One of the most beloved excursions at San Sebastian Food is the Basque Restaurant Cooking Experience. More than a ‘talk and chop’ this is a real adventure!
The fun begins with the journey. A private van whisks guests from the San Sebastian Food studio to the outskirts of town–don’t blink or you’ll miss Arzak–round the bend of Mount Ulia. At the port of Pasaia everyone walks the plank to embark on a brightly painted boat that appears to have come straight out of a Popeye cartoon!
The quick voyage navigates you across a channel through anchored skiffs and under steep green cliffs. The adorable hamlet of San Juan is waiting for you, with its brightly colorful homes and dancing waters. Hop off the boat and you’ll feel like a pirate walking along cobbled paths and under stone arches en route to the restaurant where the fun continues.
Right on the banks of port with incredible views stretching all the way out to sea, the restaurant has one of the most oceanesque dining rooms in the world. But there’s little time to get comfortable, after a rich Spanish coffee it’s off to the kitchen!
Chef Alex and his sous chef take the lead while a guide from San Sebastian Food jumps in for translations. It’s go go go from here on out. This is no joke, this is a real restaurant, this is a real kitchen and you are there to make the specials of the day!
“OK, look at the chalk board, because that’s what chef says is the freshest and what we’re going to do today,” said Ellie, our guide and translator. “And here are the ingredients.” Laid out on a stainless steel work bench were three of the world’s biggest crabs, a meter long fish with a grill of sharp teeth, piles of white asparagus, fresh anchovies, vegetables, herbs, spices and what was quite possibly the largest steak this food writer’s ever seen!
Most of the group broke up into pairs, some people decided to fly solo. A well-dressed Parisian woman excitedly called out, “I want to clean the anchovies! I’ve always wanted fresh Cantabrians.” She was on! Another student leaped for the pile of priceless fresh white Basque asparagus.
The chefs demonstrated everything to the group, how to clean the txipirones (local squid), how to break down the enormous hake, how best to handle delicate white asparagus from Navarra. Onions and garlic were fried, crabs were boiled and that massive sirloin was prepped with nothing more than salt, pepper and love. With ingredients this fresh, little manipulation is needed to coax the best flavors.
It was exciting, it was fast, it was fun and it was real. Everyone got hands-on and everyone got to try different things, from butchering, to frying and saucing, to drinking wine! The menu changes daily but in the end we made six different dishes including anchovies three ways, white asparagus salad, crab, a twist on traditional Basque marmitako stew with squid, merluza (hake) in green sauce and grilled sirloin. Impossible to leave hungry!
Before taking a seat at the communal table in the dining room a toast of Txakoli, the beloved local wine, is poured as the feast begins. More wine flows as the food, that YOU JUST MADE, comes out from the kitchen with beautiful presentation and flair. It is, without question, one of the best and most exciting lunches you will ever have!
After more wine, dessert, coffee and a sip of patxaran (the local liquor) and a little more wine it’s back on the boat to cross the channel and back in the van to San Sebastián just in time for siesta! It’s a delicious, fun and intense morning, and after a nap and a brisk walk you’ll be ready to hit the bars for more pintxos and more gastronomic adventures! Click here to sign up for the Basque Restaurant Cooking Experience!