The Common Flame: Victor Arguinzoniz

Cover photo by Emerson Vieira

Food cooked over an open flame is a gateway to good moments and lasting memories. It brings us together not just for sharing a meal, but for enjoying times of laughter, stories, and tradition.

In the Common Flame, we continue to discover cultures across the world united by a common love of cooking over an open flame. In this edition, we set our sights on Spain to be inspired by Victor Arguinzoniz, a self-taught and Michelin-starred chef who grills everything from steak to ice cream using custom-made grills and grilling tools.

“The aroma of wood smoke became etched in my memory when I was a child . . . Building a fire was a daily necessity.” — Victor Arguinzoniz

Meet Victor

Victor was born in the picturesque town of Axbe in the Basque region of Spain. In his late twenties, Victor worked as a forester. After long days on the job, Victor and his crew spent time grilling steak in the town plaza where his love for grilling quickly evolved from curiosity to burning passion. It wasn’t long until he bought an abandoned, 200-year old stone building on that same plaza and started bringing his love for grilling to his community. “[A] Basque village restaurant is a crucial community center,” Victor says “and I wanted to keep this one alive.”

Today, Asador Etxebarri is considered one of the best restaurants in the world. It is there that Victor has been tending the wood-fired asadors (grills) for thirty-one years. Victor has never taken a cooking class. He has learned completely by doing, imparting the rich Basque tradition of community, respect, and humility into his dishes.

“Through food, a relationship is created between the people, the environment, and our territory. That is how I learned the values of respect, humility, and honesty. To this day, I try to keep those values alive through my cooking.” — Victor Arguinzoniz

Smoke, Wood, and Embers

Victor is widely considered one of the world’s kings of barbecue. Everything from massive tomahawk steaks, spiny lobsters, and delicate peas passses over his expertly tended coals. But while Victor can grill just about everything, he doesn’t just grill anything. Basque cuisine focuses on simplicity, harvesting and sourcing ingredients near to them. Simplicity makes Basque food a trademark of the culture. It’s a statement to preserve the Basque culture as separate from the rest of Spain.

Bringing Basque cuisine to the world’s table meant Victor needed a whole new set of tools that matched his cooking style. While the many chefs of European cuisine have drawn inspiration from science to create abstract dishes, Victor sees those skills better used to improve control of his grilling temperature and cooking height.

Victor prepares his coals in two 750-degree ovens he built himself. Victor uses only wood to fuel his grills, and the types of wood varies depending on the dish. “When I’m cooking fish, I generally use holm oak, which is really clean and soft,” Victor says. “ . . . for the meat I use vine trunks and shoots, which have a stronger aroma.” Victor then transfers those coals to six grills he designed himself.

📸 by @theworlds50best

Each grill features a crank on a pulley system that lets him adjust the height of his cooking grate up and down depending on how much heat is needed for the dish. Delicate ingredients, such as his famous grilled prawns or peas, need to be grilled with care over low heat. When it comes to steak, he places his grate directly over the coals for a robust, flame-caressed flavor. Very rarely, however, are ingredients prepared directly on the grate. For this purpose, Victor designed a myriad of mesh baskets and pans that allow him to have complete control over the cooking process. Victor quickly found these tools allow him to grill just about anything imaginable: egg yolks, caviar, risotto, and even cream when making his infamous smoked ice cream. We’d love to know how Victor achieves a smoked ice cream, but that’s a secret he will never reveal.

Grill Out Like Victor

If Victor’s skill behind the grill has inspired your next cookout, check out his tips on cooking a delicious steak.

  1. Start with the best product available.
    Knowing where and how your meat is sourced is important to enhancing the flavor of your steak. Victor recommends meat from animals there were fed naturally and not kept in barns.
  2. Know your marbling.
    Make sure you have a good ratio of meat to fat content in your steak. You want a certain amount of marble to make your steak juicy, but not too much that it overpowers the steak’s flavor.
  3. Pamper your steak.
    You’re about to enjoy and cook a tasty meal. If you are storing the meat to cook later, make sure it’s done with care.
  4. Use the right fuel for the job.
    Make sure your fuel doesn’t include any added chemicals. If you are using a charcoal grill, use all-natural briquettes to preserve the flavor of your steak.
  5. Use salt correctly.
    Victor believes you can use as much salt as you like, but only add it to the top side of the steak as soon as you place it on the grill. The salt will absorb into the steak as it cooks.
  6. Be bold.
    Victor says not to be afraid to try something new when grilling. Try to combine different ingredients for interesting flavors. And if it doesn’t turn out like you hoped, try again! Mistakes are only lessons learned.

The Solo Stove Grill is designed to create the perfect cooking fire every time without the hassle, giving you the freedom to experience new ingredients and flavors with those you enjoy.