Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New blog location

I haven't posted here in a bit, partly because I'm so busy, and mostly because I've moved my blog to the Basque Stage website. There are several new posts up there, so please check them out here.

Thanks to everyone for all your support and good wishes, I hope you'll follow me at the new domain.


Friday, January 28, 2011


Aye, it's been rough on my feet, but day three in the Martin Berasategui kitchen has come to an end, and oh, what an awesome three days it has been.

I've been pretty fortunate thus far (perhaps we are special?) in that I've been able to work with the food from day one. It started with a bunch of prep tasks; dice this, slice that, stir here, etc., and I've now been nominated to prepare the duck heart for the egg dish, the "corazon". (I really need to install some Spanish fonts on my computer so that I can properly accent the "o"). This involves a quick sear on a butterflied (cut to lay out flat) heart, then slicing very thinly on a bias and seasoning appropriately. When it's time to plate up, a cloud of cooks descends upon the plating table, and each delicately arranges their component onto the dish, for plating my job is to place tiny pea sprouts on top of the egg, easy enough but important, nonetheless.

My co-workers are entertaining, I'm even on a team with two other Americans! Today, one of the Spanish guys asked us to teach him dirty words in English, so we steadfastly assured him that calling someone "teddy bear" or "fluffy" were indeed grave insults.

Of course, we can't take pictures during service as it would be too disruptive, so instead I shall introduce you to "mi libro"...

The book. Every cook's secret weapon, for it contains recipes and diagrams pertaining to your duties.

For example, sketches of the layout and set-up of the station, workflow, and important names to remember. I also include Spanish terms to remember, notes, and ideas that pop into my head throughout the day. Whilst waiting for action, we can compare these books with other cooks', exchange recipes and cool techniques. It's an excellent tool.

The birth of a recipe. Above is a quick sketch of ingredient ideas and plating diagrams for a dish I'm creating to test some of Sammic's amazing equipment. As ideas pop into my head, things will be scratched out and re-written, or re-drawn. It's like smooshing your brain onto a piece of paper, except with less gooey grey matter to contend with. Can you tell I'm a bit sleepy?

There's a lot of interesting dishes and components on the carne station, my current favorite is the exquisitely juicy pigeon breast. The plating for it is pretty stunning as well. Last night, I spent my little free time at home practicing a very pretty saucing technique one of the chefs uses on this dish, it's much harder than it looks, but I think I'm making quick progress. I took a picture to show him my practice (I'm silly like that) and he seemed pleasantly surprised, or perhaps that's just my perception of the look on his face.

Alas, now it is time for sleep, and more epic dreams of battling zombies in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I seem to have similar dreams every night, maybe I shouldn't have had a "Walking Dead" viewing marathon before departing Las Vegas...

Adios, y buenas noches a todo mis amigos!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hondorrabia and the first days at Martin Berasategui

Sorry for the hiatus between blogs, but the kitchen requires long hours full of learning. I'll start with the trip Tracy and I took to a little city near the French border called Hondorrabia.

It's a really quaint little city with a castle-turned-hotel at the top and several good pintxos bars.

It was a really overcast day, and cold, but the town was adorable. In this area of the country, they trim all of the trees into a knobbly shape, reminiscent of zinfandael grape vines or the whomping willows from Harry Potter books. I like this a lot, actually.

There's a great view from the top of the city, of a harbor dotted with tiny colorful fishing boats and cute sea birds.

We stopped for pintxos and vino tinto at a couple local haunts, and the barman at one insisted that I walk behind the counter to take this picture of Tracy with her gigantic camera.

I had yummy fried potatoes baked with chorizo and egg.

Tracy had wild mushrooms baked into a crispy tuille.

There was beautiful jamon Iberico at the next stop.

And foie gras with two different marmalades on brioche. They love foie here... every little place has it! (I am assuredly not complaining.)

On the way back to our bus we met this lady, selling the local Basque delicacy...

Barnacles! I haven't seen them on a menu yet (they're apparently expensive) but she was kind enough to allow me some pictures.

Yesterday we started at the restaurant, and it's been a really interesting learning experience thus far. The kitchen is huge, and beautiful, and buzzing with activity.

I'm starting on the meat station- carne, which has two main dishes and a few a la carte options. I got to try the pigeon and learned how they make it... it's incredibly juicy and flavorful, and one of the most impressive platings I've seen.

I'm slowly easing myself into the station, taking notes, asking questions, and assisting with the preparations and platings along with copying down the recipes and practicing my Spanish.

The hours are long, but the chefs and station heads are very generous in sharing their recipes and tricks of the trade with me, so I'm very excited to be learning so much, especially considering how amazing all the components I've tasted have been.

But now I'm on siesta, and it's time to relax and get off my feet for a bit. I'm heading back in for the dinner shift, wonder what I'll learn next!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

First day at Martin Berasategui

Hola everyone!!

You'll have to forgive me for keeping this brief, but sleep is beckoning after my first long day at the restaurant.

I learned a lot, and got to try some very tasty components. I promise that I shall elaborate more during siesta tomorrow, (and also about my trip to Hondorrabia) suffice to say that this was an interesting day.

Buenas noches!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Farms, factories, and festive times.

Today, Tracy and I met up with the kind folks at Sammic to learn more about our duties as scholars and to tour their factory.

The setting in which they make their wares is nothing short of idyllic. Rolling, verdant mountains dotted with pillowy sheep surround the building, adorned with large windows and skylights throughout to capture the natural radiance of the area.

They do everything from "scratch", per se; from founding and molding the metals, to development and testing.

