What Do I Want To Get Out Of The Basque Stage?

Aside

So it’s official….. I have less than a month from when I leave the great Pacific NorthWest to start my culinary adventures in San Sebastian, Spain, as the next Basque Stage Rising Star! It has been a crazy, busy, and overwhelming couple of weeks since I have received the scholarship and I can’t imagine the my last couple weeks being any less crazy, busy, and overwhelming as the ones previous.

I feel that a month seems like a long time, but I know that time will fly by and I will be sitting in a plane, heading too my new home for 3 months. There is so much to do in such little time!

One thing that has been on my mind ever since I found out that I will be the next Basque Stage is what I hope to get out of living in San Sebastian, working with a great company like Sammic and staging under some of the most talented chefs, Xabier Diez and Aizpea Oihaneder, over at Xarma.

So here is a list of some of the things I have came up with that I hope to achieve upon returning to my real home in Seattle after my time in the Basque Country.

1. Develop a greater understanding and knowledge of the Basque Life.

I have the Harvest Vine to thank for opening my eyes to all things Basque. I’ve had an amazing 3 years working for/with some of the greatest people that have taught me so much about the culture and the food that comes from the Basque Country. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from working under my chef, Joey Serquinia, is that it takes more than knowing flavors and ingredients to cook good Spanish food. It takes a lot of knowledge about understanding about the culture and history of how these dishes came about.

With living in San Sebastian, I will be able to experience all the things that I can’t from just picking up and read about from a book about the Basque Country. I will be able to see and experience first hand what it is like to live the ‘Basque Way’. From the people, to the food, to the farms, to the wineries, I am so ready to soak up everything. I’m just hoping that my brain and heart will be able to handle all of the greatness that the Basque Country has to offer!

2. Utilize and expand the resources and opportunities presented to me

Everyone working in the restaurant industry  or any industry actually, knows the importance of networking. With staging in Spain, I will be introduced to a whole new circle of chefs, wine makers, farmers, and companies that I just would never be able to meet here in the States. I hope to take advantage of this great opportunity and really utilize all these networks that I could really benefit from in my career as a chef.

Sammic Headquarters

One of the coolest aspects of the Basque Stage is that it is sponsored by a great company called Sammic that develops and manufactures commercialized kitchen equipment for restaurants, hotels, etc., etc. I am really excited to work with this company and get to see and work with the products that they develop and really hope to build a strong relationship because they could be a great asset for whenever/if-ever I plan to start a restaurant of my own. (Can we say Discount!? Just Joking. =P) But on a serious note, I am very appreciative of what they do and for sponsoring such a great scholarship.

3. Help spread the word about the Basque Stage

I have to admit it. I’ve been a total Basque Stage Whore (pardon my language) ever since I had found about them more than a year ago. I have been and avid follower of the blogs of the previous Basque Stage winners and I was addicted to applying. I told myself from day one that I was going to keep on applying until I get it because its honestly such a great opportunity for chefs of all kinds, whether or not you are a home cook or professional cook. Everyone at the Basque Stage and Sammic have both teamed up and created something that I feel so passionate about and proud to be part of and I feel that more people need to know about it.

I was ecstatic to hear that The Art Institute of Seattle, the culinary school I had graduated from, was interested in getting in contact with me to hear more about receiving this scholarship. This is a good step into the right direction to let other students to know about this great opportunity that is honestly so easy to apply for. Yeah, I must admit, that it was pretty crappy the past 2 times I’ve applied and gotten so close to getting it, but persistence really pays off. Keep trying. Keep applying. Keep believing in yourself. Because in the end, there is no harm in trying, especially when the outcome can be as spectacular as cooking in one of the culinary capitals in the world!  And I don’t plan on just spreading the word with just students, I want to help encourage anyone and everyone.

4. Re-open Txori

Oh, beloved Txori. Txori was the sister restaurant of The Harvest Vine that sadly closed down in 2010. It was the first restaurant that I had my first real bite of real Spanish food. This was the restaurant where I started my culinary career as an intern that eventually lead into landing a job at. Quite possibly one of the best jobs I have had in my life.  It was here I knew I wanted to pursue cooking Spanish food.

Txori, which means “bird” in Basque, was a bar that served the traditional Basque tapas known as “pintxos”. Pintxos are basically small bites of food that are usually served on a sliced piece of toasted bread or pricked with a skewer that have became popular in San Sebastian. I feel that these are the type of bars that America need to adopt more of. There is so much to love about the concept of eating small bites while sipping on a nice glass of cava or albarinio and conversing with fellow patrons.I am most looking forward to pintxo bar hopping and really get to see what a real pintxo bar feels/looks/smells/tastes like. I want to take these things back because I feel that people need to know the greatest of Pintxos!

