Basque Chefs Tour

Published here in Astero Sept. 6 2006 by John M. Ysursa, NABO Facilitator.  Neither NABO or the Basque Government is responsible for the following content.

Basque food is now famous.  It was not always this way, but nowadays it is some of the most celebrated food in Western Europe. The Basques of California get a special treat this month as two professional chefs are touring the three communities with clubhouses giving cooking workshops--and of course tastings! 

Fact #1 is that most of us love to eat, and we love it even more when we get to eat good food.  Fact #2 is that Basque food is now famous.  It was not always this way, but nowadays European Basque cuisine is some of the most celebrated food in western Europe.  Put these together, and the Basques of California get a special treat this month as two professional Basque chefs are touring the three communities with clubhouses (Chino, Bakersfield & San Francisco) giving cooking workshops--and of course tastings!  Thanks to the support of the Basque Governmnet of Euskadi which funded the airline tickets for the chefs, and three Basque clubs that are transporting and hosting them, participants have a great opportunity to sample some fine Basque cuisine.

The initiative to have these chefs here was the result of a series of meetings back in January between NABO and Basque Government representatives. The discussions included brainstorming about how to facilitate some new events and to get/keep people coming to the Basque clubhouses.  The three California clubs with buildings agreed to host this first-time experiment over the first three weekends of September 2006 (Chino, Bakersfield & San Francisco in that order).

Our two visiting Basque chefs Santi Ramirez and Aitor Etxebarria, both of whom are instructors at the Chefs School of Gamarra (Vitoria-Gastiez, Araba) put together some fine food that left the participants super-satisfied.  They put together various "pintoxak."  Also known in Spanish as "tapas," these bite-size portions of various foods, each with a special twist, can be taken as a snack or combined to make a full meal.  Hegoalde (southern side/Spanish) Basques have dinner late, between 9 and 11pm, and often go on a "txikiteo" (bar hopping) sampling pintxoak accompanied by drinks following work and before going home.  In recent years this ritual has yielded some extraordinary creations by many tavern keepers.

In workshops that went from two to three hours, dozens of these samples were passed among the participants following an introduction of each that included some pointers of how to prepare them.  And for the ambitious, recipes were also distributed so they could try to make some at home.

American vs. European versions of Basque cuisine
Basque home cooking is of course good, as is the food prepared at the many Basque-American restaurants here in the United States, but the Basque cuisine in this article references the style of food prepared in the European homeland that is made available at some of the finer restaurants there.  This style of cuisine enjoys a renowned reputation, both in Europe and many other corners throughout the world.  Basque dishes are not long on elaborate sauces or spice combinations; instead the excellence derives from the use of high quality, local ingredients that are in season.  Combining these with a preparation that enhances rather than masks the natural flavor of the food, one is treated to an extraordinary culinary experience.

While the European and American versions of Basque cuisine share much in common, there are some differences between the characteristic Basque cuisine of Euskal Herria and what we are accustomed to here as being Basque food.  Meat represented a regular staple of the traditional American diet, yet the same did not apply in the Basque Country.  European Basque cattlemen and sheepmen had more difficulty acquiring ample pasture for their livestock in the narrow mountain valleys and plains.  The result was higher prices but also leaner, tastier meats that while short on quantity delivered high quality.  Pork livestock equally plays an important and often surprising part in traditional Basque cuisine. 

While the earth provided limited resources in the European homeland, the sea offered more abundance.  Seafood is what accentuates European Basque cuisine.  It is these recipes that have garnered international fame.  The varied assortment of North Atlantic fish is simply broiled or prepared in one of the many notable sauces that typify traditional Basque cuisine.  Then to round out the meal, there is always an ample supply of bread, some good wine and cheese for dessert.

Basque-American restaurants incorporate elements of this European tradition with their American context.  There are various reasons for this; e.g., lamb is a Basque favorite here because of the traditional importance of the sheep industry in the history of the Basques (click on A1.4  Basque License Plate).  Lamb is usually the main entree at most Basque picnics.  In addition, American cuisine has always accented meats and Basque-American restaurants adapted themselves to their clientele.  Finally, the “family-style” serving derives from the Basque-American tradition of the boarding houses.  The hearty platters of food were readily consumed by the young Basque immigrants who earned their living with long hours and arduous work.  Thus the American context added new elements, but traditional staples remain. 

Low maintenance chefs
Chefs Santi and Aitor began their cooking tour in Chino Labor Day weekend in conjunction with the local 39th annual Basque picnic, and then from there headed north to Bakersfield where they will put on three more workshops for the Kern County Basque Club; following that they go to San Francisco where they will do the same for the Basques of that community.  As an added bonus, the chefs are joined in each community by the visiting European Basque band "Holako." Both are impressive chefs--they are very good indeed at cooking--but beyond the fine food they prepared, they were just great to have around. 

