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Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 12:43
Bilbao to Beijing
By Li Yingxue
Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 12:43 By Li Yingxue

Eneko Atxa is transporting the authentic flavors of his three-star Michelin restaurant in Spain to the Chinese capital - lock, stock and barrel. Li Yingxue reports.

Eneko Atxa (right) leads a team of chefs from Spain to prepare for a gala dinner in Beijing as part of the ongoing Taste the World events. (PHOTO BY ZHANG ZEFENG / CHINA DAILY)

Chef Eneko Atxa is carefully placing two petals on the fried pork to add the finishing touch to the plating, as his fellow chefs busy themselves with other preparations.

One chef is squeezing a herb sauce onto the blank plates before another paints the sauce with a knife. Two other chefs are taking over the work of placing the pork and drizzling it with meat broth.

Under the sous chef's supervision, each of the 60 ready-to-go plates are served.

This fluent teamwork is not being demonstrated at Atxa's own 3-star Michelin restaurant, Azurmendi, in Bilbao in northern Spain, but is actually taking place in Beijing.

To prepare for this gala dinner in Beijing, Atxa closed his three restaurants in Spain and the United Kingdom and flew his entire team, fresh ingredients and all, to the Chinese capital to serve up the authentic flavors of Spanish food and wine.

Treats from a team of Spanish chefs include slightly spicy fried pork and basil. (PHOTO BY ZHANG ZEFENG / CHINA DAILY)

It's the opening night of a series of Taste the World events hosted by Wine & Wine, the Faustino Group and Atxa, which are aimed at uniting Spanish gastronomy with the country's flagship wine region. The event will continue in Spain and the UK over the coming months.

Born in 1977 in the Basque Country of Spain, Atxa started his culinary career at the Catering College of Leoia at the age of 15. He opened his own restaurant, Azurmendi, in Bilbao in 2005. Since then he has won dozens of awards, including several "best chef" titles from local, national and international culinary bodies.

"At first, I just wanted my restaurant to be full. After achieving that, I wanted to see people waiting to get in. Then I aimed for one Michelin star, then two, then three," Atxa says, describing how he achieved his goals step by step.

Having opened his fourth restaurant in Tokyo in September 2017, Atxa now has an eye on expanding his culinary concept across the world. Beijing also features in his future plans, he says.

Treats from a team of Spanish chefs include roasted lobster, corals juice and purple onion. (PHOTO BY ZHANG ZEFENG / CHINA DAILY)

A keen environmentalist, Atxa has built a garden next to his restaurant where he grows organic fruit, vegetables and herbs to use in his restaurant.

For the gala dinner in Beijing, Atxa aims to present each authentic Spanish dish with an individual topping of herbs brought from his garden in Spain.

Atxa says he has a great deal of respect for Chinese ingredients but needs to learn more about them. "I'm interested in Chinese ingredients and I'll use them once I get more familiar with them."

Atxa's stylish dinner is matched with wines from the Faustino group, a Spanish wine brand based in the Alavesa region of Rioja in northern Spain.

Atxa is pairing the slightly spicy fried pork and basil with FautinoI Gran Reserva 2004 as "both of them take a long time to make and have flavors that will highlight each other," says Atxa.

Treats from a team of Spanish chefs include olives and sticks. (PHOTO BY ZHANG ZEFENG / CHINA DAILY)

The last wine paired with the dessert of the dinner has no label. The mystery bottle is actually a special limited edition wine coproduced by Atxa and Faustino. Atxa was named ambassador for the Faustino group in 2017, and is co-host for the Taste the World events.

Lourdes Martinez Zabala, a fourth generation member of the Faustino family and owner of the Faustino Group, is visiting Beijing with Atxa for the first time, bringing with her exquisite wines from all seven of the family's wineries.

The Faustino family has lived in and around vineyards, cellars and wine since 1861, when Zabala's great-grandfather founded the group. In 1930, her grandfather began marketing their bottled wine and exporting it to Austria for the first time.

Treats from a team of Spanish chefs include lemon grass. (PHOTO BY ZHANG ZEFENG / CHINA DAILY)

Faustino wine was first brought to China by Spain's King, Felipe VI (then Spain's Crown Prince) in 2006 when he visited China, and the Spanish wine has been well received by Chinese wine lovers ever since.

Last year, more than 2 million bottles of Faustino wines were sold to China, accounting for around 10 percent of Faustino's worldwide sales.

"The China market has been growing rapidly over the last three years," says Zabala. "They seem to prefer the stronger flavors of imported wines."

Contact the writer at liyingxue@chinadaily.com.cn

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