swining and dining

Saturday, March 04, 2006

In search of pork...and then some

Okay, I must be a chef from LA because... "I 'B' bloggin!" This is virgin territory for me...I don't even read blogs. IR-regardless (that's for you CC and KS), here we go....

What is a culinary sabbatical? Is it a chef's excuse to "write off" trips around the world, another term for "I'm burnt out and need a break", or simply a big case of "cooking block" a la writers' block. For me... a little bit of everything...but more importantly its fulfulling a dream.

One of the most ask questions I've received is "How did you know you were going to be a chef?" Like some chefs, I had an epiphany at an early age, but it wasn't until my late 20's that I embraced this gift and started on this journey in becoming a chef.

So there I was, an eager-"I will be a Sous Chef when I graduate from Culinary School"-"I can cook anyone under the table"- Culinary Student. Reality Check!!!!!

Looking back at my life cycle of a chef: dreamer-culinary student-apprentice-prep cook-garde manger-line cook-saucier-asst. sous chef (aka. glorified line cook)-sous chef-chef de cuisine-executive chef-chef/owner.... I'm back to dreamer.

One of my chef friends compared us chefs, to "sharks"...to which only chefs understand each other and we that we are always looking for our next thing. There is a lot of truth in this...we are nomadic, unsatisfied, competitive and have an insatiable ego. I share this because it took me leaving my own restaurant to find the "next thing" better yet, myself once again.

Aside from culinary aspirations as a teenager, I always found myself dreaming of far away places, traveling, exploring, ...living. And now I have embarked on a journey of sorts....of food, inspiration, peace and love. Love? what is this I speak...I've learned for myself that being a chef is a relationship, I have shared with many culinary grads this virtue of mine. Like all relationships, we must continually find that spark, that fire, that smile, that "I can't live without you feeling", that.... you get the point. I love what I do...beyond explanation...beyond reason, but the key for me is balance....this sabbatical is about balance. How lucky am I to be in a profession that brings people together, that puts smiles and frowns (if they're on a diet) on people's faces, a profession that takes all five senses to create and receive.

Enough of that...lets get down to the food...because its all about the food. Those of you who know me and some who actually have dined with me can agree...I'm not menu shy (in other words, I'm not a 3 course meal guy)....I will share a few food stories in the future, but for now I'll start with Spain.

Espana...very dear to my heart, being Filipino American (I have Spanish roots) my early influences are my parents cooking, Filipino cooking, with lots of Spanish influences. As a child, Spain was the only place I wanted to visit when I got older, well life happens and it wasn't until this past January I finally got to go. Thus the first leg of my sabbatical, actually it was a "hanging out with my friend-hair up her ?%$-lets take off somewhere tommorrow-site 59-expedia searching till 4am-were going to Spain"-TRIP....bless her heart (I'm protecting the innocent by not naming her, but I did find out that her name pronounced with a certain
Spanish accent was a "BAAAAD WORD"...and yes I call her that now, as long as I'm five feet away)

Northern Spain, Basque Baby!!!! here we come. We all know about this tapas rage...we went to the "Holy Land".....immediatley after we arrived we (in the freezing rain) ventured into old town Bilbao and had our first experience of pintxos or tapas...we...sorry she researched (by the way not everyone is worthy on going on an eating trip with me...she held her own...and now I'm catching the flack from it if you know what I mean) We walked into this bar where they had plates of bite sized (for me of course) three bites for the amateurs...pieces of edible 'gold'. We stood at the end of the bar looking lost but hungry as the only english speaking person asked us what we wanted. We immediatley ordered Txacholi, a minerally white wine and placed an order for two of those and those and those and those..... Basically they were pieces of sliced french bread topped with an array of braised beef, baccalao, anchovies, roasted peppers, poahced quail eggs, cured salmon, chorizo, Spanish ham and Spanish tortilla. Oh yeah, they are on the honor system, you basically keep count on how many you have and then they charge you per piece...what a country! After the first few bites we knew the 14 hrs of travel time and snow in Paris (layover) was beyond worth it. We also looked at each other in amusement as patrons who ordered pintxos threw the napkins on the tiled floor as if it was a hotel bathroom. WOW!...how liberating was that. We continued and stopped at 3 other places that night with the same routine although varying our libation. Each place was half full (remember freezing rain and its about 1 am) but had these pinxtos all lined up, liken to a br0thel on payday. We had at least 3-5 pieces each (she didn't want to share so I ordered my own....I told you she held her own) Each pintxos was uniquely different and tasty. After our marathon pintxos event, we both concluded the first foray into Spanish cuisine a success.

