Recently, we had the privilege of sitting down with Gloria Reiko Pedemonte to chat about her and Léna Balacco’s new project, Etxe Nami. We were keen to find out what went into Etxe Nami’s ideation, and what inspired them to found a Japanese restaurant in the Basque Country. Spending much of her childhood in Japan, Gloria saw a parallel muse in the bends and crags of the Basque coast. Over the years, she came to see further similarities between Basque and Japanese cultures which she endeavored to combine, hoping each could inform and bring out the best in the other. The result was Etxe Nami.
Every locale has a distinct character which translates into a regional ethos: the place shapes the people. But even distant lands can echo one another in topography and culture, no matter the space between, for we all share the same perplexing origin. Stories differ, explanations diverge, but we are ultimately united by a core humanity that reveals itself through and through, our common experience as products and inhabitants of the earth.
Basque and Japanese culture are huge inspirations for Terasu — we were stoked to find another brand that identified and merged them. Tell us more about how the two are connected for you.
Well, first of all it was really personal and intuitive : I am half Japanese and I settled down here in the Basque Country almost 2 years ago.
When I moved here, I had a kind of epiphany. I found that the Basque coast looked strangely like the coast of Kamakura, my Japanese grandmother’s small hometown where I used to go every year when I was a child. Mountains, hills, countryside, surf, and vibrant verdure — I saw there an intrinsic resemblance, spiritually and physically. Then there’s the languages, the similarities between words. Japan is an island, and is very closed in on itself. It’s really particular, and opened up to the Occident very late. When you go to Japan, you are welcomed, but they don’t care so much about foreign tourism. You have to adapt yourself to the culture. It is a bit like that in Basque country. Now I am studying to find more and more similarities, such as the folklore, which is big in both places.
We also draw inspiration from the intersection between Earth’s elements, and the crafts and pursuits which originate from that synergy. How do you see the connection between ecology, gastronomy, and the surf?
We are not only inspired by the intersection between ecology, gastronomy and surf, but by traditional arts as well. All is related to an art of living, an art of seeing differently, more slowly and locally: create your own world, be close to people, keep on learning and searching, listen and breathe in what nature has to tell you.
You just opened a new restaurant space. Tell us more about how it came to be, and what you intend for people to take away from it.
I wanted to open a small space with a boutique, plus a salon de thé. I asked my friend Lena for some advice, as she is the manager of three great restaurants in Paris, and she really liked the idea. I told her, half-jokingly, “Join me if you can!” She enthusiastically agreed, immediately saying, “But let’s do a Japanese restaurant, then!” And voilà, that’s how it happened. We worked on the project for less than a year; it progressed really quickly. All the doors opened so easily, we thought, “This is where we have to be.”
Lena is vegetarian, so she proposed we do a vegetarian Japanese restaurant. It was really bold to do this in a country where meat and fish are such key elements of the gastronomy. But it’s also political: our products are organic, and we try to work with a strong conscientiousness of the environment.
How does it all fit together — both in terms of flow between each part of Etxe Nami and overall thematic connections?
With this cultural space we explain our way of living, which, for us, is the future. We can’t go on like this: society has to make changes both small-scale and large-scale. We don’t want to convince people, only to offer a new perspective. The shop has books on Japanese culture, aesthetics, and crafts, but also essays on ecology and feminism, accessories, and organic clothes. Every month, we plan to organize Japanese craft workshops, exhibitions, book signings, and food tastings. And twice a year, we will host a Japanese contemporary artist in residency for 15 days to collaborate with Basque craftsmen on art projects.
Through these endeavors, our goal is to discover and reveal gastronomic, cultural and artistic connections between the two cultures.
Visit Etxe Nami at 11 Avenue Jaureguiberry, 64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France