Missiles of light shot up from the hills across the river and above the city and exploded in the night. Some hung in the air like glowing white palm trees before disintegrating into nothing. Some flashed huge across the sky in reds and blues then disappeared instantly. With a bottle in my tote bag and a cup of wine in my hand, I stood amongst the crowd in Plaza Nueva and watched the fireworks of “semana grande” – the annual week-long celebration in Bilbao. Stores closed so that their owners could take part in the festivities. All bars offered to-go cups of kalimotxo (you know, coke and cheap red wine). Restaurants had special takeaway menus for passersby. Presentations and dances and concerts took place in different venues throughout the city, day and night. And each night at 22:45, the whole city stopped to watch the fireworks.
It seems fitting that semana grande coincided with the end of my internship at Nerua. The culmination of a life experiment punctuated with a week of celebration.
Now that it’s over, I’ve been reflecting on the experience and how it contributed to my development – professional and personal. I learned a lot about working in the kitchen of a top restaurant … the intensity, the adrenalin, the repetition, the discipline and the meticulousness of food preparation. I have an increased reverence and respect for the guys and girls who have the passion and energy to work in restaurants every day for weeks, months or years of their lives.
I learned the best ways to prepare vegetables and how to make stocks and sauces. I learned the proper temperatures for cooking meats and fish and how they should look and feel when finished. I picked a shit-ton of herbs.
I learned about myself. In my relaxed state, I am somewhat of a daydreamer, and in the kitchen this can render me “dangerous”, as I was called by one of the bosses after bumping into someone and causing a tiny lamb chop to hit the floor. But I also have reserves of energy at times when I feel depleted, and when my mind tells me that we might not be able to carry on, my body can continue if I just focus on one task at a time. There are some things I do well and others that just don’t come naturally to me (e.g. speed). There are people with whom I work well and others whose temperaments I find intolerable – but those ones, in the latter group, they taught me valuable lessons too. Patience. Humility. When you recognize the faults in others, you don’t have to be the one to teach them the right way to act. Compassion. You can be harsh and insulting in the kitchen in order to achieve results, but you don’t have to be – you can also be encouraging and explain clearly what has to be done. Support. If you feel like the world is against you and have lost hope that conditions will improve, just one ally, one person who gets it, can make all of the difference.
It is hard to believe that months ago I was sitting on the NYC subway, commuting from Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan, daydreaming about having this experience, and now it has come to an end. Over. But I’m trying to be less sentimental about things, as I find it’s a waste of time and emotions to get all fussed up every time a chapter ends. I’m moving forward, onto a new culinary adventure, and I’m motivated to cook and blog and work better – more efficiently, more precisely – than before.
Today I decided to cook churros, like the ones that were selling in a little stand around the corner from my apartment during semana grande …
… except with a me twist – dipped in chocolate hazelnut sauce, rather than the typical molten chocolate. Cocinamos!
Chocolate Hazelnut Sauce
100 grams raw hazelnuts
30 grams sunflower oil
1 bar semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup whole milk
Roast hazelnuts until golden brown. Remove skins by rubbing the hot hazelnuts together in a paper towel. When still hot combine with sunflower oil using handblender or food processor, as in the recipe for roasted almond butter. Jar and set aside.
Prepare a bain-marie or baño maria (heat-safe container secured above a pot of boiling water) for the chocolate. Add chocolate and when melted, stir in milk until mixture is smooth. Remove mixture to another saucepan and mix in roasted hazelnut butter to taste (depending on how nutty you want it).
Ta-da! Homemade nutella.
1 cup flour
3 cups water
vegetable or sunflower oil
Boil water in a medium-sized saucepan. In a seperate bowl, sift flour and mix with a couple pinches of fine salt. Pour boiling water into flour mixture. Mix with a fork, lifting the fork in the shape of a cross from one side to the other until the dough is consistent. Fill another saucepan with a generous amount of oil and heat over medium-high until oil begins to boil, then lower heat. Spoon the dough into a pastry sleeve with a star-shaped nozzel. Stream dough into hot oil, using a knife or scissor to pinch off end. Repeat a few times. Move churros around in oil to prevent them from sticking to saucepan or browning on one side. When churros are golden, remove to paper towel to absorb oil, then to a clean plate. Option: roll in sugar or cinnamon when churros are still hot. Or move on to chocolate hazelnut sauce and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cacao powder. Buen provecho!
Spanish Hipster has some fantastic snaps of the new restaurant where I will be working, Mina.
Up and coming blogger, my niece, Scarlett Lillian, who just began 4th grade.