Real Sociedad

Courtesy of Sammic, Athena and I had the rare opportunity to attend a Real Sociedad (THE fútbol team of Gipuzkoa) match against their rivals, Osasuna (Pamplona). You’d think in a small province in Basque country, a local fútbol match would draw in a decent crowd, but a full house? Note the spectators sitting on the stairs and above the nose-bleed seats. There are some hardcore fútbol fans out here, Martín included!


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Working the Line

I had spent the first two weeks at Restaurant Martín Berasatégui observing lunch and dinner services, noting every slice, scoop and pivot in each micro-station within my pescado partida.  I consider myself an apt observational learner and told my impatient self, “Your turn will come in due time. Learn now from the triumphs and failures of others so maybe later, you won’t drop the ball.”

On the other hand, there’s no knowing until you [physically] do. So finally, I did. Last week I had the opportunity to work the line, to prove myself as a chica in the kitchen. The pescado partida is testosterone-heavy and to infiltrate the male hierarchy is nearly impossible as it is based on seniority. Meritocracy has little weight in any of the partidas. Lucky for me, Sammic beca + Asian charm have some leverage and I wriggled my way between the plancha (grill) and the foam micro-stations. I figured even if I can’t eliminate male chauvinism, at least I can show what this girl is made of: hustle, accuracy, resilience.

Aire de Espardeña (Sea Cucumber Air)

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First Impressions

Ah, finally le weekend (monday and tuesday for me) has arrived. It’s been a long but fantastic first week at Restaurante Martín Berasatégui, now aptly dubbed “El Castillo” (The Castle). I’ve been learning so much I don’t even know where to begin. The food, the management, the people, the singing, the passion, the movements, the aromas…the more I learn, the less I know. The entire, magical experience of being here every day and spending the 80+ hours at the restaurant fuels my curiosity and tickles my mind. I can’t get over how intellectually stimulating this is. Woosh! Okay, let’s focus on these bits.

The Jefes, The Management, King Arthur and his knights:

I’m referring to the top dogs at Restaurante Martín. Did you know they congregate around a [rectangular] table in the middle of the kitchen? Genius setup. This is the hub of power, intellect, decades of experience. From here the jefes (chefs/bosses) can see and manage their teams during prep and also congregate to review details of the day’s work. It’s also their gathering place for meals, guest diners and fútbol viewing. Yes, you heard me right. There is a huge LED televisión in the kitchen and Martín puts on the fútbol action every night. iEpa! Again, genius. Another reason why he is the King.
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The First Days [of our lives]

This is the end of day two at Martin Berasategui’s 3 star michelin restaurant in Lasarte, Spain. I’m exhausted and have to wake up early so here’s a short recap:

We arrived with Amaia of Sammic to Martin’s restaurant. Unfortunately he was away at Madrid Fusion for our first day. No biggy because we’re supposed to mingle and blend in with the rest (probably 60 or so) stages (kitchen vocab for intern). Unlike the other stages, Athena and I were allowed to pick our stations. I chose pescado (fish) and she, meat (carne). I was tempted to pick pastelería (pastry) but I was just in Paris for pâtisserie so I figured I’d jump back in the water for some fish action (my last ‘swim’ was at o ya in April 2010).

Surprisingly, for day 1 I was allowed to do a lot! Holy mackerel, I’m allowed to actually touch fish? Maybe I have a trusting face? No idea but my day consisted of: breaking down monkfish (de-skin, remove eyeballs, remove bones and hack up in quarters, and de-gut), stacking rectangles of portioned squid, chopping and weighing vegetables for mise en place, de-boning red mullets, breaking down pigs’ tails and cleaning. I thought I was just going to observe everything and take notes but I got my hands dirty. And fishy. Oh boy! I was so busy I unfortunately did not get to watch service.

For lack of photograph:

fishy monkfish

Or you can google ‘monkfish’ and see how creepy they really look. Imagine prying open that nasty, slimy, fishy mouth and cutting out the jaw. Yup. Been there, done that.

