Ground-breaking restaurateur Jesús María Oyarbide dies

26th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Founder of Zalacaín was Spain's first three-star Michelin beneficiary

26 March 2008

MADRID - Jesús María Oyarbide, one of the great pioneers of the restaurant industry and the man who put Spain on the map when his Zalacaín became the country's first eatery to be awarded three Michelin stars, passed away on Monday in El Escorial after a long battle with illness.

Born in Alsasua in Navarre in 1930, Oyarbide traded in a career in the merchant navy to open his first restaurant in his home town before moving to Madrid. In 1963, he opened Príncipe de Viana in the capital, which was followed a decade later by the establishment that would bring him fame and bestow on him an array of gastronomical accolades, Zalacaín.

A throwback to traditional eateries, Oyarbide, collaborating with the chef Benjamín Urdiain, made history in the 1980s when the Madrid venue was awarded the prestigious Michelin Guide's most coveted award of three stars. Feliciano Fidalgo, the acclaimed journalist and food critic wrote: "Zalacaín has made history; and its particular history is supported by all those who come to Madrid, and find heaven on earth."

Named after the Basque writer Pío Baroja's Zalacaín el aventurero (1909) (Zalacain the Adventurer), the restaurant is known for its devotion to traditional cuisine and decor, during a time when nouvelle cuisine was gathering steam in Europe. In fact, the restaurateur prided himself on his spurning of modern cooking and its trimmings. "You don't always have to throw yourself at everything new," Oyarbide explained on various occasions.

The latest Michelin Guide awarded a total 134 stars to Spanish restaurants in 2008. As a testament to the exclusivity of the classification, only six restaurants were given the top prize of three, while 10 have two stars, and the rest have one.

Zalacaín has long been a favourite among Spain's royalty and elite and often has a waiting list of more than a month, despite having lost two of its stars in the past two decades.

[Copyright El Pais / KELLY RAMUNDO 2008]

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