interview with athena thickstun, winner of basquestage

Today I had the opportunity to talk to the other chef-in-training recently awarded the stage in Basque Country in the kitchen of Martin Berasategui.

Athena Thickstun, 27

Culinary Student, Las Vegas, NV

Favorite pintxo: This will be my first time in the Basque region, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one…
Current ingredient obsession: Pumpkin. Around this time of year, it’s one of my favorite flavors.
Cookbooks du jour: I always seem to pick up Alain Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisine for inspiration. The pictures are beautiful, and I discover something new about it each time I pick it up.
Breakfast de aujourd'hui:A Danish and some coffee.


What was your immediate reaction upon hearing the news?
I didn’t believe it at first. I heard chef Berasategui say my name, and just kind of stared at the screen, then he said it again. I double-checked on Twitter really quickly, and it was indeed my name. I was so happy I actually cried. My parents had been watching back in Ohio as well, and my dad immediately called to congratulate me.
When did you first become interested in food?
 I’ve always liked food, and cooking. When I was young I would help my mother in the kitchen, baking pies, cookies, and bread for family gatherings. My father, brother and I would go camping, and make simple food by the campfire. When I moved out on my own, I cooked for myself and friends, trying recipes out of books and magazines, always adding my own little touches to them. I worked as a server, then a bartender for quite a while. At one of the restaurants I worked at, a fellow server and I started getting meeting up after work and cooking together, We were really experimental and did new things each night. 
What was your first kitchen job?
My very first kitchen job was at a Dairy Queen restaurant near my high school.
And what did you do?
I had a job decorating the ice cream cakes when I was 15. I learned how to make icing flowers and borders, and to use the airbrushing gun and melted chocolate to make different designs. I was an artist at heart, and they let me work whatever hours I wanted, because the cakes were so different and sold really well. 
Who do you count among your inspirations, chef or non-chef? Why?
I’m really inspired by Joel Robuchon, his food is impeccable. Also Thomas Keller, I love the French Laundry cookbook. And Martin Berasatagui, of course. 
What are you most looking forward to about Basque Stage?
It’s going to be an incredible learning experience, I’m very excited just to soak it all in. I’m also looking forward to trying some incredible Spanish food, especially the seafood!