Mat Schuster explains his learning experience at Alborada restaurant
US Chef Mat Schuster during his stage in Galicia, Spain
Seafood like he's never seen before, seawater marinades, umami flavors and a culinary team that treated him like family from the get-go. These were just a few of American chef Mat Schuster's impressions of after a summer stage at Iván Domínguez's Michelin star restaurant Alborada in A Coruña.
When it comes to doing stages at top Spanish restaurants, chef Mat Schuster of California restaurant Canela Bistro & Wine Bar seems to be covering the Spanish landscape and regional culinary landscape from north to south and back again. After previous experiences in La Rioja and Granada (Andalusia), this summer, Schuster headed back up north to Galicia, where he spent part of August training under highly-respected one Michelin star Spanish chef Iván Domínguez at his flagship restaurant Alborada in A Coruña.
Foods and Wines from Spain talked to Schuster about this latest Spanish culinary experience, which might be summed up in one word: seafood!
How many regions in Spain have you now done stages? What do they have in common and what differentiates them?
Galicia marks the third region in Spain where I have done a stage. La Rioja and Andalusia were also amazing experiences. They have all been so different. La Rioja really focused on beans and peppers, mountain cheeses and of course wine! Andalusia had more Arabic spices, olive oils and gazpacho / salmorejo inspirations.
Was this your first time in Galicia?
No, actually I have been to Galicia several times, but always in the south. This was my first time that far north. A Coruña is a very special city, surrounded by water and with every square inch occupied by families, bustling shops and a very unique culture rich with history and tradition.
What made you choose to go to stage with Iván Domínguez?
First and foremost, the stage was arranged by Mercedes Lamamié with the Trade Commission of Spain in New York. If she had not been so helpful and supportive, I probably would not have ended up there. Once she suggested the possibility, I did some research on the restaurant and it looked amazing! And since Galicia is renowned for its bountiful seafood, it really was a no-brainer.
What were some of your impressions of this region and its gastronomy and products?
More then one shopkeeper told me that the people of Galicia know how to eat, and this is true for sure! The regional motto of “Espiritu de Galicia” can be seen with the bounty of the sea, cattle and even the seaweeds that come from there. The food and ingredients of this area are so impeccable, I can see what they love cooking with and eating them so much
Tell us a little bit about your experience at Alborada with Iván Domínguez
Alborada was an amazing place to learn. Every morning, trays and trays of fresh seafood would flood the restaurant; mussels, multiple kinds of fish, zamburiñas (bay scallops), almejas (clams), berberechos (cockles), razor clams, local crabs, lobsters, scallops, percebes (barnacles) and more! Living in San Francisco, we also have bounty from the sea, but this was like nothing I have seen before, quite amazing! Chef Domínguez and his team were great hosts. They were never too busy to show me what they were doing or give me a taste of something incredible. This amazing kitchen staff welcomed me into their family from day one. I was very honored.
What were some of the products that he uses in his cooking that most surprised or interested you?
I really loved the umami flavors that they use. They use filtered sea water for a lot of marinating as well as lots of fresh seaweeds that have some of the most amazing flavors. Another thing I really liked was the ageing of fish bones with salt to produce a fermented fish sauce that they would add into recipes. Sous Chef Michele taught me how to do this. So simple, but yet so flavorful (after waiting for two months)!
What were some of your favorite dishes that you saw at the restaurant or learned how to prepare?
One of my favorite things I learned was an escabeche pil pil sauce made by slowly cooking fish heads to release the gelatin and then combining it with the juices of escabeche. This was served with scallops that had been marinating in seawater and accompanied by pickled seaweed. Delicious.
What techniques / ingredients / inspirations will you be taking back to San Francisco with you after this experience?
I have already found a source for filtered seawater as well as some local, fresh seaweeds. I was already on the phone making calls trying to find them during my breaks at Alborada! I have also found a Galician company who is freeze drying local seaweeds to export to the USA.
You mentioned that you were also going to spend some time at Ikaro restaurant in Logroño (La Rioja)? How did you hear about it and what was that experience like in terms of gastronomy, products, techniques and the restaurant concept?
I did! Ikaro is the newborn baby of Chefs Iñaki Murua and Carolina Sánchez in Logroño. I met Iñaki in the kitchen of La Venta Moncalvillo in Daroca and Carolina in the kitchen of Hotel Viura in Villabuena. I was only at Ikaro one day, but they were crazy! They opened just a few months ago and people are going nuts for their food. They are full every lunch and dinner. Carolina is from Ecuador and she has added some very unique flavors to the menu. Inaki is from Logroño but trained in the Basque Country. Their fusion is electric!
Any final comments?
I am continually amazing and inspired by the generosity of Spanish chefs welcoming me into their kitchens. They are some of the hardest working professionals you can find, but still find the time to share their passion for and knowledge of Spanish cuisine and culture. I am so lucky to learn from these culinary masters!