behind the scenes: cooking in a txoko

Just like a football player dreams of playing the superbowl and an artist longs to exhibit in New York galleries, chefs secretly desire to cook a meal in a Basque gastronomic society. These mythic groups of Basques, famed for their culinary talent, are typically groups of men that share a communal dining/eating space (for a basic primer, click here). The one pictured below is tucked deep in the old part of Donostia-San Sebastián, up a steep cobblestone hill, with a view of the fronton and Calle 31 de Agosto.

 And, a few nights ago, I helped my friend Tracy cook dinner for some of its members.

Tracy planned the menu for some of the folks connected to her future position at Martin Berasategui.  Jamón and cheese to start, a fresh bouillabaisse with bread + aioli next, and a squid ink risotto to finish. She so graciously invited me to accompany her to the gastronomic society and help her cook.

tracy's prep list

my prep. and wine.

cleaning dorado for bouillabaisse

i love you. you are pimientos del piquillo, and i love you.

aioli on the fly. by me. so yummy.


So, after a couple hours of cooking and highly enjoyable conversation with these guys, we finally sat down at our table. Awaiting us was the best bread in Donosti, salty Spanish ham, cheese, and red wine. The bouillabaisse sparked a debate about The Lost Art of Soup in Spanish Cuisine and What's Wrong With Spanish Children These Days (as any good seafood soup should do). And scooped onto aforementioned bread slathered with aioli, it ended the debate just as quickly. Because its impossible to talk with so much good food in your mouth.

Then the inky risotto with the oh-so-tender calamari, whose membranes had all been hand-peeled off by yours truly (Xabier helped) to keep them nice and tender. These bright, fresh txipirones were a species apart from your typical rubbery, chewy calamari.  Such a simple meal, but leave it to the ingredients from this stinkin paradise to steal the show (which prompted another debate about Why Spanish People Are Absolute Wimps When It Comes To Spicy Food).

Then, after a sherry tasting (manzanilla=no. oloroso seco=sí.), tossing our dishes in the sink, tallying up our consumptions, and a kiss on each cheek, it was off to the cobblestone streets on another rainy San Sebastián night.