A little known fact about me is that at one, now distant point in my life I learned to weld and work with metal. Even now I often notice the mark of a craftsman on things I see every day, the little waves and folds of metal that mark the edges and joints of so much equipment. We often overlook these signatures, the sign that an actual human hand persuaded the minerals to take new form.

As such, one striking thing I noticed about Sammic's factory was how spotlessly clean everything was, the air even smelled fresh. Many manufacturing areas are rough, greasy, and stinky, but Sammic's light and fresh headquarters really spoke to the kind of pride they take in what they do.

They treated us to lunch at a local Sidreria, nestled pertly atop one of the region's softly rolling mountains. Cider season is from January to May, when locals gather at these spots to eat, drink, and make merry.

I was told to grab a bite before entering the barrel room, crisp, flavorful chorizo that was like a blast of flavor in my mouth.

There's a method the the mayhem, one must first procure a humble-looking glass tumbler, then follow suit as your compatriots scoop the drink straight from the stream released from the barrel's valve.

Like so. Then repeat. Then you should probably repeat again, as we wouldn't want to offend our hosts, and each barrel's cider tastes a bit different. It's not the kind of cider we're accustomed to in the U.S., it tastes nothing like the apples from whence it came, but it is nicely alcoholic, with an almost lanolin-like essence reminiscent of the ewes that meander through the scene outside.

After sampling the local drink, you return to find a heaping omelette, riddled with tender beef and slow-cooked, sweet Spanish onions. Crusty bread makes excellent company for this rich first course. Oh, by the way, you must make sure that you and your friends clean every plate, lest you offend the host! Luckily, this was no problem.

More cider, poured from a height for aeration. Bottles of good Rioja wine also dot the table, making sure that you don't wont for refreshment.

The next course is tender, flaky baccalao (cod fish) topped with fried peppers and onions. The crisp/tender dynamic works well, and all is washed down with fine wine and hard cider.

A giant slab of beef makes way to the table, red in the center, nicely charred on the exterior, and topped with nothing more than flaky sea salt. Of course this was good.

Dessert was Idizabal cheese, with almond cookies and mebrillo (quince) paste. A not-too-sweet finish for an exciting meal. A conversation about D.O.P. regulations and Spanish wine regions lingers over a cafe solo (espresso), then it's back to Lasarte for a siesta.

But not before a scenic drive through the beautiful countryside.

Adios, y buenas noches.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Post-parading pintxos, picnicking, and pizza

Tracy and I left Tamborrada (drum fest) at around 2am, ready for much needed sleep. After awakening, we returned to melee of percussion and partying to enjoy some pintxos with Marti.

This bar was pretty modern in their approach, so there were a lot of whimsical surprises along with the more classic fare. We sipped on txakoli (a white wine poured from a great height for aeration) and vino tinto (red wine) and ordered a tasty procession of small plates.

I started with morcilla (blood sausage) topped with a fried quail egg, cradled in fried potato slices. It had just a bit of burstingly-fresh tomato sauce on the side. I highly enjoyed this, the blood sausage has a gorgeous rich, meaty flavor unlike anything else. The yolk serves to add a bit of creaminess and cohesion to the whole ordeal, turning this little bite into something quite rich enough to sate your hunger. It also went really well with Ribera del Duoro...

Tracy had pulled suckling pig, served with a tart mustard sauce and a buttery crouton. The flaky salt on top was a nice touch against the incredibly tender piglet.

This dish actually belonged to one of the neighboring patrons, but it was pretty intriguing; baccalao served on a grate over a smoldering ember.

For some as yet unknown reason, every Tom, Dick, and Harry (I mean, Guillermo, Amaia, and Andoni) in Donostia can cook calamari to perfection. This smelled (and tasted) so great Marti dug in as soon as it hit the bar. The aroma didn't lie about the roasty-sweet flavor, and the calamari was silky with just a bit of "al dente" bite to it.

Pig's trotters, oh, yum. The meat was pulled and then formed into disks, which were then seared to crispy goodness. The crunchy exterior gave way to a beguiling, gooey, sticky center of pork, skin, and fat. Maybe it sounds weird, but the way the fat stuck to your teeth just a bit was pleasant in some very, very wrong sense of the word.

Yesterday morning, we headed back to a now much quieter San Sebastian to purchase provisions from a gourmet market and hike to the top of one of the mounts overlooking the city to enjoy a picnic.

The view was absolutely stunning.

We watched dogs play in the park and listened to the calming music of waves and singing birds while we enjoyed our casual lunch.

Cured beef, Idiazabal cheese, crusty bread, and jamon Iberico Bellota make for an excellent lunch.

Last night, Guillermo (Sammic's technology guy) invited us to a small party at his flat for some pizza, so we grabbed a few pintxos beforehand to sate us. Above is jamon, topped with creamy goat cheese and a tomato coulis. Excellent, creamy, salty...

Tracy had cod jowls with artichokes and fried onions.

While I dug unceremoniously into this unctuous plate of seared foie gras with caramelized onions, pumpkin puree, and raisins. I'm a pumpkin obsessive, so it was an amazing, ooey, gooey, rich, yummy plate of happiness!

Again with the calamari perfection; seared ring of squid atop sweet onions and an ink sauce, topped with crispy fried parsley, the dish that would convert any squid-adverse diner into an enthusiastic devotee.

And a grilled piece of tender, fatty pork, topped with roasted calimyrna figs, in the same rich pumpkin puree. Also amazing.

Post-pintxos, we joined Guillermo and a cadre of Spaniards and Swedish transplants at his flat for an array of pizza and drinks. It was a really fun time, I got to practice just a little bit of my Spanish, and enjoy some very tasty flatbread in the company of warm and inviting people.

Could one ask for more?