Chef Kai Salimaki of Ox Bar de Tapas in Calgary, recently visited Spain bringing back a few secrets of the Spanish cuisine with which to tempt local diners.
Salimaki visited the Basque country of Spain, which comprises the the coastal city of San Sebastian, the traditional ‘Running of the Bulls’ city of Pamplona, and the beautiful Pyrenees Mountains.
Discovering a few new tricks to employ in his kitchen at Ox bar de Tapas, Salimaki also learned how straightforward the Spanish cuisine really is.
“The cuisine is very simple, backed with bold flavours and the freshest ingredients around,” said Salimaki.
In Salimaki’s opinion, the leading ingredient to the cuisine is smoked paprika.
“It’s everywhere. It’s cooked in dishes, sprinkled on top of dishes and made into oils,” he said.
“Chorizo, the famous Spanish sausage, is predominantly spiced with smoked paprika, and it comes in sweet and spicy forms.
Paella, the famous rice dish that every region of Spain claims as its own, originated through the combination of smoked paprika and bomba rice, the ingredients which give it its traditional taste.
“Next is the Spanish saffron. It is extremely expensive but worth it,” he said.
Lastly would be the ‘soccarat,’ the crispy layer of rice at the bottom of the pan,” the chef said.
“To achieve a great crust without burning the paella is a hard technique to master,” Salimaki said.
He also expressed admiration for the hospitality and lifestyle of Europeans.
“Europe knows what it’s doing. They work to live, where back in North America, it is the opposite, we live to work.
“People here are so caught up in their careers and ambition that they forget to live.”
Ox and Angela reopened in the spring of 2017 as Ox Bar de Tapas, at 528 17th Ave. S.W.
Major renovations were done to the front of the house and a wall separating the bar known as “Ox” from the dining room known as “Angela” was removed.
“They opened up the whole space and made it lighter and more inviting,” said Salimaki.
“The open kitchen allows us to engage with customers and I think we are attracting a new clientele,” he said.
Next to the patio, on the left side of the front of the royal blue building, Salimaki has a garden thriving with fresh herbs he uses in many of his dishes.
Upon taking over the kitchen from the previous chef, Salimaki said that he knew he was going to be keeping at least 25 per cent of the original menu.
“Dishes such as the tortilla, churros, paella, pan con tomate, croquettas are all quintessential Spanish dishes,” said Salimaki.
“If I made any changes to these, it would have been how I thought they should taste according to my palate,” he said.
Ox Bar de Tapas is an affordable option for students on a budget when dining out as the entire menu has tapas ranging from $2 to $18.
University of Calgary student, Teodora Jokic, was crazy about Ox since the first time she went for the sangria and the Spanish table, (a selection of Salimaki’s favourite dishes).
“You pay for what you’re hungry for,” said Jokic.
“I came to Ox in the summer and stayed for hours, soaking in the Spanish way of life in a Calgarian restaurant. It just has that effect on you,” Jokic said.
Reserve a table in the little blue restaurant on 17th today at http://www.oxtapas.com