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How and when did our jurors get their Michelin stars

The most outstanding feature of our list, Pintxos – The Starred Chefs List – The 99 Best, is that the selection of the 99 best pintxos in Donostia / San Sebastián has been made by the 11 chefs with Michelin stars in Gipuzkoa. Our land is one of the areas with the highest concentration of Michelin stars in the world, a milestone that reinforces the value of our gastronomy.

And who better than those chefs with the Michelin Guide acknowledgement to select the best pintxos in San Sebastian? That was the starting point of our list. Now, we want to see the flip side of the coin and explain the criteria for awarding Michelin stars, and when our jury member got theirs.

What do Michelin stars evaluate?

The Michelin Guide was created at the beginning of the 20th century. At first it only offered maps of the cities, and service information about auto mechanics or doctors, and was given away when acquiring a tire. From 1926 it began to incorporate information about restaurants.

Considering that we talk about a Road map, the fact that a restaurant has a Michelin star means that it is a restaurant that stands out, and it is worth choosing it among the offer in the area. If the restaurant has two stars, it is worth deviate off the route. And three stars restaurante deserve to plan the trip just for visiting them. In those places, according to the Guide, cooking is an art.

Although today chefs are considered almost as rock stars, with high media coverage and certain religious-type worship, Michelin stars are awards for the restaurants, not for the chefs. Meaning that if a chef quits, the restaurant keeps the stars, which, in any case, can be called into question for the next edition, as can happen with any other restaurant, although in the latter case, receiving more visits from inspectors.

In order to obtain that coveted prize, the restaurant in question could be visited up to ten times by the Michelin inspectors assigned to each country, plus additional visits from the French main inspectors, in case a third star is considered. If this latter is granted, it must be an unanimous decision from all the inspectors involved.

After dining in the restaurant, the inspectors make a report, in which they value the quality of the product, cooking techniques, ratio between quality and price, if the chef embodies his personality in dishes, flavors, and regularity and constance. This is, only food counts: as the Guide says, “the stars are on the plate, and only on the plate”. Decoration, commodities and service of the venue are evaluated through other symbols: forks and spoons, from one to five.

Inspectors always conduct their visits anonymously, and always pay the bill. Anyway, most veteran of them are well known by chefs, and almost certainly, tension will rise in the kitchen when one of these veterans walks the door. All inspectors are professionals with broad hospitality skills, experience in different countries and keen travelers. An inspector can travel more than 30 thousand kms a year, and evaluate up to 250 meals in different restaurants.

The Michelin Guide team meets twice a year to evaluate all the inspectors’ reports and decide the stars distribution, after reaching an agreement by consensus. And they never explain the reasons why they have granted or removed a star.

Our chefs´ stars

With this in mind, there are eleven chefs in Gipuzkoa who currently hold Michelin stars: the first award was for Juan Mari Arzak, who won his first star in the now distant 1972. He was awarded the second in 1978, and holds three since 1989. He currently runs the restaurant with his daughter, Elena Arzak.

Second star in Gipuzkoa was for Pedro Subijana, who leds the restaurant Akelarre, and got his first Michelin star in 1978, the second one in 1982, but the third was to beg: it arrived in 2007.

Martín Berasategui belongs to a new generation of chefs. Being his restaurant the third inside the San Sebastian area to have three Michelin stars, his punch (“garriote” or stick, as himself calls it) and entrepreneurial vision has led him head other restaurants in different cities, accumulating a total of ten Michelin stars: inside Gipuzkoa, he has three assigned to his restaurant Martin Berasategui in Lasarte, and one recently achieved (in the 2019 Guide) for the Eme Be Garrote Restaurant in San Sebastián.

Apart from this three-starred chefs, it´s Andoni Luis Aduriz, the Haruki Murakami of gastronomy. As with the eternal Nobel Prize candidate Japanese writer, year after year Aduriz is in all the pools the get the third Michelin star for Mugaritz, but he still has only two: the first obtained in 2000, and the second in 2006.

Hilario Arbelaitz is a stand alone case: he pioneered the New Basque Cuisine, in front of his restaurant Zuberoa, and was awarded with his first star in 1988, and a second one in 1992. But in 2009 the guide withdrew him this star, a decision that was widely criticized, and that up until now remains understandable for those who knows something about gastronomy. Therefore, his is a Michelin star that’s worth two.

Henceforth, there are five more chefs shining under a Michelin star. This is the case of Gorka Txapartegui, who obtained the award for his Alameda restaurant in Hondarribia in 1998. Kokotxa, owned by Dani López, obtained it in 2008. Mirador de Ulía by Rubén Trincado was recognized in 2010. And Aitor Arregi, after hanging up his boots ( he was a professional footballer for Alavés and Villarreal, among other teams), took the lead of the family restaurant, Elkano, in Getaria, and won his Michelin star in 2015. Finally, in 2018, the Argentinian chef Paulo Airaudo got a record star for his restaurant: it opened only 7 months ago!

Bearing this background in mind, and without taking account of the many other awards that these chefs own, we believe that we can say, without fear or error, that we have one of the most recognized, trustworthy and skilled jury for the matter to judge.

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