Director: Anne-Marie & Firmin Arrambide
The ocean’s only rival here is the mountain. Between these two worlds lies Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a village with eternal charm, its old buildings perched on the banks of the river Nive. Charles II of Navarre called it “the key to my kingdom.” Anne-Marie and Firmin Arrambide - the chef whom you will probably run into at the market - have turned this former stagecoach lodge into a place of total relaxation. Their son Philippe is in the kitchen and their daughter Sandrine also works alongside them to assure you a culinary and sensory experience in a delightful family atmosphere.
Open the door to discover the most Basque of French chefs. From generation to generation since 1939, the Arrambides have been protectors of Basque culinary tradition. Firmin has seen the rebirth of the Irouléguy vineyards, Basque pigs, live trout and pastries with true, authentic flavors. He grew up here in an environment that celebrated good food.
The plates offer all the bounty of nature: forest ceps, Adour salmon, big river trout, game and ham dried in the open air. But the cuisine is also carefully and soberly prepared, a masterpiece of simplicity, without ado and affectation, as if "Fifi," as he is known to his friends, was stepping into the background in order to better surprise his guests.
After a first season working with his father at age 13, then obtaining his vocational qualification at the Biarritz lycée, Philippe worked in the family kitchens for a year before heading out to apprentice with other kitchen brigades. His initial tour lasted nine years. After a year in Toulouse with Dominique Toulouzy at the Jardins de l'Opéra, he headed to Paris where Landes-native Alain Dutournier took him on at the Carré des Feuillants. Then on to the lofty delights of Fauchon where he was initiated into the arts of pastry, entremets, petits fours and macarons. But he missed the sun and beach, and so headed back south to the Pourcel brothers in Montpellier where, in 1998, he was a firsthand witness when the Jardin des Sens gained its third Michelin star. Finally in 2000, the exile from Lower Navarre decided to return home.
Gastronomes come from far away to sample the foie gras and truffle lasagne, roast rack of lamb, grilled wild salmon, morels stuffed with sweetbreads, foie gras... However, one little touch at a time, Philippe is rethinking sauces, lightening dishes, playing off the contrast of textures - crisp, frothy, soft - putting his own stamp on presentation and seeking out new paths. It's intensive work, but one with a wonderful complementarity that carries on a proud family history that could well continue with Iban, aged 6, and Miguel, aged 4, the young chef's two sons.
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