First Event with Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz from Mugaritz

Nothing goes together quite like food, friends and song and our friends at Mugaritz proved this during ChefXchange’s Premier event at the Sociedad Gastronomika Gaztelubide in Donosti, San Sebastian, Spain. The attendees for this event had flown in from around the world for the Dig Eat All accelerator with people from Australia, Hong Kong, Colombia, USA, Thailand, Finland and of course Spain coming together around one long table filled with the creations of two Michelin star chef Andoni Luis Aduriz’s team at Mugaritz Restaurant, ranked number 6 in the world’s top restaurant rankings.

The locale was one of many exclusive culinary societies that house the whose who of Basque society. This particular society dating back to 1934 was a trove of historical and endearing artifacts and history. Men from Basque society have gathered here for decades to fill the hall with laughter, music and good times. Our night was to challenge the best of nights these halls have seen, and for a short few hours we rocked the house.

The city was already buzzing with the energy of Bandera De La Concha, a yearly regatta where teams from around Spain descend upon San Sebastian to compete for pride in this amateur event. Thousands of people lined the beaches, mountains and boats surrounding the spectacle. In the aftermath of the race the entire city’s population poured into the streets to celebrate and parade around the town in what has been deemed one of the largest holidays and events that the beautiful Atlantic coastal town holds each year.

In the aftermath of the Regatta, the vibrancy of the throng was palpable with a general buzz over the entire city as thousands of people in pubs restaurants and on the streets celebrated, sang, ate and partied. And that energy only grew in intensity as the day turned to night. It climaxed when our small gastronomic society became the last establishment left in the city with its doors open.

The hall was adorned with pictures of past triumphs. Pictures of members from days gone by, flags forgotten and emblems from competitions, now faded and grey from the light on their canvas. Two horned antlers perched on either side of the large arched entryway to the kitchen. They seemed to ward off anyone who may not belong in the kitchen (which, according to history was women). Streaming white and blue triangular flags draped from chandelier to post, from post to wall, like a net that has caught us all and would not soon free us from its joyous entanglement. Wood wainscoting worked its way halfway up the yellow walls surrounding the great hall, while pillars of wood stood like oak trees supporting the trussed yellow and wood roof. The place had a homeliness of a hall that was used often and for much merrinment. It felt like a familiar favorite restaurant where your table was always ready for you and your friends were always waiting. It felt like home.

The dinner started with a song. Not just any song but a song sung in a deep baratone voice by a very big Spaniard. You could hear the bellows reverberating through the narrow streets and walkways outside as you neared the society. And with the warmth of the faux candlelight you could not help but be attracted to it like a moth to flame. At once completely mesmerized and at the same time involuntarily pushed to not only sing along but also start to move your feet and shake your hips. The voice emanated from none other than our Chef Andoni’s 6’3” Brother-in-law. Not only impressive in size but in his ability to fill a room. He was accompanied by another man who kept time on his guitar, a soundtrack that would continue throughout the rest of the night, although the actors changed.

With a few spritely jaunts around the central table singing dancing and kicking in line we finally settled into our seats to await the feast whose aroma wafted through the air from the kitchen in various fits of pestos, meats and traditional Basque cuisines that would soon find their way to our plates and palates.

The first thing to settle in front of us was a delicious tuna olive and basil concoction which rested on a crisped slice of baguette. This was followed by pesto, tomato and cheese topping a similar crunchy crisped bread. Keeping to tradition the simplicity and flavor were paramount. The third and final pintxo was something outstanding. A slow cooked onion and pepper and seaweed concoction cooked for 10 hours with a succulent squid added in with a little olive oil. Nothing else added and nothing else needed. The tender squid was perfectly accompanied and extremely flavorful. It was topped with a flurry of small white flowers that burst with the flavor of chive in a robustness uncharacteristic of such a small dainty flower. It packed a punch that is better suited to a heavyweight fighter but was the perfect accompaniment to the rich flavors of the sea inspired mix. Of course a second helping was in order from the chefs who were happy to oblige and share in true ChefXChange style.

The golden sidra poured from on high rained down into glasses held by the foodies, aerating the locally brewed liquid with thousands of tiny white bubbles and offering a show with each pour that created a small halo of a puddle around each glass. The pours got higher and more adventurous as the evening progressed and each one added a bit of fuel to an already raging fire of conversation community and laughter bellowing from the hall. The golden halo effect was not lost on us as I we all tasted a bit of heaven.

A bean that can only be used for 1 month a year was the next local phenomenon to traverse our long wooden table. The white bean was followed by a succulent pink steak served with red peppers and crisped potato which crackled and sizzled as it left the oven, adding to the cacophony of the kitchen and dining room.

The final treat to grace our table was a sweet apricot remoulade and cheese platter that tasted of fresh apricot pie with a combination of sweet fruit and strong rich cheese that blended perfectly in the mouth to create something ethereal. It was a small bite of heaven that was only a prelude to the festivities to follow which had equal parts of sweet guitar twang and strong rich voices that boomed out of the hall into the night.

With our stomachs full the focus turned to filling our ears with the best sounds from years passed. Singing, dancing, whistling and clapping along the party kicked off with a small quartet of lyrical styles. Singing in a small semicircle around the guitar and peering into their smartphones for the lyrics the confidence started to build, and so did the audience and participation. Converging around the guitar the four revelers added to their ranks until we all sang gleefully along including Chef Andoni himself and his lieutenants.

At one point Chef Andoni issued a challenge to the group to attract all the beautiful people within a kilometer of the hall to its doors to join in. With narry a thought the challenge was accepted with a slight increase in volume. It did not take long for the people who at that point had started to leave the other local nightspots that were shutting down began to trickle in to our raucous gathering and join in with their own version of their native karaoke.

Californication, Wonderwall, Wake me up when September ends, La bamba … The band played on for 3 hours with guitar accompaniment and the greatest hits the revelers could dream up. The entire town was asleep except for the celebration that emanated from the halls of Sociedad Gastronomika Gaztelubide, on this, ChefXchange’s first dinner with Chef Andoni.

As the night wore on “one more” became the chant after every song. And we sang one more so many times that when we finally were given a translation we learned that “we were never to actually sing the last one, because there would always be another one, whether tonight tomorrow or the next day”. It was a reassuring Spanish saying that the vibrancy and love of food, friends and song never stops it just pauses occasionally…

If this is any indication of what is to come, we at ChefXChange are excited for the opportunity to facilitate this type of love for food, friends and whatever songs suit the moods at tables around the world.