Interview with Martín Berasategui before the opening of Fifty Seconds

Martín Berasategui

Martín Berasategui © ffmag

Located at a height of 120 metres over the Tagus River, in a 360º glass look-out in the Vasco da Gama tower of the Sana Hotel, in the Lisbon Parque de las Naciones park, Martín Berasategui’s new project, Fifty Seconds, will open its doors in mid-November 2018. Fifty seconds is how long the glass lift takes to reach the restaurant from the hotel hall. The restaurant will have seating for 30 diners, a cosmopolitan decoration where the bronze and cobalt blue stand out, and the signature of the most respected person on the international gastronomic scene.

Little can be said about Berasategui that has not already been said. He is, without a doubt, one of the most internationally well-known Spanish chefs. The only one that has eight Michelin stars. A tireless worker, he says his vice is working. A Basque from San Sebastian and citizen of the world, he has seen 58 springs and it seems that he has never known defeat. He was only 26 years old when he received his first Michelin star, soon after taking over the family, traditional restaurant called Bodegón Alejandro. From there, his career has been unstoppable. The secret of his success: “Courage”—he says it clenching his fist and tensing his arm. This is his war cry. For him, it represents a claw, strength, giving the best of yourself in everything you do. And the second secret of his success: his wife. He confesses that he would not have got so far without her. He jokes: “I tell my friends that my wife is 98% of Martín’s success.” And his daughter, who also works with him, “is the best thing I’ve done in my life; and the person whom I most ask for advice.” “Both are the kind of people who speak little and work a lot,” he adds.

Martín Berasategui at his kitchen

Martín Berasategui © ffmag

Martín, as he likes to be called, is a simple man. He seems at peace. Although he is a volcano. He is continually involved in new projects. If it’s not a cookbook, it’s a master class, or he’s giving a conference or culinary advice to a restaurant or hotel’s kitchen, or he’s speaking to the press. It is surprising how many things he can be involved in at the same time. He says he could not do it without his team. In fact, his restaurant is a school. And countless apprentices pass through it. And when he sees something in them, a spark, freshness, he creates new teams with them to open “showcases around the world. If I didn’t keep moving and locked myself up in San Sebastian’s old town without leaving Boulevard I would have missed many opportunities for my trade, my profession and my country. I am an ambassador for products and the culinary arts,” he adds with passion.

 

Knockin’ on Heaven’s door at the Fifty Seconds by Martín Berasategui

Curiosity overwhelms me, so I ask him why he has chosen Lisbon as his prime European destination outside Spain, when we know for sure that he has rejected many other offers in other countries. “Lisbon is impressive. It is growing at a fast pace”—he says—“I have some fantastic customers, who fell in love with what we do and they offered me a project I couldn’t say no to,” he adds as his eyes sparkle with emotion as if he were a child with a new toy. “You arrive, you ride up in a glass lift, and suddenly, when you pass the hotel’s top floor, you are suspended over four glass floors and nothing else, and shortly after you are inside the Fifty Seconds restaurant by Martín Berasategui: how could I say no to such an incredible project?”.

The room will have seating for 30 people. Almost like at home, I say, in reference to the small capacity. He laughs freely, “man, I would love to have a house like this. It has views over all Lisbon and 360º views of the Tagus River. We have gone the whole hog for this project: the most exclusive crockery, cutlery, glassware, furniture, décor, etc.

Martín Berasategui at his restaurant

Martín Berasategui © ffmag

As for what you can expect from Fifty Seconds, the chef has been very clear. “You will see what you see in all the restaurants that I have opened since I was 20: A very generous chef that gives it his all. A chef who has dedicated his life to the culinary arts. A chef who believes in the success of teamwork, of the ‘us’ and not the ‘me’. A chef who seeks to fuse the knowledge and nobility of experienced professionals and the old masters in the sector, with the fresh ideas of the youth.” A large part of his workforce, around 90%, is of Portuguese origin. Many of them have gained their experience at a Martín Berasategui kitchen. Thus, Filipe Carvalho will be head chef and Maria João Gonçalves will be pastry chef. For his part, Inácio Loureiro will be maître d’hôtel and Marc Pinto the main sommelier.

 

Humility as a philosophy of life of Martín Berasategui

For this magician of the kitchen, humility is a way of life. His success is not his alone, it’s ‘ours’. He admits that without his ‘amazing teams,’ his employees who ‘are gems,’ he would not have achieved success. Because everything is important to him. His results are the fruit of team work. The team is the chef and the sous chef, but also the server, the waiter, the sommelier, the fishmonger, the butcher, the produce supplier, etc. And luck counts too. As he says, “I lost my father at 20, but I was lucky that Bodegón Alejandro’s first work was endorsed by the town’s (Igueldo) pastor, Eusebio Balda. And after three or four years doing that, they awarded me my first Michelin star and that encouraged me to dream as a chef. And thanks to that, my first project was born, which you all know… So luck is important. There are people who are cycling down the street, get distracted, and boom – get hit by a car. Well, they’ve been unlucky, but Martín has been very lucky. I have had fantastic parents, an amazing aunt, a wonderful daughter and wife and some incredible friends. All that helps to build the courage you need to have”.

As for creativity, where does Martín Berasategui’s creative flow come from? “Well, I’ll tell you,” he replies, “creativity is like a tap. When you have dedicated your whole life to the culinary arts and have sacrificed a lot for it, it’s like opening a tap. You open the tap and new things come out. Although it’s true that the level of creativity is not the same every day. Sometimes I’m very creative, sometimes a little and sometimes not at all. But I started as an apprentice when I was 15, and never forget that 43 and a half years later, I’m still an apprentice”.

Martín Berasategui

Martín Berasategui © ffmag