We open the kitchen door, turn on the lights and we find an oven, induction hobs, casseroles. Opposite, a grandstand of chairs and tables. Asier and Aitzol greet us, impeccable behind their aprons and masks. Metal trays, gauges, thermometers circulate through his hands.
They are creating a wine that , instead of being served in a crystal glass, is spread on a slice of bread. “In the past, this was the daily breakfast for many. Bread, a splash of wine and sugar ”, they slide.
Now, a winery wants to reinvent this 20th century classic to incorporate it into their guided tours. And Asier and Aitzol are in charge of making this new tasting concept a reality. Both are professors at the Basque Food Laboratory , the research center for agri-food products at the Higher School of Hospitality in Bilbao.
Created five years ago, it responds to the need of many producers to connect with a food industry that does not always adapt to their demands.
This laboratory is an example of how the restaurant sector also lives in constant change. Innovation is essential, especially now that the pandemic produced by COVID-19 has fully impacted on the water line of the hospitality industry.
And it is not the only example of this in this School that looks at Bilbao from the balcony provided by the slopes of Mount Artxanda. To discover more, Joseba Lozano and Igor Ozamiz, director and teacher of the center respectively, guide us in the visit that starts in the aforementioned laboratory.
Joseba Lozano “We live in a globalized world in which each client will be able to decide how they want to eat. All the information we need is on our mobile phone: traceability of a product, its ingredients, etc.
So there are companies that demand products for a specific target from us. For example, for people who train every day and who have to eat 50 grams of protein as soon as they finish so that their muscles do not stop suddenly ”.
We leave the laboratory and walk through the corridors of the school, dotted with dining rooms, meeting rooms and, above all, extensive classrooms dominated by fireplaces and kilometer-long metal countertops.
Several future cooks are busy collecting and cleaning everything. They just finished the service. A banquet, nothing more and nothing less. Innovation, in this case, in its educational model.
JL “This year, with the situation generated by COVID 19 in the hospitality industry, the students could not do an internship, since the restaurants were closed, so we decided to start a new project.
The students organize, in groups, a banquet from beginning to end, from the idea to the service: shopping, budget, space design, music, distribution of work … In this way we integrate all the subjects and recreate what they would have learned in a restaurant with FP’s ETHAZI high-performance system ”.
Igor Ozamiz “We work with collaborative teaching models, making the students participate in the process firsthand and giving them responsibilities so that they leave here with the best possible knowledge.”
JL “The final year students, for example, will begin in January to do fifteen-day passes in different types of restaurants. This way everyone knows and then they can choose with greater security the one they like the most to do the 300 hours of practice ”.
IO “This is a very artisan profession, very manual, and training is essential. The more you work with the product, the better ”.
Precisely in that, in the traditional pans and seasonal vegetables, we find perhaps the greatest possible innovation in gastronomy: the return to the origins, to a diet based on the zero kilometer product and the local markets and shops of neighborhood.
IO “We go along this line, we work together with the producers. It is something that has always been part of our way of understanding the kitchen and that in recent years is gaining more weight. Perhaps today there is greater sensitivity in this regard ”.
JL “It is that, in line with what I mentioned before about mobile phones and global access to information, we see that interest in eating better has also grown. What was worth ten or fifteen years ago is no longer useful today ”.
IO “It’s simple, but the healthiest product is that, it’s the slow food philosophy . Maintain your environment and your natural products and treat them always protecting their properties. With that you maintain the entire ecosystem: products, producers and local commerce. In fact, we started the mise en place in the garden. ”
We are talking about a sector that is experiencing a moment of maximum ambivalence. On the one hand, the restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID 19 strangle you like no other. On the other hand, there is no more fashionable profession than that of cook.
JL “It is a sector that has been stumbled by the pandemic, it is normal. But it also appears that the recovery will be quick. Our habits are what they are and will not disappear suddenly. I’m sure. This is an opportunity to stop, think, and see where we want to go.
We are grateful to have started working on innovation years ago, because we have already been on a journey that many companies are now beginning to explore, that of concrete targets with very specific needs ”.
IO “There are certain clear niches, population groups that have specific food needs: older people, children, athletes, people suffering from certain diseases, etc. That also represents a challenge for us and we have to detect it and look at it. I think it is a beautiful time to dedicate yourself to cooking ”.
J. L . “We will go wherever the sector goes. We cannot lock ourselves in a bubble. Bizkaia has changed a lot in recent years due to the effect of tourism. It remains to be seen if it continues to grow or stagnate.
I don’t know if we will be here in ten years, but the school model will continue to be the same, drive management and personal treatment with the student. And we will continue to complement the training of students to give them the broadest possible vision of the sector ”.
When he is about to turn 30, this school trains about 200 restaurant professionals every year: cooks, managers of hotel companies, sommeliers. She has just become the first in the state to place her restaurant La Escuela among the Bib Gourmand of the Michelin Guide and both Igor and Joseba are clear that many things have changed in these decades. Others do not.
I. G . “My favorite dish? I’d be lying if I didn’t say the txuleta ”.
JL “To me, who am more from the coast, the txipirones throw me much more in their ink.”