Tapas, medias y raciones - these are one of the first things I learned about in my broken Spanish in the first kitchen I worked at in Sevilla.
The restaurant is Arte y Sabor, which means Art and Flavour. My first day I learned how to make falafel from a Palestinian guy. No, not typical Spanish food, but Arte y Sabor is a fusion of Spanish and Moroccan/Middle Eastern cuisine, as the owner is from Morocco. In Spanish, one of the chefs, Ramiz, told me how they soak the chickpeas overnight and then grind them the following day in the meat grinder. They then add the spices and herbs – cumin, salt, a blended sauce made from parsley, green capsicums, onion, olive oil & garlic and mix it all together. From here the falafel is ready to be shaped and fried.
In the kitchen I asked about the other dishes that are being prepared – items such as carrillada, which are pork cheeks most often cooked in a sauce made from wine. Carrillada is so common in Sevilla that a restaurant’s quality is often judged on their carrillada. It’s a delicious dish, and of the four to five that I tried in Sevilla, none of them were the same. However, on this first Sunday in the kitchen, I’d only been in Sevilla for two days, and I hadn’t had a chance to try many things.
As Arte y Sabor is a fusion restaurant, they had items on their menu that were typically Spanish – the aforementioned carrillada, as well as gazpacho, salmorejo, patatas aliñadas, croquetas, presa ibérica and solomillo, as well as Moroccan and Middle Eastern food – pastela de pollo, falafel, tabbouleh, and couscous. They also had a great menu of vegetarian items, including seitan or tofu burgers, cream of cauliflower soup, tempura vegetables, and lots of salads.
A few quick translations:
Gazpacho – cold soup made from tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, garlic, salt, olive oil, and always drunk from a glass
Salmorejo – a cold tomato soup, thicker than gazpacho, usually served in a bowl with some smoked fish, an egg, or a bit of jamon
Patatas aliñadas – seasoned potatoes, usually with a strong olive oil, parsley and salt, sometimes also with vinegar
Croquetas – tasty little morsels of fried goodness. Fillings can be cod, jamón, mushroom, spinach or even quince and cheese
Presa and solomillo – both pork, cooked on the grill (a la plancha) and often served with some potatoes, a salsa and maybe a few veggies
Pastela de Pollo – Moroccan brik (similar to filo) pastry filled with chicken, almonds, and Moroccan spices
One of my favourites was a spinach salad with avocado, roasted nuts, tomatoes and goats cheese on the grill. I noticed this trend of putting a slice of goat’s cheese on the grill in a few places – similar to what we do with halloumi in Wellington. On a spinach salad, it’s delicious and I would happily go to Arte y Sabor for the salad when in need of a light meal.
Most days at Arte y Sabor I was put to work cutting and peeling vegetables, or making salsas and dressings. Not terribly exciting, but while I was chopping I could watch everything else going on. My Spanish wasn’t good enough to be in the kitchen for service, except at the slowest of times. I have a newfound respect for anyone who leaves their country and goes to work in a different language, especially in hospitality. Kitchens aren’t really the place to be asking for instructions two or three times, but the combination of a strong Andalusian accent, and my broken Spanish made working fairly frustrating. On any given day, I would be given instructions to make something, and I had to have them repeated to make sure I understood the amounts and method. There was one chef who I didn’t understand at all, even after 3 weeks in Sevilla. On my second day, feeling incredibly frustrated by my lack of Spanish, I walked into the back kitchen and said to Javier ‘no entiendo nada!’ which is ‘I don’t understand anything!’ He just laughed.
But I quickly learned the number of items in a tapa, media, or ración. Three falafel for a tapa, six in a media, nine in a ración. One of each, two of each, three of each vegetable for tempura. I really love the idea of being able to choose the size of your dish. It allows the opportunity to try more than just one item on the menu when you go eat in a restaurant. If you’re sharing, you can try 4-5 items on the menu by having small, tapas sized portions. Even by yourself, you can try two things, although it’s not nearly as fun.
Despite my limited Spanish, I learned a lot at Arte y Sabor. As well as the falafel, cold soups, carrillada, and sauces, I learned to make mushrooms with wine and sherry, stuffed pork sirloin with apple, couscous the Moroccan way and a few other things. Making couscous the Moroccan way is very different to how I’ve always made it in New Zealand. They mix the couscous with water, salt and olive oil, leave it for 5-10 minutes, then steam it for about 30 minutes, set it aside again and mix a bit more cold water in. It changes the texture as the couscous ends up incredibly fluffy with every grain separated. At Arte y Sabor, couscous was used for a Moroccan main dish of couscous with vegetables and chicken, and also in the tabbouleh.
After about a week working in the kitchen at Arte y Sabor, I felt like I had seen most of the prep done two or three times and had a good sense of their menu and ideas for Easy as Kai. Initially I had planned on staying at one restaurant the entire three weeks in Sevilla, but I decided I was ready to learn from somewhere new. I had a chat with Zakaria, the owner, about moving to another restaurant and he wished me luck and said to come back and visit. Then I went in search of food, blogs and menus that intrigued me.