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Destinations

The female chef showing the boys how it's done

In the bubbling stockpot of testosterone that is professional cooking, she has risen to the top, becoming one of just six women worldwide to be awarded three Michelin stars.

It's an extraordinary achievement but Elena Arzak never for a moment thought her gender would hold her back because the women in her family have been running a successful restaurant since 1897.
What is now Arzak, San Sebastian's three Michelin-starred foodie paradise, started as a small family restaurant serving simple, local fare.
Enter Elena's grandmother Francisca and her sister Serafina. These bustling, efficient ladies took over the kitchen and within a few years, the restaurant was famous across Spain.
Francisca passed the reins on to Elena's parents Juan Mari and Maite, who gave the eatery its current name and completed its transformation into a world class establishment.
Elena started working at Arzak in the school holidays when she was 11 and knew instantly that her future lay in the kitchen.
"From the time I was a child I felt that magic," she says. "When I'd come to the restaurant's kitchen in summer I felt that I'd found my place. It gets into your blood and it has run in my family's veins for four generations."
Elena is now joint head chef alongside her father and was voted the World's Best Female Chef in 2012.
While she never felt her gender held her back, Elena is determined to ensure other women get the opportunity to cook at the top level. Eighty per cent of the staff at Arzak is women and six of the nine senior chefs are women.
"Professionally, I have never had to question my gender," she says. "But there's no doubt that there are many things that still have to change. Kitchens like so many other things are a reflection of society.
"I have always defended the role of women in the kitchen. It's a question of time now. There are many women students at the Basque Culinary Center and little by little they will take on positions of responsibility. In Arzak, for example, there are more women than men.
"My advice to young female chefs is the same I would give to anyone: You have to fight for your goals and dreams."
This year, Elena has pursued a new dream of her own, opening a new restaurant in London, the family's first foray outside Spain.
In March, she opened Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, a sleek establishment serving modern Basque cuisine in London's five-star Halkin hotel.
Taking over the space vacated by David Thompson's Michelin-starred Nahm in December 2012, Ametsa with Arzak Instruction was one of London's most eagerly-anticipated restaurant launches of 2013.
The focal point of the dining room is the wave-like ceiling, crafted from 7000 suspended glass tubes filled with different spices.
The dining room at Ametsa with Arzak Instruction.
The food is exquisitely prepared, a mix of traditional Basque flavours and contemporary techniques and a playful sense of humour.
The pigeon is served with "shot", spheres of balsamic reduction and colourful potato while the "moon rocks" dessert — chocolate-coated pebbles of freeze-dried orange and Cointreau on grey "sand" of powdered sesame seeds — was positively Blumenthal-esque.
Pigeon with shot at Ametsa with Arzak Instruction
Moon rocks at Ametsa with Arzak Instruction.
Time will tell whether Ametsa becomes as big a hit as Arzak, but it was a meal I won't forget in a hurry!
Ametsa with Arzak Instruction is open for lunch Tuesday to Friday from 12pm to 2pm and Saturday, 12.30pm to 2pm. Dinner is served Monday to Sunday from 6.30pm to 10pm. For more information, or to make a reservation, visit the Ametsa with Arzak Instruction website .

Where to stay:

A room at The Halkin by COMO.
Metropolitan by Como
One of London's most fashionable addresses and home to another top-class restaurant, Nobu, popular with celebrities the world over. With its stunning park views and signature spa, Shambhala Urban Escape, this luxury five-star hotel is a must-visit when in London. For more information visit www.creativeholidays.com.au or call 1300 301 711.
A room at The Metropolitan by COMO.

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