Etxebarri is a fascinating book.
It is neither a cookery book, nor a travel book with recipes, yet it covers both of those categories. It is the story of a restaurant, Etxebarri to be precise, and of its creator, Bittor Arginzoniz. And it is a story about fire and grills, and one man’s passion for cooking over wood.
Family meals were cooked on a wood fire
He still lives in the village, some 50 minutes’ drive from Bilbao, and where he runs his restaurant Etxebarri in a converted old farmhouse.
With no formal training or experience he opened his restaurant in 1990 and today it is one of the world’s top restaurants currently ranking number10 in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Only wood is used as fuel to cook the food
In a sense Bittor has taken barbequing to its zenith of sophistication and mastery.
Dishes comprising just a few perfect, fresh ingredients are grilled over carefully selected woods – oak evidently goes well with fish and seafood; vines with meat, and wood from fruit trees with wild salmon and caviar, etc.
Apart from building his oven and the six moveable grills he has also had to fashion and make his own pots and utensils for use over the flames, as every course including dessert, is cooked on the grills.
When he is not in working in his kitchen Bittor can often be found in his organic vegetable garden or checking over his farm, home to the likes of chickens and buffalo, the latter providing the milk for Etxebarri’s cheese and mozzarella.
Recipes are included
Although it is chiefly the story about the setting up and running a restaurant and of its creator, Etxebarri does include recipes. Every recipe having been given its own special place in the narrative – the provenance of the ingredients and the reason for treating them the way he does.
For once we will not be experimenting with any of the recipes – we have neither the skill, equipment nor right ingredients, but nevertheless we found reading them fascinating, and we have picked up several useful cooking tips.
Charmingly written and stunning pictures
This seriously heavy (in weight) book which covers 356 pages, has been charmingly written by Juan Pablo Cardenal and Jon Sarabia.
It also has to be said that the photography by Mariano Herrera is stunning – many illustrations in black and white.
Double page spreads are often given over to just one picture. We loved the picture of eight aubergines roasting in front of a roaring fire, or Bittor turning meat on one of the grills, and our favourite – the dps of a dull blue-grey sky with just the image of two distant birds (probably eagles) soaring high above.
If this has book has done nothing else Etxebarri has made us want to head for Axpe and dine in the restaurant, and it is also an object lesson in what hard work, single-mindedness and passion can achieve.
Etxebarri. Juan Pablo Cardenal & Jon Sarabia. ISBN: 9781911621218. £30 / $49.95 (US/Can) Hardback. grubstreet.co.uk