Culinary Innovation at restaurant Mugaritz

Spis treści

Kolejny artykuł po angielsku na blogu, ponownie wywiad (wcześniej był z Andrea Camastra o 'Note by note cuisine’, słynnym szefem, który zdobył już niejedną gwiazdkę Michelin). Tym razem lecimy do Kraju Basków i restauracji Mugaritz. Gotowy na kulinarną wyprawę? 🤗
What do R&D Chef do in a restaurant? Is it better to eat with hands? How does music influence on eating experience? Why do we go to restaurant? Is it better to dine alone or with 'alpha’? How to create a new dish?
Cook, knowing, what you’re doing! Dive into science side of gastronomy world. Learn how to create culinary innovation with Julián Otero Rodrígue, R&D Chef at Mugaritz Restaurant.
chef Julián Otero Rodríguez mugaritz restaurant basque country
 Julián Otero Rodríguez is the R&D chef at Restaurant Mugaritz in Basque Country.
Source: Mugaritz Restaurant.
Marta Szumiata: I will start with a question that appears not only in my head but also in other people. What exactly are you doing as the R&D chef in the restaurant? What is the difference between your role and the role of a chef? Who is responsible for creating the menu and dishes?

Julián Otero Rodríguez: I think the main difference is that a normal chef creates dishes while in R&D (we are three), not only we create dishes, but also pay attention to understand the gastronomy as a discipline and try to indicate the boundaries of the gastronomy. Our goal is to get knowledge and share it with others.

How do you share it?

In different ways: recognition, writing a scientific paper, doing courses (online or offline).

Tell me more about that knowledge.

The most important issue: no one can say, when talking about dishes, that something is good or bad, because it is implied by many things. First of all: everyone is different (because of genetics), everyone has different tastes. For example, one leaf of cabbage is bitter for me while for another person, it is not bitter at all.

culinary innovation in fine-dining restaurant
’Suspensión, dedos de flores’ is translated into 'Suspension, flower fingers’.
Source: Mugaritz Restaurant.
Yes, I had this kind of situation during a sensory training when one sample was too bitter to me even to swallow while my colleague couldn’t perceive any bitterness at all!

Exactly! So you cannot say ‘this is good’ or ‘this is bad’. So our research is sometimes more than just creating a new dish. Very important part of researching is to share this knowledge, ideas with people from outside the kitchen, not only associated with the gastronomy world but also with artists, writers or even… dancers because everyone has different approach to the same thing.

Yes, movement of body, hands while serving the food because it changes the perception. Eating with a fork or by hand makes a huge difference!

In your restaurant, don’t diners get any cutlery?

80% of the menu now is eaten by hand. We do it on purpose, it is not a trend, as we know how the senses interact. When you touch food, the pleasure is enhanced by the way of touching the food first. And it is not our opinion. No, there are some scientific studies that support that.

Normally, chefs prepare dishes without perspective. When we create the dishes, we have to put all these things in a context. We build dishes with all the approaches, trying them to be more than only pleasant.

eating by hands psychology health
Eating by hands has explanation in science and psychology.
Source: Tyson on Unsplash (derived on 01.07.2024).
Isn't it all about pleasure? Going to a restaurant?

Four years ago, we decided to cook not to please people but to provoke them, evoke emotions, and make them think. In this case it is not about the taste, it’s all about the idea behind the dishes. For us, it is crucial because if you eat 25 dishes (like in Mugaritz), it’s impossible to like all of them. So that’s why we put ideas to define dishes, make them understandable.

Could you give me an example of a provoking dish?

Few years ago, we created a dish called 'First kiss’. Basically, it was very simple: a form of one face from people that used to work in Mugaritz. The dish was jelly, made with the SCOBY (kombucha mother) and several flowers and herbs. Guests were supposed to kiss the face and take all the flowers with them. It was served exactly during the COVID time while people couldn’t kiss each other or even hug. So the idea was to give at least one kiss to the person who came together. Without this context, it would be just a normal dish, nothing more than a salad.

culinary innovation provocation in mugaritz restaurant
’… o morir de hambre’ which means starve to death.
Source: Mugaritz Restaurant.
Why do people actually go to a restaurant? Is it only about eating or something more about coming to a restaurant, especially fine dining restaurant?

It’s not about only eating, because there are also people who come only to drink wine. Some want the service. Sometimes you have to eat in a restaurant because you are away so you just need to nourish yourself and eat whatever food you want.

But when you come to a fine dining restaurant, you are rather not looking for eating in the biological way. You are trying to have an experience but in the most sense of the world, that involves being amazed, treated well from the beginning, when the people smile at you at the front door and when you leave. Maybe one week after you got an email with ‘thank you’. I think you are looking for all these things.

Because eating is basic, you eat every day from three to five times per day but you don’t have to go to a restaurant. You go to a restaurant not to eat.

What about a companion that we eat with? Is it better to eat alone or with other people?

I will answer by describing the experiment that we made with Germany University a few years ago. We recorded facial expressions of the quality at the tables. Then, we made some questionnaires before and after eating. The experiment showed that every table had ‘alpha’. A person who commands and changes the experience of other people. If he/she likes the experience, the rest of the table will do as well. If not, the rest also neither.