Today, day 2, we made squid ink ravioli. While this may sound simple because I’ve made pasta before and I make chinese dumplings all the time, it is not. We took the stacked squid from yesterday, froze it and shaved it thin to create ravioli ‘skins.’ The thin-shaved squid resemble rice-paper material: translucent, sticky and necessitating time and patience to work with because is so delicate. The fillings were the frozen, molded squid-ink emulsion we had made earlier today. Basically we took a small block of frozen ink, the size of a boxy truffle, and wrapped it inside squid paper like a present. Steady hands, mini-raised spatula and patience are three key ingredients as well. Oh, and two Asian girls. It was frustrating at first but a few boxes later the chefs were calling me a professional. I’ve wrapped more squid ink in an afternoon than I can presents in a lifetime. And it reminded me of pastry because it required scrupulous attention to detail and fine craftsmanship…oh butter, how sweet you smell compared to monkfish…can you tell I’m planning moves to pastelería next and it’s only day 2? Jajaja.

Oh and for dinner service, Martin returned back from Madrid fusion. He had a meal inside the kitchen dining area with a few friends. Having looked only at squid ink raviolis for the extent of my evening, it was nice to look up from the dishes at the end of service and see Chef Martin smiling and waving to me. He gave me a big thumbs up and said “Sammic!” Then we talked about Japanese knives for a while. It’s humbling to see a chef shake his stages’ hands at the end of the night and chat like buddies. Here’s to many more nights.

Sammic Headquarters

Today we hopped in the car and took a drive up and down the winding hills and valleys to the Sammic headquarters in Azkoitia, a small town and coincidentally the same one where St. Ignatius of Loyola’s mother was born, for all you BC folks reading. The facilities were impressive to say the least, from the foundry to the server room–spotless!

Surprisingly, Sammic produces a lot of their equipment from raw materials to finished goods. We toured the foundry and watched workers pour hot, melted aluminum into molds:


After the aluminum was allowed to cool and set, the piece would be handcrafted to perfection. Notice the attention to detail:

Dough hooks

Besides episodes of “How It’s Made“, I’ve only seen production channels like these in China, except a lot more hazardous, inefficient and plenty more waste, perhaps attributed to poor management or difficulties associated with large-scale manufacturing. The workers at Sammic appeared to execute with speed and precision. They produce in lower volume batches, allowing for more fine-tuning as well as time for the research and development team to run sample tests. iQue bueno!

For such a young company (celebrating their 50th year anniversary this year), Sammic has come a long way in a short time. Check out these modern [large scale] potato peelers:

Para las Patatas

We will soon have the opportunity to use and test some of Sammic’s equipment in Chef Martín Berasatégui’s kitchen. How exciting! Having worked in tiny kitchens no bigger than the arm-span of space around me, I am new to operating large gadgets and machinery. Ah, the wonders of technology. This shall make for interesting button-pressing and lever-pulling. But in all seriousness, this is the inner-business-woman speaking, it will be an eye-opening experience to see how a 3-star michelin restaurant operates backstage, using various technologies such as Sammic equipment to improve its operations.

Chef Martín has been using Sammic equipment for many years. In fact, Martín’s relation with the company dates back to before he was even born. His uncle used to work for Sammic. Can you pick him out?


After our Sammic visit we headed to the hills for lunch at Anota Sidrería, a nearby cider house. The view was stunning:

The Hills Are Alive

I foresee many a sidrería visit in my near future where hopefully, I will be able to document quality pictures of the sidra barrels and the glass-filling technique. For now, here is a shot of Guillermo pouring us sidra:


One more day of ‘vacation’…then I’m in the kitchen. Practicing my best, obedient “Si, Chef!”

Martín Berasategui, here I come!

Hurrah! I’ve been selected for the Sammic scholarship to stage in Restaurante Martín Berasategui in Lasarte, Spain next year!

Aunt Pearl, Chef Martín y Yo

You can’t tell from this pre-announcement picture, but I’m thrilled! Muchas gracias to all my friends who encouraged me to apply and helped me along the way and also to the jurors for believing in me. iNos vemos pronto!

More to come…