“We have created something unique”, Joxe Mari Aizega, director of the Basque Culinary Center
In the recently presented Michelin Guide 2022, three former students of the Basque Culinary Center have been awarded stars. There must be a reason for this. Its director, Joxe Mari Aizega, reviews for BasqueMagazine the trajectory and future of this unique and innovative gastronomic university, internationally recognised, on its tenth anniversary.
How do you assess these ten years of the BCC?
I think we have created something unique, offering a very broad ecosystem of activities. We have developed activities that had never been carried out before and that have positioned us as a centre of international reference. We started from scratch, with a blank sheet of paper, and I have been very lucky to be part of it from the very beginning.
University, events, innovation, support to companies...
From a university faculty of gastronomic sciences [this year, with students from 48 countries] with a four-year degree, 10 masters, a lot of courses for professionals (face-to-face and online). Also a great offer to what we call "enthusiasts" in gastronomy. They are locals or visitors who come here and do courses, mainly in cooking, in the evenings, weekends or during their holidays.
A second area of activity is the gastronomy technology centre, where we focus above all on research, innovation with product and service companies, supporting entrepreneurs with an initiative called Culinary Action. We also develop another series of initiatives and events such as professional congresses, social events (such as the Culinary Zinema that we organise during the Film Festival), or the recently awarded Basque Culinary Word Price.
How do you imagine the next 10 years of the BCC?
We have to improve and deepen what we have done so far. For example, in international development. From this experience we have developed, we can have international nodes. In Croatia we already have an agreement for four years and in Georgia we are also collaborating in different initiatives.
Exporting the model?
We intend to reach agreements and alliances with local partners and collaborate with them to create something with its own identity. We are not going to franchise. We are going to offer our experience to a local partner to create a project of our own and get involved in its development. They are a kind of joint venture and our idea is to gradually create an international network.
Let's go back to the future...
I think that we have to go deeper into innovation and entrepreneurship in the Basque Country. We are going to build a new building in the Gros district of Donostia for innovation, relations with companies and to attract entrepreneurial talent and support local talent. It is linked to a project we call GOE, Gastronomy Open Ecosystem, through which we want to generate an international ecosystem.
More than 3,000 people are trained each year at the Basque Culinary Center in Donostia-San Sebastián
Digitalisation in gastronomy, where is it going?
Digitalisation is already in everything. Two years ago we launched Digital Gastronomy Lab, in Tabakalera, to experiment with new digital solutions. In gastronomy, digital is in the back office and in the front office. Restaurants are implementing digital solutions in everything: from the management of reservations, supplier management, staff, shifts, traceability... And then, on the front, we are going further and further: diners are starting to have experiences of a restaurant through digital, networks, photos, you start to see the dishes on the web and you start to understand what is going to happen when you go to that restaurant.
Many new things are starting to happen in the restaurant-diner relationship and technology is very present. And that is going to increase. The thing is that there is a lot of diversity in restaurants. There are people who are at the forefront and already manage data and others who are still in the abc.
Artificial intelligence solutions that already tell you, for example: today in your city there is this event, these restaurants are going to close and it is foreseeable that you will have this flow of diners. With that you plan, staff, productions ...
Our job is to be observing this situation and to support entrepreneurs who bring new digital solutions, train, etc. See what the sector needs and work to offer it to them.
Would the BCC exist without the gastronomic tradition of San Sebastian?
No. The BCC would not exist if there had not been those professionals who have positioned San Sebastian/Gipuzkoa/Euskadi as a world gastronomic destination. The new Basque cuisine, the pintxos, the cider houses, the societies, the markets, the rotisseries... mean that, in a very small territory, there is a great identity and diversity... Those who visit us can see it.
Gastronomy is already an international lifestyle, but when you come here you find an extraordinary offer. A great asset that also generates a wealth that is distributed throughout the territory and in different sectors.
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