Martin Berasategui, chef and innovator

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Draw your calculations: the third week of last September in 2014 Martin Berasategui celebrated 39 years of working in his kitchen, and this April he celebrated his 55th birthday. An internationally recognized multi-winning Michelin star chef, who has created a school, not just from recipes but from an entrepreneurial group which has overcome many challenges. A true innovator in the kitchen and in the management world.

From an entrepreneurial point of view, Martin Berasategui began his career at the tender age of 20 and he quickly gained success and professional recognition, by the time he was 25 he had already won his first Michelin star working at Bodegon Alejandro (a family owned restaurant in the Old part of San Sebastian).

He left his family restaurant to begin a second stage in his life and created a group of restaurants, each with its own personality and approach, all under the umbrella brand: Martin Berasategui. He gave three other young chefs the opportunity, with their equal corporate rights, to work with him and compete in two contests to win two restaurants in highly privileged locations: the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and the Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium in San Sebastian. These became the economic drives for other high-end cuisine projects, like Mugaritz, the basis for the restaurant Nerua and Gourmandia, David de Jorge (friend, partner and cook in the Robin Food TV show) and his editorial company.

Once he was done with this professional stage and the Martin Berasategui group had dissolved –although his alliance with David de Jorge prevailed- he decided to focus on other businesses developing them from his headquarters in Lasarte, and he began assessing and managing successful and high quality projects.

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You and your team won 10 Michelin stars in the first stage of your Martin Berasatagui Group, and regardless of creating a company which has for years maintained one of the most professional management programs in the business, you have always remained creative behind the kitchen fires. Why?
I am the orchestrator. It’s important to know how to manage your own talents, to know what and where you’re best at. I’m still doing what I enjoy most in life, which is cooking, and I try to surround myself with people who dedicate themselves to other areas in the business with the same passion I have for cooking.

I’m at a stage where I have 7 Michelin stars, and have several different projects round Spain (Lasarte, Barcelona, Tenerife, Bilbao); The Dominican Republic (Punta Cana, Palma Real); Mexico (Cancun, Playa del Carmen); Baja California (starting in November this year 2015); and Costa Rica in 2016…

How do you nurture your intuition for finding great business opportunities?
I think things through quite a lot but I also take risks. I have always tried to be brave. I’ve never had any major economical disasters, and even though there is an element of luck, I never stop. Sometimes one trips along the way, but these moments have only given me more strength to continue with the next project. My batteries have never been as charged as they are now (he laughs).

You have managed to win five diamonds in Mexico; you are the first chef to have ever gotten that recognition.
I feel happy and so satisfied with the recognition we have obtained there and so thankful for the whole team led by Maximiliano Sola.

Just to exemplify your capacity to create a unique way of leading a business, lets remember you were the first renowned chef who ever decided to give weddings at his restaurant. They said it would be madness. Now it’s almost a norm between the starred restaurants and now you’ve stopped giving weddings at your place. What has made you take all these risks?

What I’ve tried to use most of my life is common sense. I think things through quite a lot and once I’ve made up my mind I stick to my ideas and decisions, even though that sometimes implies going against the tide. Sometimes people want to advice you and instead they soak you in their negativity.
On the other hand Hilario Arbelaitz has always believed in me, he has always been a great cook and has served as a mirror I tend to look into.

What do these words mean to you? Ambition, perseverance and overcoming.
No one just hands us things over; I have always based my work on sacrifice, fighting, perseverance and ambition. Always remembering that you can’t do anything alone, you need a strong team. For years my wife and I would leave the restaurant at 4 in the morning, and we would be back by 8 in together with my father in law and my uncle Pablo.

You have created multiple food service projects, always giving young chefs from your team the opportunity to lead and boost their careers in a way that would not be possible without your support. You schooled them, why this bet for young professionals?
When I was young and just starting I found it really difficult to get any help. I wanted to fight and I felt like I really had something to express as a cook. My father was sick and I didn’t want to bother him, and the first man who ever helped me in my career was Eusebio, Igueldo’s pastor who would bring us curds, tomatoes and lettuces to the restaurant, Bodegón Alejandro. When I was 20 years old he took me to the bank and endorsed a credit for me. By the time I was 25 I got the first Michelin Star the restaurant had ever gotten. That released my dreams as a cook.

The world is always in the hand of the young. I think it’s a smart bet: projects need strength, self-confidence and courage. I can help them with my veteran experience and my journeys. The dreams young people feel regardless of the journey are two strengths that combined complement each other.

Don’t you fear that your students might overcome the master?
When you’re as lucky as me you have to be grateful. I try to be generous. I never doubt on giving everything I have and, without some exceptions, it has always paid off. My life is very positive I have gotten more than I could have ever dreamed of and I owe this to my family, my clients and everyone who has been a part of my team.

Surrounding yourself with a good team is one of many leaders best qualities, which are you keys to finding talent in others?
If you really enjoy spending time with your team, you spend time with them at work in the kitchen, you try and transmit what you want, how you want it and in time you start getting to know them. Also your own heads of kitchen give you feedback on everyone. I spend a lot of time with my team and I can see who has the ¨drive¨, ambition and capacity.

Young people are like sponges they learn fast and have a lot of drive. We can’t just complain about our restaurants not working if we’re not on top of everything guiding our team, or getting angry at people for making mistakes if we haven’t taken the time to teach them how it’s supposed to be done.

How do you organize the R+D activities?
Innovation is not an isolated area for me. The main research and development is my base home, my palate, my talent, my dreams and my non-conformity. I’m not afraid, nor lazy, nor shameful…even though I am very shy (he laughs). When my base home in Lasarte (Guipuzcoa) is closed it’s when I take advantage of the fact that I have some time and try to work on my most creative tests and visit the rest of my team around the world.

Why after launching so many diverse products and concepts with your name, your brand keeps trading at a high level?
It has to do with attitude. I am generous and there are people who are doing things right and have good products and all they need is your professional skills to develop them or improve them. Why wouldn’t I help them out?

What’s your relationship with David de Jorge/Robin Food?
David is like my young brother I really love him. He has an uncanny talent, he cooks like the angels and he never spares his knowledge. He has been very kind to me.

How do you deal with your fame?
I have been taught that the more apples a tree has, the better grounded it should be. Also fame is the consequence of giving up on many other things to be able to be in this profession. I am the same I have always been and treat everybody the same way. When people tell me about someone who has become foolish after becoming famous, I always say he was always foolish we just didn’t know him well enough.
I have suffered because of what others have said wrongly about me, without knowing the truth or because they never dared ask. But I regret ever suffering or being disturbed, it was a waste of time, even having been right. We are just in passing and life is to be enjoyed.

How would you like to be remembered?
Like someone authentic, and someone who never doubted in helping you out in what you needed.

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