It's the second week of the BasqueStage, and I'm trying to keep my head above water at Martin Berasategui. I'm currently working on the partida de pescado, the fish station.
Most of my responsibilities thus far have been prep work- cleaning squid, breaking down chickens for family meal, and folding squid ink raviolis (think of wrapping a cold, slippery Christmas present for a Lilliputian).
However, today I caught a glimpse of the Salmonete dish: roasted red mullet, crispy scales, white chocolate, and wakame. Colors, contrasting tastes, what a gorgeous plate. Long hours and prep work aside, this is why I'm here.
Pintxos (PEEN-chos) are Basque bar bites, small portions of food to grab with txakoli (a white, slightly bubbly wine made here in the Pais Vasco) or a beer for a casual meal. Much like tapas in the rest of the Iberian peninsula, pintxos are the Basque equivalent of fish and chips, wings or nachos, just with top quality ingredients. Meant to be a leisurely meal while standing with friends, pintxos are as much about the culture of eating as the dishes themselves.
Clockwise, from top left: carpaccio with arugula, pinenuts and Parmesan cheese; bocadillos de Jamon Serrano on perfectly crunchy baguettes; left, pulpo a la plantxa- grilled octopus- and right, txipirones (CHEE-pee-rone-es) - mini fried squid; and pintxo de champis- bread, bacon and mushroom towers, a savory skewer that prompts you to- ahem- order another round.
I’ve just finished a Sunday lunch shift at MB, preceeded by
lunch and dinner shifts on Saturday. Since the restaurant is closed on Mondays
and Tuesdays, I find myself with some time to reflect on my new job and my role
The first thing I noticed about this kitchen: the sheer
number of people working here. Numbers-wise, we would be very close to a
football team: offense and defense, special teams, kickers, coaches,
coordinators and trainers. Once
everyone is in motion, it can be difficult to find your way through the tangle
of people. However, the good thing is: there is always someone to ask if you
need a hand with a task, or if you don’t know where something is.
I chose to start on the fish station; previous BasqueStageMarco Bahena had told me the Chef de Partida there was the most demanding. I
figured if I could make it on the fish station, I would be able to make it on
the other stations as well. This logic of starting with the toughest boss may
or may not work out. I have seen more than a few serious tongue-lashings for
offenses ranging from talking too much to improperly chopped parsley.
Yesica concentrates on the raviolis.
For the past two days, I have worked with Igor (from Bilbao)
and Yesica (from Argentina), on the Squid Ink Raviolis. To assemble this pouch
of shaved squid filled with tinta de calamar,
you needsteady hands, a
miniature offset spatula, and the patience of an origami professional.
Intricate and frustrating, while also imaginative and beautiful, these ravioli
probably will remain my task for the next week; after seven straight hours of
folding these packets, I’m starting to get the hang of it.
En total, it’s a
whole new world here. Elisha and I are used to skeleton crews in shoebox
kitchens in labor-cost-conscious New York City. I think next week we’ll really
get a feel for the ebb and flow of service here. While it’s taxing and at times
intimidating, it’s exciting to be in a completely new environment.
Now I’m going to eat pintxos
and drink txakoli- tomorrow is my day
Tomorrow will be my first day at Restaurante Martin Berasategui. After stopping by the kitchen to talk to the chef de cuisine and a few chefs de partie, I snapped this shot of the copper nameplate that greets guests as they walk up the stairs to the dining room. Let the games begin...