So eating with people changes a lot. Eating alone means one thing less to an experience. No talking. Maybe it is more pure, different for sure. Even if we remove music, it is different.

eating alone in restaurant
Going to restaurant is always emotional experience.
Source: Mugaritz Restaurant.
Do you plan music when you create a menu?

In Mugaritz we don’t have music because we think it changes a lot. There are many studies on this subject. If you put on fast music, you are going to eat more and faster. If you listen to classical music, you are going to eat slow and you even willing to pay more. But in Mugaritz we don’t put music on because we think the sounds of the food is so important: the crunch, the croquant, the slurp – it adds value.

But I heard that once in Mugaritz was a dish in which guests had to grind spices in a mortar before pouring a broth for themselves. Lots of noise, right?

Yes but it was a collective sound. Everyone made a similar noise at the same moment. Firstly, they were so focused that they didn’t even look around. But then started to look at their neighbours and realize that they were playing music. Together, like an orchestra.

How many people?

Around 50. And the smell of all the spices enriched that incredible experience.

culinary innovation Julián Otero Rodríguez mugaritz restaurant
Source: Mugaritz Restaurant.
Do you think that preparing something by yourself also influences the overall perception of eating?

Yeah, for sure! People who make their own meals always think that it is the best food. Even if they made the food, you remove the food and you put another food, they make a blind test. It’s normal because it’s like a child who thinks that his ‘job’ is the best.

On the contrary, my grandma always says that food prepared by others always tastes well. Because she didn’t have to do it but she was ‘served’.

I would add that there is a mystery as well. Every cook has his secrets: ingredients, spices, steps of preparation. When you make a dish, you know everything. No surprise.

Please, describe to me the process of creating the menu or the recipe.

It’s very complicated because sometimes you have a hard moment but when you create from zero, the first of all is to have some ideas about a product that you want to explore or ideas to share with the people. When you have this, then research. What people are doing with that ingredient? Which technique, concept? You cannot create something new if you don’t know what has been done before. Then, when you know everything about this ingredient, you have to forget everything.


Because you have to start creation with white mind. Make one, two, three, ten prototypes of possible dishes, and then, you have to come back to ‘the roots’ and compare with ‘original’. Have you added any additional value? Sometimes you must try, fail and try again.

More or less, the creative process looks like this. We have to remember that everyone has luggage. It can help but also hinder creativity. Sometimes emptying the baggage is necessary to go further with the process.

Where are you looking for inspiration?

Mostly in the things that are not attached to gastronomy. The most important part of making inspiration is to breathe, but in order to breathe, read not gastronomy books, maybe fiction, ecology. But also travelling and getting to know different points of views, other gastronomes.

I agree that travelling is essential for inspiration. But you have to be open to hear and listen to other people from diverse cultures.

In Mugaritz, we have people from every part of the world. What is more, the team changes every year, new members (around 90%) are coming every year. Now we have 23 nationalities in the kitchen so we can travel to these parts of the world without traveling at all (laugh).

culinary innovation mugaritz restaurant
’Té con té’ so tea with tea.
Source: Mugaritz Restaurant.
What is your favorite cooking technique? Which is the best to achieve the best results?

I don’t think it’s a question I can answer. But I can say that in my opinion one of the most perfect thing in the world is a good fried egg.


It is demanding: white part must be light brown but not burnt while the yolk has to stay soft. Complicated to achieve such results and there are a lot of techniques. You have to know the exact temperature of oil, how to fry an egg and how not to break it. Finally, it is a very simple dish but so many details have to be taken into account. I would even say that everything with eggs needs a lot of knowledge about cooking techniques. And there are so many ways to prepare and serve them.

In Japan I was served… a raw one! I had to crack over the bowl with ramen. It was so surprising. The hardest question in the end: what is your favorite dish or product? What is your comfort food?

It is different. My comfort food and my favourite food are not the same. My favourite, very important dish is a Galician pie that my mother and grandmother made for me. But every house, every town has its own version: it can be with meat, sausage, lard or fish (cod) and dried plums.

Completely different! And what about comfort food?

It is a Spanish omelette.

Do you mean tortilla?

Exactly. The one with onion. Tortilla must have onion.

I really liked it when I came to Basque Country.

It is everywhere and you can eat tortillas whenever you want: in the morning as breakfast, for lunch or dinner as pintxo. (Zapraszam Cię do artykułu na temat jedzenia w Hiszpanii)

Have you ever tried anything from Poland?

Yes, we had one Polish chef in the restaurant but I have never visited Poland. I really like potato dumplings and pierogi.

And one question from my Readers: what do you usually eat: ‘normal’ food or only fancy things?

Normal food and diet. You have to use less time to cook but it has to be nourishing and nice of course. So it is all about the balance between these three. Yesterday I ate chicken breast made in a wok.

But of course when you create the menu, you have to try the things that you’re testing?


Thank you so much for inspiring conversation!
restaurant mugaritz basque country san sebastian culinary trip
It is not easy to get to Mugaritz Restaurant but for culinary experience worthy.
Source: Mugaritz Restaurant.

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