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A Day With The Executive Chef at Austin's Freshest Seafood Restaurant

“We're spending about $15,000 to $18,000 every single week. It's about 1,000 pounds of fish. One of the biggest challenges running a seafood restaurant in Texas is making sure that you're getting the freshest possible product.” Come behind the scenes for a Friday with executive chef Fermin Núñez at Este—one of Austin's best new Mexican seafood restaurants—the morning they receive their big fish order for the weekend.

Released on 09/05/2023


One of the biggest challenges running

a seafood restaurant in Texas is making sure

that you're getting the freshest possible product.

And we're spending about $15,000

to $18,000 every single week.

It's about 1,000 pounds of fish.

My role as a executive chef,

it's being able to recognize where I'm needed the most,

making sure that the restaurant

as a whole is working properly,

to be able to get people excited about the unusual things

about the Mexican way of cooking fish.

That's one of the funnest challenges.

This is why I do what I love to do every single day.

[whimsical music]

Hey guys, my name is Fermin Nunez.

I get to be the chef of Este in Austin, Texas.

Come join me to see what a little bit

of a Friday looks like for us today.

[mellow music]

All right, so we got a very exciting day today.

It's Friday. It's about 10:00 AM.

Usually that's when we get our big

fish order in for the weekend.

We open for lunch in about an hour and a half.

I'm gonna put on an apron, put on my shoes,

check in with the team and see

where I can be the most helpful today.

My shoes that I go to war with

every single day that I'm here.

Now we're gonna check in on the prep lists,

see where the team is at.

I'm gonna see what I can do before the fish comes in.

So part of running a restaurant is being organized.

This is one of the most important things in the kitchen,

to make sure that we have a successful service.

At the end of every night,

closing chef will go over this list,

highlight anything that we need

portion or prep for the day.

We have one of these for every station in the kitchen.

And then we have a master prep list

that all the highlighted items

gets transferred into this list.

And just by looking at it right now,

I see that Billy has a really hefty list of things

to get done before he's outta here at 2:00 PM

so I'm gonna check in with him to see

what I can help him with so he has a smoother day.

Buenos dias, Billy. Buenos dias, chef.

You have a hefty list, huh?

Can I take a little bit of something off your hands?

Maybe the trout pulla sauce? Yeah, pulla sounds good.

My role as an executive chef is to make sure

that I can recognize where my attention is needed

so I can keep steering the ship in the right direction.

The other thing that's missing is a couple of things

that the line can do and that's it.

Nice. Muchas gracias, chef. Thank you, chef.

Fish is just getting here,

so we're gonna go to receive it.

Fish is here guys. Fish is here.

The fish! Let's go get the fish, chef.

Let's go get the fish.

Unlike steak or other types of proteins that come in,

fish, it's the best the moment he walks into this door.

We're getting about 250 to 300 pounds

of fish just for today.

And we usually get that two to three times a week.

It's fish day. Yay!

Karina and Spencer and myself are gonna start

putting all this fish away.

We're gonna pull the speed racks on the walk-in

so we check all the fish.

If we have any older fish, we pull that

and make sure we use that first.

FIFO, first in, first out.

So this is our trout.

One of the biggest things that you look for a fish

is looking at the eyes.

Make sure they look clear,

making sure that they look alive.

When you press into it, making sure

that you don't have fish that is just gonna sink in.

You wanna have a nice little rise.

Sometimes people think gills being a little bit sticky,

that's a bad thing. It's not.

It means that it's a very fresh fish.

I smell, but you wanna make sure that it smells fresh,

it smells of the sea.

When you go to the beach

you smell the salty water that's happening.

And that's a little bit of what we wanna smell in here.

[Fermin sniffs]

This passes. Fresh fish.

Food certification for Este.

Usually we spend about 45 minutes to check the fish,

to put all the fish away, to rotate everything properly.

That's just a normal part of running a fish restaurant.

I think the halibut...

That's about the same size as Karina.

Yeah, almost. [Karina laughs]

So I'm checking the quality of this halibut.

The firmness, it's gonna feel a little bit soft

than your usual fish but that's not a bad thing

'cause it's gonna bounce back a little bit faster

than all the other fish.

We only need a half halibut, so I'll be able to flip it

and truly look at the flesh, make sure that it's really nice

and bright and white and it smells great.

So now I'm gonna be able to mark the invoice

and put it in the walk-in.

