ELKO – For Zachary Arbillaga, cooking Basque food is second nature. His grandmother cooked at the Nevada Dinner House for 40 years, and from a young age he was right there with her.
“My grandparents met there,” said Arbillaga. “She was a cook and he was a sheepherder living upstairs. I grew up in the restaurant. My siblings and I would go in at three in the morning with her to start the soup and we would sleep in the dining room.”
He cooked at Toki Ona while in high school, cooks for the annual Basque Festival and Silver State Stampede, and has been working with Ramon Zugazaga, a locally well known Basque caterer, on the weekends for several years.
“I learned a lot cooking with my grandma and Ramon,” Arbillaga said.
Zugazaga has been in the food business for many years and wants to partially retire, so Arbillaga has stepped in to take over the main duties and received his business license in March.
Arbillage intends to carry on cooking many of Zugazaga’s favorite dishes and may explore some other ideas, including more traditional Basque specialties of the past.
“Right now my generation is not big into tripe and stuff like that, but I think the food world is starting to become a bigger world. We notice that when you go to buy things like heart, liver and tripe the prices have gone up a lot, so people are using these things more,” he said.
One of the most popular items in Zugazaga’s current menu is paella and Arbillaga sees no need to alter a masterpiece.
“About 99 percent of the people want this,” he said.
For those who have not savored this scrumptious concoction of rice, saffron, chicken, shrimp, mussels, and chorizo, the time is now, according to Arbillaga.
Watching him work in the kitchen at the Basque House is akin to viewing a professional dancer maneuver the stage, limbs akimbo or perpendicular to the floor, but somehow managing to place the artist and the expression in just the right place.
“I love the fast-paced nature of cooking, kind of a controlled chaos,” he said. “The guys and I have a lot of camaraderie,” said Arbillaga. “The easiest way to display a culture is through food.”
Arbillaga will continue his full-time job during the weekdays, but weekends leave plenty of time to pursue his passion of pleasing others.
Continuing in the same style of service that Zugazaga has carried out over the years, Arbillaga will be cooking wholesome, crowd pleasing food for Christmas parties, weddings, funerals, birthday parties and other occasions. By request, he can include waitresses and separate courses, including soup and salad.
He cooks everything except the bread and deserts. Arbillaga purchases freshly-made bread from the Basque owner of Ogi Delhi. Grandma is still making the flan and rice pudding.