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Sunday, 22 April 2012


Women are reclaiming the kitchen. The fine dining industry, like most other industries is very male-dominated. But thankfully, many female chefs are beating their male counterparts at Top Chef to being awarded Michelin stars for their exceptional culinary skills.

Each year in mid to late April, S. Pellegrino announces the World's 50 Best Restaurants, at least in their opinion. Last year in advance of the restaurant awards they announced a brand new award: The Veuve Clicquot Best Female Chef, celebrating “the work of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest of critics” — which was given to French chef Anne-Sophie Pic.

While we aren't entirely sure why there is a need for Best Female Chef versus just Best Chef, once again in advance of the main awards which take place on April 30th, the 2012 Best Female Chef award goes to Spanish chef Elena Arzak.

As her surname alludes to, Elena Arzak is the daughter of Juan Mari Arzak (also known as the father of New Basque Cuisine), who was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s World's 50 Best Restaurants ceremony. And, this year she will step on the same stage to accept the award for the Best Female Chef.

The father-daughter duo share chef duties at the acclaimed Arzak Restaurant in San Sebastian, where they work in a kitchen that is a perfect mix of contemporary and classic. The restaurant, which was ranked N.8 on last year's best list, holds three Michelin stars and Elena is the fourth generation of the Arzak family to head up the restaurant since it opened in 1897.

She trained in Switzerland and cooked at some fairly reputable spots — Maison Troisgros, Bras and Pierre Gagnaire, Carré des Feuillants and Le Vivarois in France, Louis XV in Monte-Carlo, Antica Ostería del Ponte in Italy, Le Gavroche in London and Adrià at El Bulli — before returning to the family business.

In a statement Elena Arzak said of the news: “It really humbles me and has come as such a surprise. I am happy for Arzak, the restaurant, my father and my family…4 generations! I remember when my grandmother was cooking and how much of an inspiration she was. With this title, I think of her even more.”

Congratulations Elena!


Sunday, 8 April 2012


Before the Revolutionary War, Spain had little attraction for foreign travelers. After the war, Spain began to acquire an aura of exoticism and extravagance which attracted a good number of onlookers, mostly French and English. The Moorish Andalusia, the guerrilla fighter, the obscurantist Church, the generous bandit, the handsome bullfighter, the lady with mantilla, the barefoot children, the beggar full of rags ... They wanted to see a different country, and when they did not see it they just invented.

A score of several English painters, John Bagnold Burgess, Edwin Long, Robert Kemm and Trevor Haddon, among others, disclosed aspects of the most typical clichés about Spain, as could it be otherwise, Andalusia concerning a land that "admired and despised" but acting on their retina "as a powerful magnet."

John Bagnold Burgess: Born in Chelsea (1829-1897). He was an English artist known for his paintings of historical and genre scenes, mainly in Spain. John came from a family of remarkable painters: his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather and a couple of uncles.

Burgess started his career by painting portraits and genre works, before travelling to Spain in 1858, accompanied by his friend and fellow artist Edwin Long - who would become his travelling companion on future painting trips to the country. For the next thirty years, Burgess was an annual visitor to Spain, often spending days with Spanish peasants, living their life and sharing their food. He also went to Morocco at least once.

Burgess's first great success was his "Bravo Toro" in 1865, followed by "Stolen by Gypsies", "Kissing Relics in Spain" , "The Barber's Prodigy" and "Licensing Beggars in Spain" . In 1877, Burgess was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. He died from the congenital heart disease which had troubled him all his life, and was buried in the Paddington Cemetery at Willesden.

Edwin Long: Born in Bath, Somerset (1829-1891). Long was an English genre, history, biblical and portrait painter. Long made the acquaintance of John Phillip and accompanied him to Spain, where they spent much time. Long was greatly influenced by the paintings of Velázquez and other Spanish masters.

Robert Kemm: Born in London (1827-1895). He traveled to Spain, especially Andalusia, seeking inspiration in landscapes and genre scenes. Embodied on canvas delicious figures of fighters, bandits, beggars, guitar and various celebrities. Many of his works reflect the atmosphere of the city of Seville.

Trevor Haddon: Born in Greater London (1864-1941). Haddon was a painter and watercolourist of the Italian and Spanish landscape and country genre. Travelled extensively in North and South America, including Venezuela, between 1921 and 1930. Author of The Old Venetian Palaces, Southern Spain and other works. Lived mainly in London and latterly, in Cambridge, where he died, aged 77.

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