See there are two kinds of people in the world:  low maintenance and high maintenance.  The low maintenance folks are easy-going, go with the flow, and they are more likely to solve a problem than make one.  Meanwhile, the high-maintenance types are the opposite, and I think you know exactly the kind of people I'm talking about because we all know some.  The catch is that most high-maintenance people don't think they are high maintenance, so that is what compounds the problem.  In this case, we got double-lucky in drawing not just two great chefs but they were also low maintenance!

In Chino, for example, after being assisted by Steven Gamboa to acquire the best local ingredients, they went to work all day to prepare the foods.  This way, after introducing each of the pintxos, they were able to bring out several trays of the food all at once.  This gave the participants instant gratification which was nice after seeing how good it all looked in preparation.  Then they even jumped in and did their own dishes!  Now when was the last time you saw that one?  They were always flexible and went with the flow during the Basque picnic weekend.  Here they were working for us in a sense, since they received no payment for their services (as mentioned above the Basque Government paid the airfare then each hosting club covered the local expenses), but they even insisted on cooking their hosts in Chino a "thank-you" dinner (and yes I was at the table--it was a great steak and paella meal)!

The joint efforts of the Basque Government and the three Basque clubs of Chino, Bakersfield and San Francisco made possible something truly extraordinary.  The hope is that something like this can be repeated in the future through other Basque communities.  These two chefs showed why it is that Basque food today is rightfully famous, and furthermore they helped to show why Basques are good people to have around.

Some of the Basque chefs' recipes:



- cream cheese.

- Garlic, parsley, and black pepper.

- Anchovies in oil.

- Walnuts

- Sandwich bread.

- cream.


1. mix the cream cheese with the cream until a creamy paste; mix in the minced garlic, finely chopped parsley, and black pepper.

2. spread the mixture on slices of bread and stack one on top of another. Remove the crusts from the bread and cut into 3 portions. Decorate each with the walnut and an anchovy.



- fresh tuna (bonito).

- potato

- onion

- green pepper.

- tomato

- reconstituted dried "California" chiles (Pimiento choricero).

- Bread crumbs.



with the remains of the tuna we make a fish stock (reserve for later use)
finely chop the onion and green pepper, and then saute until tender.
then add the peeled potato, chopped tomato, and pulp from the dried chiles.
cover with the fish stock and leave to boil until the potatoes are cooked.

1. Skewer the pieces of tuna on wooden skewers; after seasoning, toss them in bread crumbs and reserve.

2. place the marmitako in a blender to obtain a very light cream sauce.

3. place the marmitako cream sauce in individual recepticles, and after frying the tuna skewers, insert them.

4. Decorate with finely chopped parsley.



- mushrooms.

- shrimp.

- Garlic and parsley.

- Creamy mayonaise (lactonesa?).

- Olive oil.


clean mushrooms and remove stem, and grill.
saute the shrimp with garlic and parsley.
we finish the pintxo placing the sauteed shrimp on the mushroom and sprinkling with the creamy mayonaise and finely chopped parsley.



- monkfish.

- Shellfish cream sauce.

- flour, egg.

- Parsley.


Clean the monkfish and slice into medalions that we then dip into beaten flour and beaten egg and then fry.
place the medalions on slices of french bread and then cover with the shellfish cream sauce.



- potato.

- onion.

- Green peppers.

- eggs.

- French bread


finely chop the potatoes, onion, and green pepper, and saute in abundant olive oil.
once the vegetables are cooked, mix into the scrambled eggs and this mixture is partially cooked in a hot pan.
place the partially cooked over thinly sliced bread, wrap and finish by toasting in the oven.



- Pigs feet.

- Onion, carrot, leek

- Bread crumbs, egg

- Red onion.

- Olive oil


cook the pigs feet with the onion, leek, and carrot until soft (4-5 hours).
Let the pigs feet cool, and while still warm remove all the meat and reserve in a casserole mold. Refrigerate the molds until the meat becomes a solid, compact block.
Once solidified, we cut the meat into sticks and bread them.
Slowly saute the red onion until caramalized.
Place caramelized red onion on a slice of french bread, and then place the fried breaded pigs feet stick.
Decorate with caramel-balsamic vinager sauce..


Sableaux dough.


- 1 egg.

- ½ kg flour.

- 300 grams butter

- 150 grams powdered sugar


1. Mix without working the egg and sugar and then incorporate the butter and flour

2. let the dough rest in a cold place.

Pastry Cream.


- 1 litre milk.

- 200 gr. sugar.

- 90 gr corn starch.

- 4 egg yolks.

- Lemon zest and cinnamon stick.


Infuse the milk with the lemon peel and cinnamon
Mix the egg yolks with the sugar and corn starch
3. pour the eggs mixture into boiling milk and raise to a boil again.

4. pour the mixture into a wide container to cool completely

Putting it together.

1. extend the dough to cover baking sheet; pour the pastry cream inside. Cover the top with more Sableaux dough.

2. bake in a low over for approximately 1 hour.






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