Zalacain is acclaimed by international food critics as one of the world's great restaurants and it is only one of two establishments in Spain to have been awarded Michelin's coveted three stars, haute cuisine's maximum accolade. Much of its towering reputation can be attributed to the talents of its head chef, Benjamin Urdiain, who has been deservedly recognized as an inimitable master in the art of cooking.
Urdiain, now 54, hails from a farming family of Navarra, the rugged region of northern Spain that is steeped in cooking tradition. His early interest in food took him to France at the age of 16. He landed a number of positions in restaurants in southeast France where his enthusiasm immediately attracted attention. After a few years he moved to Paris where widened his experience in the kitchen of the Plaza Athenee restaurant.
He was in much demand when he returned to Spain and held post as head chef in two rated restaurants in the Spanish Basque country until 1973. That year Jesus Oyarbide decide to open Zalacain, the graceful Madrid restaurant that was to cause such a stir in the world of haute cuisine, and called on Urdiain to be his head chef Sensitive and painfully shy—he admits that he still blushes when summoned to the dining room to receive congratulations—Urdiain describes his cooking as "international with a good deal of Spanish influence." Olive oil is the best in his opinion, and he refuses to use any other oil in his kitchen.
Among the many celebrities and international figures that have passed through Zalacain's doors, Urdiain remembers with particular affection Spain's King Juan Carlos, who he said, had a captivating charm and a great ability to put people at their ease. He also recalls the kindness and attention he received from Gregory peck when he cooked for the movie star in a hired cottage while on location in the Pyrenees.
A close family man, he enjoys nothing better than spending his free time with his wife and four children and tramping the foothills of the Sierra Urbasa in his beloved Navarra.
Mix all the ingredients of the vinaigrette, chopped, with 1/2 cup of olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, in a bowl. Leave for one hour approximately. Salt-pepper the red mullets and fry them gently in heated olive oil. Place them in a plate with the vegetables and pour the vinaigrette. Serve very hot.
Provided by Foods From Spain
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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This page modified January 2007
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