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.

spheres

“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

 

 

My First Week Pt. 2!

This is a continuation from my ‘My First Week Pt. 1’ blog post right here!

Thursday, I finally got to meet Marti! She is the person that I have been communicating back and forth with ever since I started applying for the Basque Stage. I was really excited to meet her because I have been an avid follower of her blog bout the Basque Country, Blank Palate, and she is just filled with so much information about what’s going on around here. She is definitely one of the most interesting people I’ve got to meet! We met again at Xarma to meet up with one of the chef/owner, Aizpea, to talk about my time staging there. I find out I started work the day after! So soon but I was really anxious to get started and learning.

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I ended up going grocery shopping for the first time the same night and got all the fixings for friend rice and a bottle of red wine. I thought it would be appropriate to treat myself with something familiar before my first day of work.

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Friday and Saturday were my first two days at Xarma. That is all I have to share for now because this deserves a blogpost of its own, fo’ realsies!

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Sunday, Susy and I planned to visit Getaria for Dia Del Txakoli!!! Getaria is a gorgeous town that is a 45 minute bus ride from Donostia. Dia del Txakoli, which translates to Day Of Txakoli, is the day where about 2 dozen wineries in the Designation of Origin Getariako Txakolina take part of a festival to share their latest crops of txakoli. Susy and I had found out about this festival through Viridian Farms. Viridian Farms is a farm based out of Portland that produces a lot of European products, especially from the Basque Country! We get a lot of product in from this farm at the Harvest Vine, so it was a great connection to have when I found out I was coming out here! They have been so great to us as they have given us a lot of great recommendations of what to do and where to go during our stay here in San Sebastian.

getaria

Unfortunately, it seems that Susy and I didn’t really do our research and had gone to the wrong town. We had bussed all the way to Getaria to see no festival in sight. You could only imagine the confused looks on our faces. We later found out that the festival was actually in town of Aia, which isn’t that far from Getaria. But to 2 American kids that didn’t have internet access or have sense of direction, we kind of just gave up on making it to the festival.

But regardless, Susy and I know how to make for a good time! Since Susy has already been to Getaria, she showed me around town. She took me to Anchoas Maisor. This is where fresh anchovies die and go to heaven. Literally. It is here where fresh day-caught anchovies forego a process of being cleaned then packed in a barrel of salt for about 6 months. Then they are taken out of the salt, desalted, then meticulously filleted by the expert hands of the ladies of Anchoas Maisor and then carefully packaged with oil to help preserve them. It is an amazing thing to see how much care and love that these people here have these delectable anchovies. And to think that not at one point in time, that these anchovies are ever mishandled or mistreated since all of this work is done by hand. Bravo to all of you over at Anchoas Maisor.

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We then catch a bus and head to Zumaia, which is a town just 6 km east of Getaria. There was no reason to go to Zumaia other than the fact that its just incredibly gorgeous. It is a very scenic area that has some of the unbelievable views of the Bay of Biscay. We walked around a whole lot and ran into a little fair that was going on. Stopped by a churro stand and got a nice bag of deep fried yumminess. We make our way up to Itzurun, a beach on the most eastern part of the town that has a nice view of the bay that run into some caves off of the beach. We also get to this crazy pier that stretches right into the water and gives an amazing view of Zumaia. And at some point we try to hike around some cliffs to try to get a better view of the water. But all that got us is a couple pairs of really muddy shoes!

zumaia

On Monday, Susy and I met up with Marti, Nacho, and Andoni in San Sebastian for a good ol’ Pintxo crawl for my Welcoming to the Basque Country! We start off at Bidea Berri, one, if not, the only pintxo bar that serves grilled fresh piquillos. My god, were these good. Simply charred and then peeled and doused in a good amount of olive oil. Simplicity at its finest.

