The Stage At Xarma Jatetxea

For my previous blog posts about my experience at Xarma Jatetxea, please check the following links!

The ‘Charm’ in Xarma Jatetxea

The Toys at Xarma Jatetxea

So what is it like being a Basque Stage here in one of the culinary capitols of the world? It’s unlike anything I could have imagined. With working under chefs that have worked for some of the most renowned chefs in Europe from Juan and Elena Arzak to Michel Bras, I could tell that I was in for a learning experience like no other. So this is a blog post about my time working under chef Xabier and Aizpea at Xarma Jatetxea.

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I was actually pretty surprised at what they had me doing on my first day on the job. I was expecting to do typical ‘intern’ tasks like picking parsley or peeling onions or something simple like that just to start out, but it was the opposite. Just on my first day, I made 3 types of spheres using the infamous methodology and chemicals that Ferran Adria of El Bulli Fame has introduced to the culinary world. I had prepped out and made a very ingenious Tomato and Apple carpaccio. And when it came to service, I was appointed to plating a majority of their first courses and appetizers.

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“No tengas mideo!” Aizpea told me.

Of course all I could respond with was, “……… no entiendo! LOS SIENTO!!!”

“Don’t be afraid!” She responded back to me.

And from then on, I tried to my hands in every single thing I could.

I found myself doing more and more and getting a whole lot of hands on experience as the days came by. By the end of my first week, I had cleaned a case of beef cheeks, seared of the cheeks along with some oxtail, and braised them until they reached ultimate tenderness. I had cleaned and prepped up over 2 dozen squabs. And I have made basically all of the sauces that we use for all of the menus. By the end of the second week, I was appointed to prepping out and being in charge of two of the tasting menus that they offered and also was took control of all things pastry. I, for one, never thought myself of ever wanting to be a pastry chef as it is a whole different world, but I was quite excited to actually learn this side of the culinary world.

Beef Cheek Prep

Beef Cheek Prep

It amazes me of all the things I have got to do and have learned when I look back at these past 3 months. I wish that I could go more into detail to all of the things that I have seen and learned to here at Xarma as Sammic’s Basque Stage, but this post would be very long and rather tiring to read! So instead, I will post a bunch of pictures of my time here in the kitchen of Xarma Jatetxea.

Apple Dessert Prep

Apple Dessert Prep

Tomato Carpaccio Prep

Tomato Carpaccio Prep

Squab Prep

Squab Prep

Calamari Prep

Calamari Prep

Chicken Roulade Prep

Chicken Roulade Prep

Foie Bombon Prep

Foie Bombon Prep

Ham Croquetta Prep

Ham Croquetta Prep

 

 

Siesssta!!!!!!!!!!!!

No I did not mean to write ‘Fiesta’. But I guess you can basically call it that! This post is about a certain time of the day, where all of Spain shuts down and goes on a 3-4 hour break. Well, maybe not all of Spain, but it definitely feels like it! And that is what we like to call a ‘siesta’!

Here in Spain, most restaurants are open for lunch and dinner. Sounds pretty self explanatory right? Wrong. I was pretty stoked to find out that I had such a long break to explore San Sebastian and get to eat at various places around town. But when I am on break, it also means everyone else is on break! So for any future visitors of San Sebastian, make sure you plan accordingly when you want to eat out at all the great places around here. I must add that a lot of the restaurants are closed Sunday night, all day Monday, and often Tuesday.

But back to my Siesta! As I’ve been staging at Xarma Jatetxea, I’ve been lucky enough to work relatively close to the city of San Sebastian. It is a very scenic 2-3 miles to and from work, which is a good 30-40 minute walk depending on how lazy and slow I am feeling.

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My favorite part of the walk to Donostia is the moment when I start to see the amazing site known as, La Concha. I don’t know how many times I’ve walked up and down this beach, but I just can’t help to take a picture every time because it seems as if it’s a different experience every time I walk by it. To me, I still feel as if this place is unreal. Places like this only exist in dream lands. And to be able to see this indescribable place almost every day for the past 3 month has me feeling like I have been blessed, personally, by God himself. This has always been more than just a walk to point A to point B for me; it’s a walk of the utmost amount of gratitude and gratefulness for being lucky enough to have this once in a lifetime opportunity. And I’m getting the most out of it as I can during my last weeks here.

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I have been able to see some of the craziest, coolest, weirdest, and most interesting things on my siestas, here in San Sebastian. And it is my pleasure to share with you all of these amazing things that have kept my soul entertained and happy during my time between shifts!

Koh Tao and Atari

These are my go-to places in San Sebastian whenever I am in need of a coffee and/or drink. Koh Tao is very much a café that looks as if it could be planted in the heart of Capitol Hill in Seattle. This seems to be where all the ‘hip’ kids (and even older folks!) like to go because of the great amazing atmosphere the place has. With having very inexpensive drinks and some of the better coffee in town, I find that this place makes me the most ‘at home’ away from my home in Seattle. Also, it is the only place that I’ve found that serves the amazingness known as Café Bonbon!