The invoice for today is $5,498.

When we opened this restaurant, I would look at the invoices

and the amount of money that we were spending on fish,

it was really scary that we were spending

over $10,000 in one single delivery,

and hopefully we would sell it, right?

A week on fish, we spend about, I would say,

$15,000 to $18,000 depending on how busy we're gonna be.

This fish will usually last about two and a half days

and then we get to start all over again on Monday.

We're gonna check the oysters.

One of the things that we're looking for on oysters

is making sure that they are nice sized

if they're not open.

If they're open, that means that they're bad.

Making sure that they're cold is a big one.

If you get warm oysters in any delivery.

That's gonna be obviously a big no-no.

This is a tag that is super important.

This is gonna tell us the harvest date

and where it came from.

If we end up getting somebody sick, this is something

that the food department has to have on hand.

We have to keep this for three months.

Wanna make sure that we stay out of trouble

and we don't get anybody sick.

I'm gonna open one to make sure

that it tastes nice and good.

You always smell 'em first [sniffs]

to make sure that they don't smell rotten.

When we go to rinse them, we'll also be able

to check them individually to make sure

that none of those are open,

to make sure that we don't get anybody sick.

We finished putting away the fish order. It's 11 now.

As you can see, the kitchen is super busy.

Everybody's getting ready to serve lunch.

[soft music]

Every day before service, we have a lineup

to see how many reservations we have.

We're gonna do a little bit of stretch right before lunch

and then we're gonna get after it.

We're gonna have two tasters of torta at 11

and two tasters of zaraneado al carbon.

We'll make that one today.

Last weekend we put a few new dishes on the menu.

I feel like that was the easy part.

Now is the real test, right?

Doing it every, every week.

Let's stretch.

We're gonna take a deep breath.

We're gonna lift our arms all the way up

to the ceiling, melt into the floor.

Down here, we breathe in.

And push our knee out.

I personally feel very thankful to be working with you guys.

Let's, like always, make good food.

Let's have some fun.

One, two, three.

[chef speaks in Spanish]

[staff speak in Spanish]

[Staff] Woo!

So it's 11:15.

I gonna get in there and start butchering some fish.

We got the tilefish.

We get this in from New Jersey.

We're gonna start breaking it down so we can use it

for our catch of the day where we wrap it in banana leaf

and then we cook it over the charcoal grill.

And it's served with tortillas

that we're make in-house one at a time,

a little bit of black beans and pickled red onions,

and a little bit of lime, to make your own tacos.

So one of the most important things for me

when breaking it down is making sure

that you're keeping it as cold as you can.

For that, I have a hotel pan lined with ice

and then another one on top.

I only grab one instead of grabbing them all.

So I'm constantly able to keep them cold as we go.

I'm gonna start taking care of all those fins.

Taking the top fins is gonna allow me

to have more precision cuts.

This is my Joyce Chen Scissors.

Joyce Chen! Team Joyce Chen.

They're the perfect size.

You use them for breaking down this part of the fish.

I'm gonna take the head off using my slicer knife.

People always think it's all about the knife.

It's more about knowledge of the anatomy of the fish.

I was able to get through the joints

and take this head off really nice.

If I take this fish head to the bank

and I tell them to deposit it

in our bank account to make payroll,

they're gonna be like, What? You're crazy.

But if I take this fish head,

put it inside of flauta, charge money for that flauta,

I can take that money and make payroll with that.

So we take all the scraps of mostly all the whitefish,

steam it, we pick it, and then we mix it

with a little bit of a chili paste,

a little bit of castillo, a little bit of potatoes,

fill it in a tortilla, crema, tomatillo salsa roja,

a little bit of cotija and you got yourself a winning dish.

Super important that you always get to sell everything

that you buy for a little bit more than what you paid for.

Now I'm gonna start fileting this fish.

Most people will try to be parallel to the fish.

That in my opinions is what makes people

kind of miss a lot of the meat that is close to the bone.

I go a little bit perpendicular to the fish,

try to scrape the bones as much as you can,

remove the fish completely from the belly,

and I prefer to do this part with scissors.

Just detaching the bones from the fish.

That's the last cut, and that's a filet.

I'm gonna put this over ice

to make sure that it stays nice and cold.

So now I'm just gonna start doing the same process

that I did, on the other side.

Butchering fish, you're constantly having

to repeat the same process over and over again.