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The next pintxo bar we go to is Bodega Donostiarra (well, I think. I did not get a picture or remember the bar name!). Here we got a variety of pintxos from Pulpo a la vinagreta, chorizo, Jamon Tortilla, and a potato pintxo that we called montaña de la mayonesa, which translates to mountain of mayonnaise. It was basically that with a slice of jamon and an anchoa olive on top. It may have been a little over the top, but definitely was tasty with some crusty bread to sop up all that alioli up with.

pulpomayo

We thean head towards the old part of San Sebastian and go to Astalena. This was a nice little bar that had some great raciones and pintxos that I haven’t seen on other menus around town. I ordered Solomillo a lo pobre, which is beef tenderloin with fries, sautéed onions, and a fried quail egg. No complaints about this dish. It is a dish that I really could see being on a menu in America. There was a ketchup-like sauce made from piquillos that was good, but every time I ate it, I was always tricking myself into thinking I was eating ketchup. It only made me want ketchup more because it would of really complimented the dish better then the piquillo-ketchup. Marti ordered the Risotto de queso de cabra y tomate, Goat cheese and tomato Risotto. This dish was pretty good and really interesting. It was actually made with a wild rice rather than the normal Arborio or even Bomba rice. The sauce was really creamy and cheesey. Kind of too rich for my liking, but the flavor was right on. Susy had ordered the ravioli e foie y Margret, foie gras ravioli. Rich on Rich on Rich. This dish needed texture and some kind of flavor contrast. The ravioli was huge and was creamy and then it was drenched in another creamy porcini/mushroom cream that just added to the already large amount of richness. If this pintxo was 2 times as small, I can see it making a lot more sense, but this dish just seemed a little too crazy for me! Nacho ordered taco de bonito, seared tuna. The tuna was perfectly seared and still rare in the center. The meat was buttery and super flavorful. As it should be! =]

astelena

Our last spot was Atari. I’ve actually been to this spot a lot on my breaks between services at Xarma. I usually come during the downtime so I just get a couple glasses of txakoli and a café con leche then back to work. Here we wind down and the girls both order dessert, but I order savory because I was still in search for the best croquettes in town. I order just a small portion of croquettes de bacalao. They were tiny in comparison to other croquettes I have gotten, but I’ve got to say that they were extremely creamy and did not have that dense texture that I have seen in majority of the croquettes I have experienced. They were exceptionally delicate and the flavor was delicious! Nacho ordered the foie gras terrine. Its accoutrements were rather interesting as it came with a banana puree, apple, and a red wine reduction. The terrine in itself was perfect. Probably the best foie terrine I’ve had recently. It paired well with the apple and the wine reduction, but the banana puree kind of just throws everything off. Nevertheless, it was a really great dish and I have no room to complain. You get two huge slices of Foie!

atari

This was an amazing night to really welcome me into this great city. I couldn’t have asked for better company and even better food. I am so grateful and appreciative for this opportunity that these guys at the Basque Stage and Sammic have presented me with. Just like the open arms that these amazing folks welcomed me with, my arms are stretched wider than the biggest seas to welcome whatever adventures and obstacles the next 3 months bring to me here in the Basque Country!

My First Week Pt. 1

My oh my! So its been more than a full week since I’ve been here and there is so much that I want to share! I’ve found that it is pretty difficult to maintain this blog as I am a very busy person, so please bear with me as I try my hardest to keep all of you guys updated with all things Spain! And since I have so much to say, I’m breaking up this post into 2 parts so you all don’t have to feel like you are reading a novel!

So after my first day, I woke up around 4 PM. No surprise here. I woke up feeling like I got hit by a bus, confuse of what time it really was, and had known I slept alright by the amount of drool that was dried on my face. It wasn’t a pretty site, but I didn’t care because I WAS IN SPAIN!!!

What it looks like when I wake up.

What it looks like when I wake up.