The second day again saw us in the pintxos bars gobbling up more "tasties" before dinner, apparently Spaniards go to these bars for a drink and pintxos before dinner....thats right....after commenting to a new Spanish friend how much we loved this way of eating, he kindly informed us that it is customary to have 1 or 2 pieces, not the 3-5 "darwinianesque" shovling of food into mouth. OOPS...crazy Americans. Later that night we went to a Michelin 1-star restaurant called Zortiko in Bilbao. Michelin 1-Star!!!, Awesome, easily a four star US restaurant, we were going to a 3-star later that week. Obviously being a Chef, I have an affinity for the level of cuisine we strive for bck home....but truly, this meal we had was memorable and palate reviving. We ordered the tasting menu with wine suggestions from the young but capable Captain. His recommendations were right on....From the first course of grilled squid with ink ice cream, to the tomato and cheese ravioli with porcini espuma (foam), to the roasted baccalao with leek fondue, to the esquisite desserts, this meal left us with "the meaning of life"...in other words, the clarity to which I love cooking and dining was exclamated and resurrected. I think she had a few "moments" of her own during dinner. The chef's passion was so evident, the technique flawless, the flavors a symphony. Like "rock stars" we closed the place down @ 2am, met the chef and took a tour of the kitchen. At this point I was looking at apartment vacancies ready to move to Spain.

The next day was a trip to San Sebastian, making our way throught the snow ladened mountains to the beautiful seaside culinary capital of Spain. We got a late start, "food coma" you ask...try again, lets just say no last calls. Anyway we made our way to the old town portion of San Sebastian with its cobblestone streets and multiple pinxtos bars. Being the middle of the afternoon, the bars didn't have any pintxos ready but we conducted a reconassaince mission. Best move on our part, we walked by this bar with its windowed filled with lobsters, fish, Spanish ham, baccalao, olives....they had me at the Spanish ham. We waited till sunset as the bars opened, then found our way back to this place of epic "self promotion". Are you kidding me!!!!... imagine a 30 foot bar counter filled with 40 different pinxtos, I was on brain freeze....we threw out the customary 1-2 pieces and pretty much had dinner (we actually had dinner..details later) I went to town, she went to town, no words were spoken for a good half hour. She joined me at a table where I was indulging into tapas of sauteed squid in ink and braised tripe...God I love these people. I'm having flashbacks writing this piece. I was in love...again. I need a cig. Dinner still scheduled for 10pm. Details in the next posting

This being my first posting, I'm writing from Fiji, I still have to complete Spain and catch up until present day. I'm getting the hang of this "Bloggin"....or whatever this has turned into. Swine you later. (Cheesy...you gotta know me)


At 10:04 AM, Blogger 415BigDog said...

I really don't believe that you're out of town on a food sabbatical. I think you are sitting at home with some beer and pork rinds waiting for the NCAA brackets to come out! Where the proof? We need current pictures of what you are truly doing, eating, staying, etc....!!

Bow Wow
Big Dog

At 10:05 AM, Blogger 415BigDog said...

I really don't believe that you're out of town on a food sabbatical. I think you are sitting at home with some beer and pork rinds waiting for the NCAA brackets to come out! Where the proof? We need current pictures of what you are truly doing, eating, staying, etc....!!

Bow Wow
Big Dog

At 3:33 PM, Blogger rodelio aglibot said...

Yes I'm totally slumming in Riverside eating pork rings and watching last season's American Idol....you guys know me to well...I can pull anything off

At 4:50 PM, Blogger nitsuj said...

damn dude, you're living it up! fran passed your blog my way, i'll be living vicariously through your stomach the next few months. enjoy!



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