Xarma Jatetxea. Located in San Sebastian, smack dab in the middle of my home in Lasarte and Donostia. Headed by chef and owners, Xabier Díez and Aizpea Oihaneder, this is the place that I will spend my 3 months learning and staging at while in the Basque Country.
Meaning “charm” in Basque, Xarma is a restaurant where diners are able to see the dream that these two chefs have worked so hard to fulfill. From the décor of the very elegant 35 seat dining room to the ever-changing menu of very thought out dishes, Chef Xabier and Aizpea have very much created a very restaurant with the upmost amount of ‘charm’ (pun intended).
Xarma offers 3 different tasting menus that range from various prices and dining experiences and also offer an a la carte menu. I find that the food at Xarma to be very exciting and quite impressive, especially with having such a small crew of them 2 and another chef named Marcos. With a super stacked resume of working under some of the most renowned chefs in Europe from Juan Mari and Elena Arzak to Martin Bersategui to Michel Bras in France. Through every dish that leaves the kitchen, you can definitely see all of the knowledge and skills that these talented chefs have gained from putting in their time at such celebrated kitchens.
April 5th marked the day that I would first step into the kitchen as their newest addition to their team. With a mixed feeling of excitement and nervousness, I was ready for anything and everything. From the get go I knew it was going to be a huge challenged not speaking any Spanish. But luckily, with working at the Harvest Vine, I was able to understand a whole lot when it comes to kitchen terms and ingredients.
Marcos, the other chef that works their aside from Xabi and Aizpea, showed me the ropes for a typical work day. I was quite surprised to find out that he has only been working at Xarma for a month when I started because it has seemed like he knew everything and anything about the restaurant. First thing we do when we get into the kitchen is take out the garbage and recycling. We then set up all the stations with cutting boards, utensils, mise en place for service, and then we usually take a quick coffee break then its on to prep.
At around 11:45, we set up a table in the dining room for family meal, which happens at 12. I have found this to be very nice as it reminds me of how things are back at the Vine. There’s nothing better than being able to actually sit down and spend some quality time with your work family before a busy service! I was actually very impressed with family meal as the chefs like to actually make an effort to cook amazing food for the staff. Everyone knows that only great things can come out of a happy staff!
After family meal, comes coffee time and then it’s back to the kitchen where we set up the rest of the kitchen for service. This means heating up complimentary bread that we serve to the diners, getting all of the proteins and items portioned for each of the tasting menus and heating up all the sauces so they are ready to go.
Then around 2 o clock (or 9 o clock if we are talking dinner service) the restaurants starts to fill up with hungry customers. I have always known that every kitchen runs different from one another, but I have never worked in a kitchen where tasting menus are so dominant in what the customers order. Especially with having 3 different tasting menus to choose from, it is very easy to get confused with which dishes belong with what menu and how the progression of the dishes should go out in. And then throw in items of an a la carte menu and you could basically say that my mind might have gone a little bit crazy. But with some studying and some guidance, I was able to learn about each menu from head to toe within a couple of days. Thank Goodness!
As we get through the last couple tickets, we start the wrap up process as we refill our mis en place for the next service/day and start to put all of sauces and proteins into containers. As the last desserts go out, we turn of the oven and the planchas and we sweep up and mop up the floors.
This is basically how a typical day goes at my work. But in reality, there is no ‘typical’ day at Xarma Jatetxa. Each day I come in, I find myself still learning something new and exciting, especially working with chefs like Xabi, Aizpea, and Marcos. They always seem to find new ways to blow my mind and make me feel so freaking excited about food, especially Basque food. These are chefs that are doing really great things to a cuisine that is already so special in itself and can be seen as a model for the new and young generation of chefs that are wanting to bring new things to the table when it comes to the progression of what we know and perceive as “Basque cuisine”.
There is an unbelievable amount of gratitude I have for being Sammic’s Rising Star, especially for putting me in such a special restaurant like Xarma. I have learned so much and I’m only at the half way mark. I know I’ve said it so many times, but I just cant help to be so excited about all things to come in my last month as a Basque Stage!