SS Gastronómika: A place to call home

I’d been looking forward to SS Gastronómika for years…

and for good reason.

SS Gastronomika is the time of year for great minds to come together and share their passion for food, whether they are wine producers from La Rioja, food journalists from Croatia, or renowned chefs from Peru. I have so much to share about the amazing three days I spent chasing Martín and Gabriella, listening to the world’s most influential chefs speak and tasting wines and jamón from Spain’s top purveyors. I can’t possibly fit all the details and stories in one post. So here is the first of many stories.

I’m often asked what it’s like to work alongside a three-star Michelin chef, especially the famed Martín Berasategui. “Isn’t he demanding? I hear he is difficult to please.” Yes and no. Yes, he demands the best of his employees and what Martín wants in the moment, he gets because you deliver. If he wants to eat callos now, you and five others better be scrambling to make him callos now. Extreme? Sometimes…but I’ve learned to roll with the punches and enjoy the scrambling or better yet, the scrambling of others.

Hehe, I say, because I have learned something that has taken most others years to figure out: Certain times call for necessary scrambling, but more often than not, we should all learn to relax. Keyword here. Heston Blummenthal, Grant Achatz and Gastón Acurio might chuckle at this comment, but because only because they too fall under the umbrella of ‘demanding’ chefs. I’m sure they also have trusted individuals with whom they work closely on a daily basis.

My thoughts? Martín hired me for my brain, [not just for my cat-like reflexes] so I have taken it upon myself  to learn to appease him in moments of stress or tension. As he always says, “No hay que preocuparse, hay que ocuparse” (Don’t worry yourself. Learn to deal). I ‘deal’ by creating solutions. All the time spent on those “critical thinking” math problems or SAT questions are coming in handy now. This type of thinking allows me to deliver results.

Back to Gastronomika. Example: We (Martín and I) were backstage preparing for him to go before an audience of hundreds and perhaps thousands once televised. With the world waiting and watching your every move, what you need most is to relax. Everything we had done this year to prepare for Gastronomika was evident in the videos and the next thirty minute presentation Martín was about to deliver. So I assured him, “Do what you always do: have faith in our work and our equipo (team). Share our work in the way that you do best, as if you were speaking with them one-on-one in the comforts of your home. This is San Sebastián Gastronomika. We’re at home here.”

And just as they say in País Vasco, beem-buhm-boom, en un splish-splash, the thirty minutes concluded with applause, hugs and more importantly, txakolí to rejoice backstage. No one knows but  even tears were shed afterwards. He may be demanding, and as I refer to him, an adamant jabalí (wild boar), but my Martín is human and little do you know, very capable capable of expressing emotion.

Gastronomika is THE event for chefs to showcase the culmination of this year’s hard work. So finding myself backstage high-fiving Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak and Gabriela after their presentation and later embracing my own mentor, Martín, felt the right way to celebrate my adventures of 2011 in San Sebastián, my home away from home.

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