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Atari is another great place I like to go. Atari is a great pintxo bar that has an amazing staff and great food, but of course they don’t serve any food during whenever I come in! They are located in the old part of San Sebastian right across from one of my favorite cathedrals in the city. On gorgeous days, I like to enjoy a glass (or a couple) of txakoli on the steps of one of my favorite and also one of the oldest cathedrals in San Sebastian.

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The Sandman and His Lil’ Sandies

Okay, throughout this post I may make up names for a lot of these people because this is the type of stuff that goes through my mind whenever I see them during my walks. These are probably some of the moments I’ve enjoy the most during my walk by the beach. There is this man who makes some of the most amazing murals in the sand at the beach of La Concha. There are usually two different parts of the beach in which he uses as his canvases and it seems as if each the amazing piece of sand art always changes daily. One of my favorite aspects of these sand murals is that this man usually has an army of little kids who like to help me create and construct these wonderful pieces.

sandman

The Beatlettes

So this is probably the place that majority of my loose change has gone. This Mother-and-daughter super group has taken street entertainment to another level with their perfectly crafted and mastered art of puppeteering . Going off the record now and say that I am usually terrified at anything that has to do with puppets, but I found this just simply amazing. With perfect replicas of the Beatles, they have somehow managed to recreate what I feel like would be a true, live, Beatles experience. But with puppets! I can’t imagine the amount of practice it took for them to get timing down with controlling very specific pieces of each puppet from the head movements to strumming of the guitars to the crashing of a cymbal. They are musicians and artists in their own right because there’s much more going on than the twiddling of strings. Also, they always have a huge group of little children that like to sit down and watch as they do their music. There was this one time where all these little munchkins were dancing in a moshpit. Long Live Rock n Roll!

beatles

The Llama and His One Man Band

An amazing street act of this guy who is fitted head to toe with everything he needs to make up a whole band. Pretty surprised at the songs he was playing as they were all recognizable tunes. And plus he had a Llama as a Hype man. Super dope.

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The Bubble Guy

Always see this guy on the nicest days out. Seems as if he is one with the weather because he is always out when the wind is perfect. He makes some of the craziest bubbles using two sticks with a string tied onto them and a bucket of soapy water. Watching him help very excited kids make some of the biggest bubbles I’ve ever seen definitely makes me have a smile from ear to ear!

bubbleguy

The Saw

I had to double-take when I first saw this man. At first I thought he was playing a violin or some type of string instrument because I heard some of the finest classical music coming from his direction. But when I took a good look, he was actually playing music from a saw! Pretty ridiculous but quite an amazing talent.

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I really don’t get what this guy does or what to call him. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen him do anything other than look really creepy. Also, I have NO clue if his little friend is a real person or is just a freaky little mannequin. I’m still waiting for the day for it to move and scare the living bejeezus out of me.

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The Bongo Brothers

These guys are always bringing the jams to La Concha. Regardless if it’s an amazingly sunny day out or the gloomiest of days, they are always out and about banging on those drums filling the ears and souls of who ever walks by with some great grooves.

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I’ve got to admit, regardless of the large amount of time I had between work shifts and how exhausting it would get for me trying to find ways to occupy my time, San Sebastian always had a way to fill that void. I’ve been very grateful to see so much of the life around here in San Sebastian and it’s something that I’ve grown to love so much. This is definitely a site I’m going to miss seeing everyday once I return back home to Seattle…..

The Toys of Xarma Jatetxea

One of my first impressions of Xarma when I walked into their kitchen was, “Hot DAMN!”. Pardon my language, but I was actually really astonished at how great of a kitchen they are blessed with. With only having a 35 seat restaurant, it was really surprising to see the kitchen to that caliber. But after having worked at this restaurant for about 2 months and seeing the quality of food that comes out of the kitchen, I can see how Chef Xabi and Aizpea utilize their kitchen to its fullest potential.

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So this post is about all the  crazy, cool, and new pieces of equipment that I have had to use and had to familiarize myself with!

The Can Opener

So they have all the typical kitchen equipment that you would find in any typical restaurant kitchen. You know, stuff that isn’t really post worthy since they are all tools that you would find in any kitchen. One kitchen tool that would fit under this category would be a can opener. Right? WRONG. I remember the first time I had to open a can at Xarma and I swear I have never felt like a huge idiot in my life. It took me about 10 minutes until I actually had to ask someone where to fine the can opener. They pointed me into the direction of the drawer that I had actually looked in a gazillion and then pulled out this small, red little thing that I had actually picked up in my own hand and looked at, wondering what in the world it could be. I’ve never been so embarrassed asking looking for something that I feel like I’ve used a million times!

canopener

Sammic Vaccum Packaging Machine

This is probably the machine I hear the most out of any piece of equipment while in the kitchen. “PSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”! That is the sound of freshness being concealed! This great piece machinery made by Sammic, the company that sponsors the Basque Stage, is how we ensure freshness of our proteins, sauces, basically everything.During my visit at the Sammic headquarters, I had spotted the exact same model of vacuum packing machines that we use at Xarma and my tour guide, Asier, had told that the machine is one of the best out on the market. Their vacuum packing machines gets rid of 99% of the air, ensuring that whatever you are packaging stays fresh for a longer period of time. I don’t know how many times I have accidentally made a mess in this machine from overfilling bags. Sorry guys!!