I decided to venture out in Lasarte so that I could get more accustomed to where I will be living for the next 3 months. I found Lasarte to be a very cute and small town just about 6 miles from Donostia-San Sebastian. I ended up being able to walk around majority of the town within an hour or so. I stopped real quick at a pintxo bar called, Gure Etxea, to grab a quick bite to eat. Ended up getting 2 gildas, one with salt-cured anchovies and the other with vinegar-cured anchovies, a jamon bocadillo, and a Txakioli to wash it down. It was a pretty perfect snack to fuel me for the rest of the day.

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I decided to go walk around some more and ended up finding this crazy building that overlooked the interstate. It caught my eye because it was tagged from head to toe with really cool looking graffiti. So I ended up walking up the hill to get a closer look.

graffiti building

As I was exploring the unique building, I happen to hear some music coming from the building. This really surprised me because it had looked as if this building was uninhabited, but I guess I was wrong! I noticed this room that had 2 old Spaniards jamming out on bass and electric guitar. They noticed me and actually invited me in. I was a little hesitant first as I could clearly noticed that they didn’t speak a word of English but we were actually able to communicate pretty well through the use of my awesome hand gestures and my broken-ass Spanish. “Cervesa?” one of the men asked me? Usually I wouldn’t accept alcohol, drinks, or any other kind of food from a stranger, especially in a different country. But the can was sealed and I was parched from walking around town so I had to accept! They eventually asked if played instruments and then they handed me the guitar and I played a couple quick riffs. I could tell by their smiles from ear to ear that they were excited to find someone else who loved playing music. It was then that they unveiled something under a couple blankets, a drum set! They set it up and then handed me drum sticks. We then commenced in a good 2 hours of jamming and rocking until the sun went down and the room started growing darker.  I would add the video of us playing music, but in all reality, we really didn’t sound that great. Haha I proceeded to say my thank yous and good-byes then headed home.

My 'bandmates'!

My ‘bandmates’!Look at that Mullet!

The next day, I decided to figure out my commute to restaurant that I will be staging at, Xarma. I definitely want to be prepared and don’t want to look like an idiot and get lost on my first day! I also got a hold of a friend, Antton, who I met through Juan Carlos and Carolin from the Vine. He Spent a couple summers in Seattle and he resides on a farm here in San Sebastian, so it was nice to already have a connection with someone who lives here. I took a 7 minute train to the Lugaritz station and walked to my work. A whole lot easier than I expected, thank goodness!

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Antton met me in front of Xarma and then we were off to walk towards San Sebastian. San Sebastian is a 3 mile walk from my work and it happened to be a gorgeous day. We walked around La Concha towards Parte Vieja de San Sebastian, which is the old part of San Sebastian where all the pintxo bars are. Antton took me all around San Sebastian and to some of his favorite spots and he treated me to some pintxos! Thanks Antton!

anttonwalk

Out of the bars that he took me too, Bar Txepetxa and La Cuchara were probably my two favorite. Bar Txepetxa is a special little pintxo bar because they specialize in serving anchovies. We ordered Antxoas con creama de centolla, vinegar-cured anchovies with a creamy crab sauce. I could honestly eat 50 of these. This pintxo is still probably one of my favorite bites I’ve had ever since I’ve been in Spain. I’ve been back to Bar Txepetxa 3 times since then, so be ready for a review of this restaurant soon as I plan to eat my way through their whole menu.

bar txepetxa

La Cuchara De San Telmo is a little gem that was recommended by many people (thanks Mara!). This is the kind of restaurant that I wish America had. They serve amazing food, have a beautiful space, and crank out food as fast as you can order. We shared the veal cheeks, octopus, fist-sized scallops wrapped in iberico ham, and the foie gras. I have so much to say about their food and plan to return as much as I can so you all can expect a review from this place as well!

lachucara

Antton then directs me towards my bus home and we part ways. It was real nice to have someone show me around and tell me so much about this beautiful place. I am grateful for the people at work for connecting us and am excited to hang out with him while I am here! Eventually, I’m hoping to stop by his family farm and see all the great cheese and products that they produce.

To be continued……