Interview - Aitor Arregi

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Aitor Arregi is the owner of the restaurant Elkano in Getaria near Bilbao.

T.F.: Hi Aitor, we are here at the restaurant Elkano. It is such a legendary place. Can you tell me a bit more about how everything began?

A.A.: We are in Getaria, it is a small village next to the sea. Years ago, our grandfathers were fishing in the village and they were cooking and grilling these fishes in the ship only with their fingers. Their know-how was incredible. Today, we are making the same then what they did in the ships, with the fishes of the day, only in a real kitchen.

T.F.: It all started in a bar, right? Not far from here?

A.A.: Yes. My father went to Germany for work, when he came back in 1964, he wanted to open a small bar for the fishermen. He started in my grandmother’s house.

The fishermen came with the fishes and my father grilled them with charcoal. With what the fishermen brought back from the sea, he made a revolution out of it. For example, he made the first turbot, with the skin, without cut.

T.F.: And what is the secret of your famous turbot?

A.A.: You should understand that the sea is our big kitchen and the cooks are the fishermen. The most important thing is actually the product, fresh from the sea, caught by the fishermen. The taste will be different according to where the fish is from, from the stones or from the sand for example. The taste changes also according the areas you eat from the fish, just like with meat. We can find in the same fish, many different tastes and textures. The taste of the turbot is a plurality concept. Not only the turbot, in all the fishes.

T.F.: What about the recipe of the turbot?

A.A.: The main cook was Oshepa, my grandmother. There is always a woman behind our stories. The men were going to the sea but the women stayed at home with the family. It’s kind of a “matriarcado”.

T.F.: On the menu, what are the main fishes that you propose?

A.A.: I work everyday with the fishermen, they follow the tides in order to choose one fish or another. They are selective fishermen. During the service, I go to the tables, one by one, I show them what fishes we have today and I explain. Then they can order what they want.

I like talking about the selective fishermen to people like you, people who are coming to the village and the restaurant, so they can understand what they eat.

T.F.: Can we eat every part of a fish? Leaving no leftovers?

A.A.: Yes, sustainability! I’ve been told that a certain area is for the children, another area, more gelatinous is for the father and the head was for the grandfather. So, you have a scale in the fish just like in the family. The first area isn’t the best for us, the rest is for the father and the head is the best. But people don’t eat the head anymore. Still, the head needs to be fresh otherwise it can be the best or the worst.

T.F.: Do you have a certain way of working?

A.A.: We work by the season, by the concept of terroir, the fishes need to be near. That makes three crucial elements: fresh, terroir and season. If you have the three, then only it is okay to cook. That’s it.

T.F.: How many fishermen are you working with?

A.A.: Many. For 3 or 4 generations of fishermen we’ve been working with fishermen. The ones we are working with now are the sons of the ones before. It’s like a family affair, it’s in the DNA.

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