Re-opening Txori has been something I’ve always wanted ever since the day their doors have closed. But I’m hoping that with this Stage that it will maybe cause a spark, an idea, even a small thought of maybe re-opening those doors to something that not only I, but so many others, have grown to love. And whenever the time comes, I will drop and stop everything I am doing because this is something I really want, no, need to part of. (*hint hint* Carolin ;] ).

5. Be able to share my experiences

So of course it’s going to be great to share my experiences with friends, family, all you following my blogs, and so on. But honestly, one person I’m really hoping to share this experience with is my daughter, Tegan. She is my world, my mini-me, my pride and joy. Its going to be the hardest thing I will ever had to do being apart from her but everything that I do, I do for her. I have always known that with working in this industry, I had to be willing to make a lot of sacrifices. It’s quite a big sacrifice I’ve had to make, but in the end, it’ll all be worth it. I’m going to gain so much out of it, but what I will be gaining the most is a story for her of how her dad has fulfilled one of his dreams and that if you work hard and keep trying, you will be capable of doing anything. I want her to know that someday, I hope she will be able to do something like this and be able to share her stories with me. No matter what, I will always be there for her and will support her in anything she wants to do.

Sorry for the lengthy post! I am just getting so excited and anxious and have so much on the mind right now that my brain kind of threw up all of my thoughts in form of this blog post. Haha

-Justin

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8 Legged Friend: The Octopus

One of the questions we that guests ask us at the most at the Harvest Vine is, “When are you guys going to get Galician Octopus back?” There was a time when my chef would bring in octopus in that were imported from the waters of Galicia. I have never had anything as exquisite as Galician Octopus in my life. I still remember the first time I experienced eating this delicate, most tender, and flavor-packing piece of octopus. It was served perfectly as a pintxo in the Pulpo a la Gallega style at the Harvest Vine’s sister restaurant, Txori. Its a dish where simplicity really shines. All the pintxo consisted of was a slice of the ever-so tender octopus tentacle with a sliced steamed red potato. It was then finished off with some smoky pimenton, very coarse sea salt, and then drenched in a shower of the finest Arbequinia olive oil we had in house. It was the ‘Perfect Bite’. I’ve never had octopus with such luxurious and silky texture as Galician octopus.

Pulpo at Txori Bar.

Sadly, the days of getting Galacian Octopus is long gone as it is a very expensive product to import in. At the time, Txori was open, so it was easy to share the large amount of imported octopus between the two restaurants. But there has been some rumors floating around the restaurant that we actually might be thinking about getting some in so let’s cross our fingers!

Luckily, we are still able to get in some beautiful octopus and baby octopus from Atlantic waters that are just as delectable and tasty! There are so many ways that we can utilize the octopus and all of its part.We serve the octopus in many different variations from the classic Pulpo a la Gallega to using it in a alioli-bathed salad with white beans and chorizo. But what it all comes down to is how the octopus is cooked to make it into the most tender piece of meat ever!

Me and the 8 legged beast!

Cooking octopus is as easy as just putting it in a pot of boiling water and letting it simmer for hours until its tender. But there are a bunch of little things that we do to help make sure that our pulpo comes out as tender as it can get. One of the many myths of cooking octopus is the infamous red-wine cork in the water pot. I have heard from many different people as of why we put the cork in the pot. One reason why is that the tannins from the left over wine on the bottom of the cork helps break down the octopus. I have also heard that its actually the type of wood the cork is made from that helps with tenderizing of the octopus. All I know is that we throw it in and it works like magic!

Only one is needed!

We also use a 3 stage blanching process before we actually leave the octopus in the pot of water to simmer away. So what we do is we bring a pot of water with the wine cork to a boil and then we drop in the octopus. Of course the temperature of the water drops when we throw in the octopus so we then wait for it to come up back to a boil, then we remove the octopus. We then repeat this process 2 more times and on the last time, we leave the octopus in to simmer until its tender!

Our friend after the second time being dunked in hot water.

The way we can tell the octopus is done is by carefully pulling two tenticals away from each other and seeing if the connecting skin between the two legs carefully tear away from each other. It is very easy to over cook octopus, so you got to make sure you check it regularly after the first couple of hours. We then chill it and then portion the octopus for service!

Sectioned Octopus!

From here we are able to portion it any way want from cutting the tentacles into little medallions or to leaving them in larger pieces so they will hold up on the grill. The octopus head is actually one of the meatiest part of the animal so we save them up and then dice them up to use up in a salad for the menu or even for our pintxo, or amuse bouche.

At the Vine right now, we have the grilled pulpo on the menu. We dress the grilled tentacle with a nice marinade of pimenton, parsley, and olive oil and then serve it atop a smooth puree of chickpeas. It’s has the nice flavors of the traditional Pulpo a la Gallega but has that different touch with the nutty flavor and textures of the garbanzo puree.

My Sous Chef's, Allyss, beautiful plate of grilled octopus!