I’m sitting on a train in Morocco, listening to an ‘All Songs Considered’ podcast, thinking about the blog I want to write about La Azotea, which was the second restaurant I worked at in Sevilla. Where to begin? Both my experiences with restaurants in Sevilla were great. I met wonderful people in these two restaurants, learned traditional Spanish tapas and modern twists, and tried some foods I never would have imagined myself eating five years ago.
When I decided to leave Arte y Sabor to find another restaurant in Sevilla, I had to return to my research to decide which restaurant I should approach. I spent a couple of hours looking at menus, trip advisor reviews, and blogs from people living in Sevilla, trying to decide where to go. I wanted a restaurant that had typical Sevillano/Andalusian tapas, but also had modern twists on the traditional. One of the great things about Spanish cooking is not much goes to waste. When you look at a menu, you see dishes that reflect this. Items like rabo de toro (bulls tail), huevas de pescado, the aforementioned carrillada all reflect that the Spaniards eat everything. We should be doing the same in New Zealand, and restaurants like Ti Kouka Café, where I worked for a year, are using this technique to reduce their food waste.
As I researched the restaurants and tapas bars, La Azotea kept coming up. They had been on my initial list, but I had crossed them off because they have 4 locations, and I felt like maybe it would be a bit of a factory. La Azotea is nothing of the sort – all of the restaurants are quite individualised, the staff is like a family, and the service and food exceptional.
When I walked into La Azotea to speak to the head chef about ‘practica laboral,’ the first person I met was the owner, Juan. Without even blinking an eye, or asking how much experience I had, he said yes. The next morning I returned, chefs uniform and knives in hand, to work at La Azotea. The first thing they did was hand me an enormous hunk of beef, asked me to trim the fat and cut it up for steak tartar. I spent the next 2 hours hunched over the chopping board, trimming and chopping.
Everyone at La Azotea was friendly, helpful and welcoming. We spent the morning in the kitchen behind the two restaurants near the Alameda de Hercules, prepping for the lunch service. It was in this kitchen that I learned ajoblanco de melon, sous vide artichokes, asparagus & quail’s eggs, watched Andres fillet some very large fish; and made patatas alinadas, salmorejo & gazpacho for the second time. In the evening, after a siesta, it was a quick hour of prep before service began.
I also had the opportunity to work in the production kitchen for La Azotea. This is where they make the items on the menu that are in all four restaurants. La Azotea has a unique setup – the four restaurants have a central menu which is seasonal, and contains items such as carrillada, pulpo a la feira, jamon, ensaladilla, croquetas and desserts. In addition, each restaurant has their own menu, based on what they receive from their fish, meat and vegetable suppliers, and what the chefs want to make. This menu changes frequently, and so the chefs here get to create their own dishes regularly.
It was in these weekly menus that Andres, Ivan and Rogelio were able to be creative. Think ox tongue & pheasant stew with rice, tandoori squid with corvina, red snapper with bulgur, mango mousse & goats cheese, lamb with kibbeh cake and beetroot mousse, and tender pork sirloin with confit potatoes & pink pepper butter.
In the production kitchen, I learned the traditional Spanish food on the menu. We spent a day making croquetas de jamon, brik parcels with leek, shrimp and cream cheese, and carrillada in a red wine sauce. The next time I was in the production kitchen, I made ensaladilla, a ‘Russian style’ potato salad with smoked fish, capers, red onion & gherkins. I tried quite a few ensaladilla around Sevilla in my three weeks there, and the one at La Azotea was my favourite.
I spent a morning with Pablo the pastelero (pastry chef). Trained in Spain, apprenticed at Manu Jara, and a world traveller, Pablo knows his stuff. All of the desserts at La Azotea are his creations. If you do end up in Sevilla, and you go to La Azotea, be sure to try the tarta de pina colada! Or the dulce de leche ice cream. Or the mint ice cream with gin slush and orange cream, or…well, just make sure you have dessert!
One day I watched Tito Paco, the in-house butcher, break down a side of beef, while I made ensaladilla for the second time.
By my last day at La Azotea, I felt like a member of the family! We sat down for family lunches in the production kitchen, where each staff member made lunch a different day. One lunch, we had a delicious chorizo & chickpea stew that I would be happy to eat again on any cold winters day in New Zealand. What I really loved about this family was the traditional Spanish cooking combined with modern influences. Everything was fresh, and they established good relationships with their suppliers to have access to the best possible ingredients.
I couldn’t have asked for better work experiences in Sevilla. Through both Arte y Sabor and La Azotea, I met amazing people and learned heaps. Not all of these foods will be available in Wellington, but I’m definitely feeling some inspiration to get into a kitchen and play with food based on Spanish flavours and my Spanish experience!