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Feb 15 2017

Chefs Eneko Atxa and Jiro Ono: Servings of Soul

Internationally acclaimed chefs Eneko Atxa and Jiro Ono make for endearing, if not surprising bedfellows in the new documentary, Soul, which opened the eleventh edition of the Culinary Cinema section of the Berlinale film festival


When worlds collide, can harmony ensue? Can excellence in gastronomy transcend flavors, aromas, regions, language, tradition and more? Can chefs a world apart discover there's more that unites than divides them? The answer to these questions and others can be found in Soul, the new film by Spanish directors José Antonio Blanco and Ángel Parra that debuted this past February 12th at the 2017 Berlinale film festival in Berlin, Germany.

At just shy of forty, Eneko Atxa is one of the world's youngest three-Michelin-star chefs, and the youngest in Spain. For his part, ninety-one-year-old Japanese chef Jiro Ono is the oldest in the world to hold this distinction – the highest given by the venerated Michelin guide. A three-star rating might seem to be the only similarity between these two chefs, when in fact it is their juxtaposition and the contrast in their lives that allows the universal truth of culinary excellence to shine through.

The film's co-director José Antonio Blanco – who, like Ángel Parra is a veteran of Spanish public television and radio – affirms that Atxa and Ono, Soul's two central figures, represent "Two opposing personalities, two opposing worlds, two different cuisines... yet they converge in values, discipline, talent and the obsession for perfection." He goes on to point out the vast differences between these two chefs: "It's actually very striking. Eneko [whose restaurant Azurmendi is located in a rural area of Basque Country] lives and works in a very tranquil setting, surrounded by green, nature, cows... He works in a giant kitchen, characterized by frenetic activity. In contrast, Jiro Ono [whose tiny restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro seats only ten diners and is located within the Ginza, a Tokyo subway station] works in a frenetic city, yet he is very calm, and everyone at his restaurant moves slowly and tranquilly."

But these are the stark contrasts that form one of the pervasive themes of this seventy-five minute film, part of which follows Eneko on a journey to Japan. "They are completely opposing scenarios yet [work on opposite schedules so] their gastronomy never stops. Eneko gets up when Jiro goes to bed, and vice versa. The excellence of their gastronomy endures. They close the circle".

Another of the central themes is that of sustainability. As Blanco points out, "Chefs are the best people to speak about this issue and the protection of the planet." This is particularly true for Eneko Atxa, whose flagship restaurant Azurmendi was named the 2014 'World's Most Sustainable' in the prestigious annual ranking published by British magazine Restaurant.  

The documentary, which took some two and a half years to make and was shot in 6K to provide viewers with the highest resolution food images, also features interviews with three-Michelin-star Spanish chef Carme Ruscalleda of Sant Pau restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar (Barcelona) and its two-Michelin-star counterpart Sant Pau Tokyo.

As Blanco puts it, "She's the only woman in the world with seven Michelin stars, and she also has a unique perspective on how the Japanese see Spanish gastronomy and vice versa. Her flagship restaurant in Catalonia is located in natural surroundings similar to those found around Eneko Atxa's Azurmendi, and her commitment to sustainability is clear." Other important chefs that appear in the documentary include iconic French chef Joel Röbuchon – a close friend of Jiro Ono –, Spanish chef Martín Berasategui and Japanese chefs Seiji Yamamoto and Yukkio Hattori. 

Soul, which Blanco explains was inspired by the 2011 David Gelb documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, was a labor of love, filmed during the directors' holidays. It was sponsored in part by the Spanish Ministry of Culture, Coca-Cola international, the Interprofesional del Aceite de Oliva and tuna exporter Balfegó. Additionally, Foods and Wines from Spain (ICEX) appears among those of the various collaborating institutions. The film's multitudinous premier in Berlin was followed by a two-hundred-person dinner prepared by Eneko Atxa.

Spanish Film about passion for gastronomy debuts at the Berlinale Adrienne Smith/©ICEX
Chefs Eneko Atxa
Chefs Eneko Atxa
Chefs Eneko Atxa
Chefs Eneko Atxa
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