Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Home!

Come fly with me to new places on the Inter-Web!
Hi friends,

I'm now writing at

Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Quick Pic: Salmonete

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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quick Pic: Pintxos to share

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. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Martin Berasategui: First Impressions

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 here.

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 BasqueStage Marco 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 need steady 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 off!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Quick Pic: Here we go!

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...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quick Pic: The hills are alive...

...with sheep! I went for a run yesterday, and I had to snap some quick shots of these sheep on the green hills of Gipuzkoa.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First couple days in Pais Vasco

On Monte Urgull looking west, above Isla Santa Clara

I've been in the Pais Vasco for two days now, and I'm lucky enough to have this week off to get settled in my new surroundings.

I'm easing back into my Spanish (rusty and sprinkled with Italian). I'm wholeheartedly embracing the laid back approach to life at the moment, because I know once the kitchen gets going, it will be go-go-go until I can figure out how to tread water.

Below is my housemate and fellow BasqueStage recipient Elisha Ben-Haim. He cooked us dinner the last two nights, and he continues to surprise me with his fantastic photo poses.

"Belle Epoque? Or Art Deco?"

Fortunate to have a couple clear, sunny days, Elisha and I have made the most of our luck with two gorgeous strolls through the city. Here are some more shots from Bilbao and San Sebastian:

Pastries in Bilbao. The chocolate drizzled meringue really hit the spot.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Weathered storm doors at the ship yard in the Bahia de La Concha.

A house tiled with vibrant colors, reminiscent of fish scales shimmering just below the water's surface

The Basque fish monger is proud of his monkfish liver...

...and Basque children aren't afraid to touch it.

The promenade at the La Concha

Beautifully restored carousel from 1900, also at La Concha

A view through the trees of Monte Urgull back towards Gros, the beach with the surf break

Small kids, Big church.

Churros with rich hot chocolate: the perfect snack to warm up on a cold January evening.
I'm quickly falling in love with the Basque Country, for obvious reasons!

But there is work involved, and I'm also looking forward to that too. Next on the agenda:

A much-anticipated visit to the Sammic factory to get to know the sponsors of this awesome scholarship and learn more about their products. I previously hadn't heard of Sammic, but I'm now learning they make nearly every large piece of equipment needed in a professional kitchen, from blenders, mixers and meat grinders to immersion circulators and vacuum sealers.

In this video, Marco Bahena (my partner from last year's Pellegrino Almost Famous cooking competition) demonstrates how a Sammic Vegetable Prep Machine can make a cook's life a whole lot easier.

It's probably too late to say All I want for Christmas... 

This upcoming visit to the factory should be enlightening because we will meet the engineers who design tools to help us cook at a higher level. Photos to follow!

Also, we are planning a visit to Biarritz in France to see more of the Basque region. I have a feeling this visit will be especially taxing; there probably won't be any pastries or lovely scenery involved.

Thanks for reading. Agur from Lasarte...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A quick look homeward as I start my next adventure

I’ve just arrived in Lasarte-Oria, Guipuzkoa, a small town outside San Sebastian in the Basque Country. I  traveled for twenty-six hours through Dallas, Frankfurt, and Bilbao. Now I'm so tired, I can't sleep.

Yes, I’m tired, but mostly I’m excited. I’m thrilled for my new job, which I’ll start on Wednesday. I’m itching to go for a run through my new town. I’m dying to go grocery shopping and fill my refrigerator with vegetables, cheeses and txakoli wine.

I’m anxious too, because this level of cooking- three Michelin stars, in Europe, at a gorgeous, respected restaurant- is the highest level I’ve experienced in my career thus far. So how does this young cook deal with nerves? I’m telling myself that I can do it, and I’m thinking about all my wonderful experiences and supportive friends and family who have helped me get here.

So before I start this next adventure in earnest, I'll share some of the beautiful food moments from the past couple weeks. I’m so fortunate that my family embraces and celebrates food. I am fortunate to have friends who value food, and to come from a region that produces some of the best food in the world. 

Here’s a quick snapshot of my holiday meals.

My Ninong Tom carves the lechon for Noche Buena. Roast pig...mmmmm

My father and my uncle, making our traditional Swedish pancake breakfast on Christmas morning

The gorgeous fruits of their labor with the mandatory Lingonberry sauce

Christmas dinner is my grandfather's recipe: garlic-studded, bacon-wrapped rib roast.

Mise en place often involves champagne right up in there with the brussel sprouts.

The Selby men attend to the festive colors of the dining table

Carving the roast, which was a little overdone this year. Chickie wouldn't have been pleased!

With Mama and my friend Caroline at my send-off dinner last week

Just before opening the buffet with Pantesca salad, kale Caesar, risotto, veal breast and lasagne.

That's the last collection of photos from home. For the next six months, it’s going to be all new surroundings, all new faces, and all new challenges.

Stay tuned! Good night...