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Etxebarri: The Temple of "Charcoal Cooking" Ranked 4th Best Restaurant in the World

Alessandra Meldolesi
copertina extebarri

Bull calves, vegetable gardens, chickens, a microbrewery, and even a nursery for eels: Bittor Arginzoniz's cuisine is the intersection of artisanal charcoal cooking and the finest ingredients.

The story 

Is Bittor Arginzoniz overrated? Yes, no, maybe. One can doubt whether Etxebarri is truly the fourth best restaurant in the world, as The World's 50 Best Restaurants claims. Still, few have influenced contemporary cuisine as profoundly as him, bringing back the fetish of charcoal cooking with unmatched depth, now rekindling everywhere.

asador extebarri

Born in 1960 and awarded a Michelin star in 2009, Arginzoniz is entirely self-taught. Growing up in a farmhouse without electricity or running water in Atxa, when the Basque Country was a land of clogs ("at home, we only thought about work, there was no time for anything else but daily tasks. There was no time for fun or play. It was all about work," he explained), the fire lit every morning by his grandparents and parents for cooking and heating always inspired him with intense nostalgia. "The memory of that kitchen hearth marks you with a desire to continue. It's a value we've had since our origins." Then came a decade of work in an egg packaging factory until 1990 when he opened Etxebarri.

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"When I was little, it was like the local bar, where you could have a sip of wine or buy slippers; above all, it was a grocery store where the townspeople bought anything they needed. After a period of closure and the retirement of the owners, they agreed to sell it, and I bought it. My first dream was to turn it into a restaurant. And once it was up and running, my goal was to focus on charcoal cooking, which was my preference."

extebarri Alfredo Caliz
@Alfredo Caliz

"The first years were tough because I was starting from scratch and had to forge a path. I began by working on the classics of asadors, like T-bone steak, sea bream, cod neck, and not much else. Always fighting to get the best product I could find, battling against the wind and the tide. At one point, I had to change the way I worked with the grill, ditching charcoal and using wood and embers. All with utensils suitable for cooking, something unthinkable at the time. From that moment, everything evolved to continue creating dishes to offer to the customer, always based on daily improvement. I've never been one for books or restaurant tours. I like to eat; that's enough for me, and I've never offered anything I wouldn't want myself. Only when I'm sure of something, I serve it to the customer."

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"Now, all over the world, wherever you go, they think about introducing the grill in the kitchen. To many, it may seem simple and primal, but the challenge is hitting the right cooking point, controlling the time and temperature each ingredient needs. This makes it a completely artisanal craft." Arginzoniz is particularly proud of his charcoal-grilled eels, which one critic considered impossible to prepare. That's where the challenge began. But he also raises his own bulls for beef, has a vegetable garden and chickens, and even produces his own beer. "I try to do everything within my reach. I keep the eels in a nursery until the customer at the table orders them."

asador extebarri chef

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