A Crash Course On Basque Cuisine From Legendary Chef Gerald Hirigoyen

Oftentimes, when I interview chefs, it’s over the phone or something lame like that. Take it from me, “through a phone line” is not the ideal way to experience food. This past weekend, however, I got the opportunity to not only interview a pair of local (to San Francisco) chefs, but attend a couples cooking class with my girlfriend as part of the Global Cuisine Series at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.

Taught by Gerald Hirigoyen of Piperade, the class was a demonstration of cuisine from the Basque region, which was fitting, considering I only just learned what Basque food was a few months ago.

For the trip, we scored an Audi from Audi on Demand, who deliver the car to your door. It’s kind of like those old Enterprise “we pick you up” commercials, only real. Driving a loaded 2017 luxury car is… nice, obviously. But also a little disconcerting if you’re not used to it. Did you know they have helpful warnings for everything now? A beep if you’re too close to something behind you, a beep if you’re too close to something in front of you, mirror lights that blink when someone’s in your blind spot. It’s enough to make a man scream “SHUT UP, CAR, I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING.” (*whispering to onboard navigation system* Audi? Kill Flanders.)

I digress. After a pleasant drive down the coast, we joined a small group of foodies (and one golfer who was clearly making some kind of concession to his wife) to watch Hirigoyen demonstrate a few of his French-Basque dishes. First he prepared “orange blossom beignets” — donut poofs made from pat a’choux, a kind of eggy shortbread that comes out of the fryer full of air (Hirigoyen cracked his eggs one handed like a show off). Next, he prepared stuffed squid in its own ink, a squid body stuffed with sauteed onions, garlic, pancetta, and breadcrumbs, served with the tentacles in a pool of ink sauce.

The only thing I enjoy more than boiling an animal in its own defense mechanism is bread crumbs sauteed in pork fat.

We had the mise en place all laid out before us (see above), but for this class we just watched. (I’m told that the Ritz’s Global Cuisine Series is usually very hands-on, but Chef Gerald makes his own rules). The best part came later, when we got to eat the dishes at a catered lunch. Taste a pat’a choux beignet and you will immediately conclude that it’s how all donuts should be. I think I had about eight of them (acting bashful about gorging yourself in front of strangers is for amateurs).

After that came the squid, followed by a poulet basquaise — chicken parts braised in a red pepper/tomato/onion melange, seasoned with powder of Basque’s native espelette pepper. Squid in its own ink is the obvious show piece, but for my money it doesn’t get much better than a smothered chicken leg.

Before the meal I got to chat briefly with Hirigoyen and the Ritz’s Chef De Cuisine, Jason Pringle, who makes the menus inspired by the visiting chefs.

Have you seen people’s level of cooking competence change at all in the time that you’ve been teaching?

Well I don’t know. It seems like a lot of people are taking cooking classes. People are more aware. So I think definitely there’s more interest in cooking than before. There’s a lot more people. I think people used to cook before, but I think now you see more people trying, trying to understand. A lot of the time they’re very smart and asking questions on this and that.