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Rational Combi-Oven

So when I saw the vacuum packaging machine, I was expecting to see a thermal immersion circulators, or better known as a sous-vide cooker. It only makes sense when a restaurant uses a vacuum packing machine so frequently. But I couldn’t see one insight. This all made sense when really took a look at their oven. I have only heard myths about the greatness of these special ovens called, “combi-ovens”. They basically do anything and everything you want. It is a convection oven, it also steams, it also combines the two, and it also is self-cleaning. I wouldn’t be surprised if you can download apps on it and play your favorite Pandora station off of it. But seriously, this thing is an amazing piece of machinery. It dials in into the most precise temperatures with any amount of humidity you want. At the same time you can choose what how much air you want cycling in your oven. This basically does everything a sous-vide machine does plus some! And whenever you feel like it’s getting a little dirty, just pop in a little soap disc, and turn on the clean cycle, and in two hours, you have an oven that looks like it has never been used.  This machine is a BEAST.

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The Thermomix

Next up, my new love. Sorry Vitamix, but I’ve been cheating on you. You have been so great to me, but there’s something better on this side of the ocean, and its name is thermomix. We use to have one at Txori that was brought over from Europe from one the original owners, but it was not in working condition, sadly. So this was my first time actually getting to use one and man, I never thought I could get so excited using a piece of equipment before! This thing does EVERYTHING. It has the power of a vitamix, but it also is a scale, a heating element, has a set timer on it, and I have even heard some crazy things that some models actually has a filter in it that basically strains as its pureeing the mixture inside! INSANE RIGHT?! Too bad they go for over  1,000 Euros, so I guess I must take advantage of this affair before going back to America where I am still happy settling with a Vitamix.

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The Plancha

This next one really caught me off guard the first time I saw it. I looked at it and thought to myself, “hmmmm, well that’s interesting……” I really couldn’t put together the pieces to this one and still have a hard time wondering why it made in this specific way, but man is it awesome! This is the plancha (or flattop grill) at Xarma. IT HAS A MOAT! Why, you may ask? I DON’T KNOW. But IT HAS A MOAT! My guess is that the water has to do with something with temperature control and helps creates a consistent range of heat throughout the plancha. I have done some research and found that this style of plancha is a ‘French Plancha’. While using it, I have not experience any form of sticking or burning or anything less than perfect when it comes to caramelizing or searing items. The great thing about this thing is that it’s also really clean and looks spotless whenever we give it a nice scrub.

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Paco Jet

Let me talk about windows real quick. I am not talking about windows that you stare out of whenever you are daydreaming about being outside, but windows as in the specific period of time when something must take place. And here comes the paco jet. Here at Xarma, they like to make sure that all of their dishes come out with the highest quality possible. So that means that we spin ice creams to order for EVERY order. Now it seems like a pretty simple thing to do, but I found the hard way that it is quite difficult to get the timing just right. It requires the perfect timing to make sure that the ice cream is at the perfect texture at the time it needs to be plated. This means that we always have to be aware and be prepared for when a dish is about to come up in the tasting menus and also how each ice cream reacts after being spun. Some spin to the perfect consistency, while others need a little time back in the freezer to firm up a bit more. This has taught me to be really being on top of things when it comes to knowing where I am at with each ticket I am on. But other than that, I wish I had a paco jet in my house. This thing is an incredible machine that makes for the creamiest textures of ice cream ever. Whenever I have an extra $4,000 laying around, I definitely know what I am purchasing!

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Texturas by Ferran Adrià

Aside from the tools we use at Xarma, there menu involves a good amount of molecular gastronomy and the chemicals which have been made famous by Ferran Adrià of elBulli fame. I was very excited to be able to see and understand how each of these chemicals work and have had a great time experimenting and using them to make some of the craziest stuff I have seen when it comes to food.

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Working in a new kitchen is usually always nerve racking. It takes some time to get use to where everything is and learn how things are suppose to run in the kitchen. Throw in a huge language barrier and a change in measurement and it makes it that much difficult for someone! But regardless of all the challenges that I have faced with being at Xarma, I have learned so much and have got to work in this amazing kitchen with some of the most talented chefs that are putting so much effort to really help me grow as a chef. I couldn’t be more grateful.

The ‘Charm’ in Xarma Jatetxea

xarma

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).

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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.

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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!

family meal

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.

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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”.

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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!