As much as I love traveling around Basque Country, taking in the beautiful sights and eating some of the best meals of my life, I am actually here to work.
The Basque Stage, Sammic Scholarship gives young, aspiring chefs like me the opportunity to work with some of the best chefs in Spain, and the world. For the first part of my stage I’m working at three Michelin star Martin Berasategui. I’ve been there for almost two months now and I’ve had my share of ups and downs. But let me start from the beginning.
My first day was quite the shocker. My very first thoughts as I walked into the kitchen were: hot damn there are a lot of cooks here, wow this is a huge (and beautiful) kitchen, where do I go, what do I do? My mind was racing. I spent most of that morning standing around, waiting for instruction, observing, trying to familiarize myself with the kitchen, and just taking it all in. By the afternoon I was placed on the fish station, aka Pescados, which has a reputation as the strictest station in the restaurant.
My first impressions were not the best. There was a lot of yelling going on, which was to be expected. Most Michelin star kitchens are run like French kitchens. Also, it’s Europe so they do things very differently than in the states. Working in New York there are certain habits that are ingrained in me, things that I do instinctively, that don’t necessarily apply here. So it was a little difficult adjusting to the Spanish way of doing things. Speaking of Spanish, I could not understand a word anyone was saying to me! For the record I speak pretty decent Spanish, but Castellano and the Latin Spanish that I’m used to are totally different. There are cooks from all different parts of Spain and Latin America at Martin so no two people sound the same. One word can mean 5 different things, and one thing can have 5 different words to describe it, depending on who you’re talking to. It’s exhausting. Their order/fire ticket system is like nothing I’ve seen before. Add that to the speed at which they call the tickets, and the lack of clarity of the microphone system, I was so lost!
After every order is called, every command you’re given by your chef, or really any time you are spoken to, you must respond in a loud and clear “oido” which is the Spanish equivalent of “heard” or “oui chef.” Took me a while to get used to that.
That was week one in a nutshell. By week two I’d added about 50 new words to my Spanish vocab. I felt 110% more comfortable on the station and in the restaurant. I knew where everything was, the daily routine, my mis en place, and all the little nuances. I’ve come to accept the rather severe atmosphere, but also have found ways to sneak in a joke, a smile, and some fun every now and then. I’ve also come to find that even the most serious, and seemingly cold chefs are actually very helpful and genuine people. I’ve also gotten used to the intensity in which we do everything. No matter if we have 2 covers, or 50, we do everything as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sweeping and cleaning are no different. I swear I’ve never washed dishes so fast in my life.
My fellow practicantes (stages) are all very nice. They are a bunch of characters. We have people from all over: Portugal, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Mexico and of course Spain.
Nicknames are a must. They are usually based on where you are from; Portuga, Italia, Sevilla, Machu Piccho (that’s a good one). Naturally my first was Yankee. I believe the exact phrase was “move your yankee ass.” Nice huh?
I also have to say that even though we are ridiculously strict and intense at times, Pescados is the shit. We are the cleanest, fastest, most efficient station in the restaurant. I also think we have the best group of cooks. And when an order is called, the response is heard from our corner of the kitchen. A clear and resounding OIDO!