. “Latin American cuisine is evolving and Topa is the first restaurant to think it more widely, not only focused in countries,” Aduriz says. The menu, developed over the last two years, features his version of tacos al pastor (here, called tacotalos), tiraditos, quesadillas, empanadas, and other recipes, only with Basque ingredients.
And Aduriz is preparing to soar even higher: He’s opening a new restaurant in Dubai (planned for the end of the year) and is conceptualizing a restaurant in Cuba along with chefs Enrique Olvera, Massimo Bottura, and Joan Roca. “As a chef, I like to tell stories,” he says. “In these post-truth times, when diners are more eager to look for unusual experiences in restaurants, we need to focus on how we are creating our narratives. Stories have become the sixth flavor.”
Eater talked to Aduriz last week during the Kitchen Dialogues symposium, organized by Mugaritz and the Basque Culinary Center. Between lectures and a guided tour of his new restaurant, he talked about gastronomy prizes, how food flourishes with immigration ("Today, there’s a geopolitical haute cuisine,” he says), and his new plans.
You’ve waited 20 years to open a new restaurant. Why did you take all this time and why did you decide to do it now?
The truth is that since our third or fourth year we received many proposals to open new restaurants in Madrid, in London, in Japan ... But I didn’t feel I could spare my time to a new project, because Mugaritz has always been a very particular restaurant. I was afraid I’d lose quality or track, I didn’t feel prepared to do it. Now that we are 20 years old, Mugaritz is not a delicate branch anymore, it is a solid trunk. We created a particular language, a unique concept, our own ideas regarding food. I have people in my crew that have been working with me for 20 years, 15 years... Today, if I die, Mugaritz will go on. So, I embraced the idea to finally run a new project.
Why did a casual concept seem to be the right thing to do?
After I made up my mind that I could do something else, I faced another big question: What to do? Opening a “new Mugaritz,” as many people suggested, wasn’t possible: It took many years to turn Mugaritz into what it is today. Food changed in the last 20 years, and I am not sure if the same tools I had to develop this concept in the last two decades would work to replicate it. For me, this idea never made sense.
It took us two years to think about this new concept. It had to be popular, party-centric, and affordable in many ways [the average check at Topa is around 30 euros]. It should also be a concept that would attract as few comparisons as possible. I didn’t want to create a pintxos/tapas bar only because I’m in San Sebastian, a city with this food tradition. I wanted to create something new, without any other references. As a chef, I wanted to tell a brand new story. To tell a good story, you need to have a great narrative.
And what is the story you want to tell at Topa Sulkadería?
Basque cuisine already has a good reputation in the food scene, while Latin American food is still conquering its space in an international context. We want to tell the story about how these two different cuisines meet. From a cultural perspective, we have more than 500 years of relations: many Basques, for many reasons, ended up in Latin American countries, leaving a legacy of more than 15 million people with Basque origins.
We tried to think of recipes that could talk about both Basques living in Basque Country and Basques in Latin America. It’s not a fusion cuisine — it’s more like a contact, an intersection of these cuisines. In Basque Country we have talos, for example, a poor version of tortillas, made with millet. We went to Mexico to learn how to do the perfect tortilla and created our tacos with a better version of talos [based on tortilla recipes].
It’s not a tortilla or a talo, it’s something new. That’s what we are interested in, creating intersections, telling a new story you’ve never heard anywhere else. People, more than ever, want to eat stories — and it doesn’t matter if they are real, as long as you make it seem real.
In many ways, Topa is also talking about immigration, an important theme for food and restaurants nowadays.
The relation of Basques with America was all about immigration. Countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Chile welcomed many Basques. Food is a border between cultures, and there is always wealth there.
In Basque Country, we have one of the best cuisines in the world, very renowned internationally. Do you know how we defend our food traditions? With Álava potatoes, for example. It’s curious, since the potato is a tuber originally from South America, introduced in Europe in the sixteenth century. Álava has been the main potato production area in Spain. Many of our “Basque label” products came from America. All cuisines around the world were built in layers, we all have lots of immigration influences in our recipes, in our ingredients. Topa’s story is also the story of the people who welcomed many Basques in their countries. In Basque, in Castilian Spanish and in some indigenous languages Topa means “meeting point,” and that’s our main idea: that this cuisine brings us together.
After Topa, you are going to open a new restaurant in the United Arab Emirates and have plans to open one more in Cuba, with other famous chefs.
Actually we postponed our Cuba project for now. It’s a project that is very demanding — and I, Enrique Olvera, Massimo Bottura, and Joan Roca, who joined to the project more recently — are very busy, and this is something we would like to do with all care. And we recently transferred the Arab Emirates restaurant from Abu Dhabi to Dubai because it was easier to make it happen there. I can’t tell you much about it, but I can say that it will be more glamorous than Topa, which is a casual concept, and very different from Mugaritz. It will have a great story — I am crazy about stories.
Rafael Tonon is a Brazilian journalist and food writer based in São Paulo.