Iñaki Aizpitarte is never quite where you expect him to be. Though he grew up in France, he discovered cooking in Israel. He comes across as lackadaisical, yet created the buzziest bistro in Paris. Then this renegade chef snagged one of the most prestigious distinctions in France, the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
The eye-pleasing, notoriously unpredictable Basque chef was born the youngest of five in a modest French household. Rather than attend university, he drifted from job to job, and in his late twenties went to Tel Aviv and fell into the restaurant business while working as a dishwasher, then a cook. When he returned to Paris via Latin America he continued learning in various kitchens before opening his own bare-bones bistro, Le Chateaubriand, followed a few years later by Le Dauphin, a Rem Koolhaas-designed French tapas bar.
A marvelously instinctive chef, Aizpitarte creates simple, finely-executed dishes marrying strong flavors in unlikely combinations—mackerel with lychees, say, or red berry piperade. This is fine dining on a budget, the central tenet in the contemporary French movement known as bistronomie. It is often stunningly good. And as hard to predict as his personality.