Para ser universal, hay que ser local. Joan Miró
When I arrived at the Basque Culinary Center (BCC) in Donostia (San Sebastián) on Monday, I felt like I was penetrating a Bond-movie clandestine lair. First, a little background.
On Mondays, Nerua is closed to the public. This is our day of rest (dia de descanso) except if the restaurant hosts a private event. I have never savored a day off so much as I have since starting at Nerua. We work hard. Really hard. But I love it – I have to be ON at all moments, and the occasional lows (the egg yolk and vanilla cream siphon malfunction during service) are balanced by exhilarating highs. Still, the body gets physically exhausted. You’re on your feet all day, lifting crates of vegetables, scrubbing surfaces multiple times until they shine, hefting plates, chop-chop-chopping, and lugging a juicer across the kitchen so you can remove the white stems, wash, blanch, ice bath, dry and liquify (3x) 4 kilos of Swiss chard leaves every day, sometimes twice a day, to make the juice that will be served with the 24 pieces of peeled white asparagus stems and 3 asparagus heads. Plus the hours can be brutal. Most days are 9:30 to 5, then a second shift from 6:30 to 12, give or take. I laugh when I consider the days of working at the law firm and being frustrated about not arriving home by 8PM.
When I learned that our culinary courses would be held on Mondays and that would entail waking up at 6AM to catch a bus to Donostia and then catching an intracity bus to the BCC, my initial reaction was heavy eye-rolling. Quickly I shut down my mini pity party and reminded myself: this is why you’re here; and you’re taking courses at a world-renowned culinary center (read: quit yer bitchin’). And the first day of classes confirmed my high expectations.
BCC is located in Donostia’s Miramón Technology Park. The building, designed by Vaumm Architects, is shrouded in lush green and looks out upon panoramic views of the city center and Cantabrian Sea below.
The first class was an introduction to the program. The other stagiaires and I watched a short film about BCC that featured some of the regions most heralded chefs. One of the messages that resonated most with me was that our industry is about more than just feeding people – we’re affecting their health, sharing with them local and seasonal products, serving them culture. The class also covered basic themes such as: what is molecular gastronomy and culinary urban legends (the avocado pit WILL prevent your refrigerated guacamole from turning brown, but only if the pit is unharmed; you can also use other antioxidant-rich products such as lemon juice or parsley). The second class addressed food safety and storage, and uninspiring as that may sound, I found myself fully engaged and posing hypotheticals about defrosting chicken in a microwave (okay to do, although flavor will suffer and you must cook immediately).
To round off my culinarily rich day in Donostia, I met friends for pintxos of grilled foie with caramelized onions and balsamic redux at a nondescript bar, followed by a drink at a random sidewalk café. Looking forward to returning to BCC for day two of classes next Monday. Vamos!