After the Transpyr Coast to Coast 2017 ended in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, and with the leader’s maillot in the bag, the guys from Orbea Factory Team took a well-deserved break to recharge their batteries after more than 800 km and an elevation change of 20,000 m.
And what better place to do so than at a restaurant in Irún, 7 short kilometers from the Transpyr finish line, with a menu that combines equal doses of gastronomy and cycling, and with a the added bonus of a beautiful story of passion, dedication and hard work?
The place is called Singular, and it belongs to a ‘star’ of Basque cuisine, Iñigo Lavado. Ibón and Tomi paid close attention as the chef showed them how he prepared the dishes, but even more to the explanations of the history of this ‘cycling chef’. Would you like to hear it too?
You were with Ibón Zugasti and Tomi Misser, showing them some of your dishes, such as couscous and cream of vegetables. How did their visit go? How were they as students?
Iñigo Lavado: I follow them in the social media, and the truth is, the way they are, natural, super friendly, open to learning things…In fact, the Transpyr had just ended and they came straight from the shower to the restaurant. I felt very comfortable with them.
Do you think they have any knack for cooking?
They make a good team because they compensate for each other, right? I saw Tomi as being more skilled, or at least handier about the kitchen. Ibón seems like he likes to eat, and I think he is especially clean, so very good. In that aspect, I saw that both of them take very good care of themselves.
Do you know any cyclist who is an especially good cook?
Juanma Gárate is a friend of mine, and he recently invited me over for dinner. We have a close bond and a lot in common, and during his pro years, we went out and rode together. I do think he has skills in the kitchen, in fact, he has a ‘txoko’ (gourmet corner) in his house to invite his friends.
Let’s talk about you. Where does your love for cycling come from?
What I like is to join my hobby with that passion (for cycling), a passion that my father instilled in me from the time I was a little boy. I always say that through cycling, my father was able to transmit to me the values I have today.
Do you still have time to take out your bike? What are your favorite routes?
Yes, well, my bike is my therapy. I always say that after a bike ride, everything seems wonderful to me.
I normally do road cycling. I ride with a group called “The Mondra bus,” and even through there are different routes throughout the year, let’s say that our itinerary is to leave from the restaurant towards Dantxarinea, cross over to the French side…San Juan de Luz, Ascain, Saint Pée sur Nivelle…Sometimes we come back through Navarre and climb Palomeras, and other times we return directly via the French side.
What is the best experience you have had on a bike? And in the kitchen? How did your “Maillot of values” initiative come about?
Three years ago, I shared one of my dreams with Paco Rodrigo de Etxeondo and Juanma Gárate, which was to create a symbol around the restaurant: the Maillot of values. I always say that during good and bad times, what really keeps you going are values. We wanted to give a symbol to those who share the values of the restaurant and my way of understanding life. We give the symbol out once a year; last year we also had Perico Delgado, Arroyo…and we gave it to José Miguel Echavarri, the historical director of the Reynolds team. These are times when you say, “This is so cool!”
In the kitchen…I have a project that is a table inside a box that travels and I cook for six people, including myself. This “portable table” is my way of expressing myself and a way of bringing together what you like with what you do every day. It has enabled me to be in different places, like the Peine de los Vientos, cooking for Juan Echanove, alongside the Imparables, cooking for Santi Millán and preparing supper for Perico. One of the nicest things I have been able to do was before the World Cancer Day, at the cancer hospital. Four cancer patients, the hospital director (who suggested the idea) and me.
Have you ever come up with an idea for a dish while riding your bike?
Yes, probably the best dishes have occurred to me while riding my bike, although of course you then have to pull it all together in the kitchen.
On Sundays, you give soup to all the cyclists who stop by here. How did you come up with that idea? What’s the atmosphere like on Sunday mornings at your restaurant?
From the very beginning, I said, “How much does it cost to make a soup?” The amount of love you want to put in it, since everyone who comes from riding their bike on Sunday knows that they can come have a cup of hot soup. In summer, I usually change it to salmorejo.
There are days when the breaks are long, because you’re comfortable, you have a beer…we bring out a little cod Spanish omelet or something. There are also people who cannot ride because of an injury and they arrive at 11:00, dressed in their street clothes, to be with us. The atmosphere is really great because it’s a joint effort, it’s a team-building project and I am thrilled with it.
What dishes at your restaurant would you recommend to cyclists as the perfect end to a good Sunday morning?
Well, to tell you the truth, I have several, but let’s say hake cheeks with seafood rice for some hydrates, fresh tomato with very delicious cod flakes or ox tail stew for those who crave protein. Especially cooked very, very lean and with a lot of flavor.
You’ve learned with the best: Pedro Subijana, Ferrán Adriá, Martin Berasategui… Let’s play a game. If each of these three were a cyclist, tell us which one they would be and why.
…If Pedro Subijana were a cyclist, which cyclist would he be and why?
I would say…Miguel Induráin. Because he is a great leader, meticulous and very organized, self-made, with exquisite taste. He’s someone who demands respect.
…If Ferrán Adriá were a cyclist, which cyclist would he be and why?
He’s a visionary, someone absolutely outstanding, someone who is five years ahead of the rest of us, he sees things we can’t yet. Well, I’d say Pantani.
…If Martin Berasategui were a cyclist, which cyclist would he be and why?
He has uncommon strength. He’s the person with the most vitality, the most energy and strength, capable of knocking down a wall if he sets his mind to it. An absolute number one. With this ambition, I would say Peter Sagan.
And Iñigo Lavado? Which cyclist would you be?
I’d be a normal cyclist, I wouldn’t stand out. What I like right now, I would say Markel Irizar, because he’s a team-builder and a person who seems like he creates a lot of unity, which is something I can identify with.
And the most difficult question for the last: Which is more sacred to a Basque? The bicycle or food?
The table. The table where things are shared: from gastronomy to decisions about squads or businesses. In our culture, everything good is usually sealed over a meal around the table, while it’s true that cycling here is something that leaves it mark and is deep-rooted.