If Spanish tapas are what you’re craving, you’ll want to follow along as we introduce you to Chef Miguel Angel Rebolledo, this month’s Tastemaker. Not only is he bringing authentic Spanish dishes (and an award-winning paella) to West Palm Beach, but he’s making it all in a mobile kitchen at the newly opened Basque at Biba.
If you think that’s unlikely, we were right there with you — until we sat down with Rebolledo to talk about Basque, his cuisine and his time at El Bulli — yes, the restaurant that was once named Best Restaurant in the World. Along with enjoying the magical courtyard setting, we learned why this is one chef you’re going to want put on your radar.
Miguel Angel Rebolledo from Basque at Biba
Name: Miguel Angel Rebolledo
Title: Executive Chef
Restaurant: Basque at Biba
How would you describe Basque at Biba?
We are Basque at Biba. We are a Spanish restaurant. The main kitchen is a food truck, and we cook only traditional Spanish tapas. Some of those are modern, and we have four traditional paellas on the menu.
Tell us about your first kitchen experience
I cooked with my father when I was like 5 or 6 years old, every Saturday. We could sell – in Spain, we call them rosquillas. It’s like a dougnut here. So we cooked every Saturday night for the weekend. We got together. I started to like it. When I was about 17 years old, I went to culinary school at Santander Culinary School in Cantabria, Spain. I finished when I was 19.
What advice would you give to someone looking to become a chef?
It’s a hard time to be a chef because – you need to think about it, because it’s a hard thing. It’s some of the hardest work you can do, because you are in the other direction for regular people. When everybody is having fun, you are so stressed. And when people are stressed on Monday, you are off. It’s like the opposite way for other people. So, yeah, you miss family birthdays, you miss weddings for your family, you miss a lot of things. So you need to love it.
How are you inspired?
I remember one day, like 10 years ago, I smelled one of those soaps used to wash your hands. Honey and lavender. I said, “Wow, honey and lavender; this is so good.” So I started practicing, and I made a dessert with honey and lavender.
One day with my business partner, Manny — I think it was two weeks before opening — we were in Palm Beach. We were talking about the restaurant and everything, and this guy said, “Hey, you want an ice cream? We’ve got cool ice cream here.” OK, so we got the ice cream, and we were walking along, and I don’t know what happened. I was talking or whatever, and I dropped the ice cream in the sand. I said, “I have a dessert.” The guy said, “Yeah?”
It’s the same flavor. I put flowers and I make a cookie — a butter cookie for sand and a mousse. So when you see the dessert, it looks like I dropped my ice cream. (Miguel laughs.)
(Editor’s note: The new Basque at Biba dessert is called UPPS! I Dropped the Ice Cream. It contains butter-cookie mousse, quince cream with house-made chocolate honey, and pistachio and cheesecake ice creams.)
Tell us about some of the local farms you work with.
All the fish, all the seafood is local. It’s from Florida.
So do you get that from local fishermen?
Yeah, we have a fish broker. I order from him. I tell him the order I want, and he tries to get it all together from a few fishermen. The clams come from a farm. It’s here in Florida. And then we have the lionfish from the Keys. Now we have red snapper from Tampa, and the shrimp are from the Key West — the pink ones.
What about your produce?
Do you have any mentors, people you’ve worked with?
I have two mentors. One is Gustavo Martinez, my first chef in Spain; the other one is Ferran Adrià. I worked for him for two years in El Bulli. That changed everything.
What was it like working for him?
Crazy (he laughs).
Yeah, because when I was at El Bulli, it was in ’99 and 2000. At that time, we made lunch and dinner. In the worst cases, we worked like 18, 20 hours a day because it was two seatings. Then, the next year, they changed to just one seating. So this guy literally had a room in the kitchen with a bed for him.
He was tired, he would say “I need a break,” so he would go to the bed for an hour and then come back. It was crazy. But the mentality he had, the brain, the mind. I got his message: Take the traditional and transform to the modern.
That changed everything. When we wanted to do something new, we cooked the traditional plate and then we started to put it together, to go step by step by step, to change that, change this. But we would start with the traditional plate. And then with the flavors we know, we worked step by step by step and made all these crazy things you see.
Sure. Can you see any of that here?
I am doing mini cheese balls. It’s like a cheese ball that explodes in your mouth.
Back to Basque at Biba — why should we love it, and what are you doing there that’s truly unique to you as a chef?
My goal is that when you come through this door, you feel like you’re in Spain. For the patio, for the food, for the service, for the atmosphere, for everything. The wines, the food, everything, you feel like you are in Spain. This is my goal, and I am trying to do that.
Basque at Biba is at 320 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach. For more information, call 561-557-7875 or visit eatdrinkbasque.com.