I jump in the process as needed based on the fish delivery,

how many hands we have that day.

So it takes a whole village to be able

to do what we do on a daily basis.

I keep this little container with ice water

to make sure the heat from my hands

and this doesn't start to warm up the fish.

Taking out all the pin bones.

Sometimes people will look at this and start pulling up.

That's gonna tear a lot of the fish.

I like to pull it towards me

and there's not gonna be a lot of meat.

Now I'm gonna take the skin off of the filet.

The way I like to do this,

I always kind of make a little indention

over here towards the tail and just lightly start

to place my knife in between the skin and the filet.

Rather than moving my knife, I'm gonna start moving the skin

and let that do the work.

I'm gonna take this tilefish, put it in the walk-in,

put it away for the rest of our team.

All right, so we got a halibut over here

similar to what I did with the tilefish.

We're gonna start breaking down to the primals.

For lunch, we have a fried halibut torta,

a little bit of avocado, chorizo that we make in house.

This is a flatfish.

This one has a top side where you have two filets

and then a bottom side where you have the other two filets.

There's a line that if you get really close, you can see.

So I'm just gonna try to follow that line.

I'm using the hand that I'm not using my knife with,

is like, help me open.

This is one noise that you always want to hear.

[bones crackling] That's a good sign.

That means that you're getting close to the bone.

You're not puncturing the meat.

When you have something like a whitefish,

like a halibut, you're gonna see a lot

of different layers throughout the flesh.

And it's something that you don't really get

when you have a red fish.

And this is why we like doing it in the Milanese style

because it's something that you wouldn't necessarily expect.

But when you have a crunchy, nice,

fried texture, it's delicious.

I'm gonna go in on the outside and detach the filet.

If you have any doubts on where to cut,

you can always practice with your hand to get the feel.

The halibut is free.

The way our fish mongers work,

they know exactly where the fish is coming from

and when it's arriving from all over

the world through airplanes.

Sometimes our delivery doesn't show up at the right time

because the airplane got delayed.

So it's always really important

that all this fish is transferred with ice.

From just this one side,

we'll be able to get maybe 8 to 10 orders.

Mimicking what we do on the other side.

A sharp knife is super important in the kitchen

'cause you cut yourself less.

Goal number one in work in the kitchen

is you walk in with 10 fingers,

you walk out with 10 fingers.

Right, chef? Yes, chef.

10 fingers in, 10 fingers out. That's it.

Clock in, clock out with 10 fingers.

[Chef] Excuse me, chef.

What do you think about this one?

Very nice, very nice.

So this is a short rib torta

that we're putting on the menu for this weekend.

A big part of my job is making sure

that I'm tasting things that Ale,

the rest of the sous chef team,

they get done and then making sure that everything

that goes out on the plate, it's approved.

I think it was way better than yesterday.

I think more herbs, a little less salt too.


Super lemony, it's delicious.

Okay, so now I'm gonna put this away.

Get the next fish.

So this is a Mary cod.

We are able to get this at a constant size

to where we can sell it whole.

We can sell it half.

We butterfly it.

We know exactly what we're gonna get every single time.

It has a firm and fatty flesh

so it's really nice and easy to grill.

We use this for the Zarandeado dish

that traditionally from Nayarit

which is a way of butterflying fish, fried red onions,

raw red onions, a little bit of red chilies, oil, garlic.

And then we brush it on the fish

right before it hits the grill.

Kind of back and forth moving in.

That's the zarandeado action.

Instead of going in from the belly

like most people will do and take the guts out,

we're gonna go from the top, split the head open.

That way when you butterfly it,

you're protecting a little bit of that cheek meat

that if you were to butterfly it the other way,

it's gonna tend to overcook a lot faster.

Tilt the knife with my left hand

to where I can see a little bit

of where the cross section is going to be.

I can make the cut following the bones,

trying to scrape that is where the belly is gonna start.

If I start cutting through it, the guts are gonna be there.

So before I open that side, open it from this side.

This is gonna start the butterfly process.

I'm gonna go down the head to be able to split it.

Once I find it, go all the way down.

When you're getting to the tail,

you wanna make sure that you don't cut straight down.

'cause if we open it here, we're gonna have a big hole.

Then we don't look like professionals

and we're professionals 'cause we're at Bon Appetit.

Don't forget to like and subscribe.

I had to say that at one point.

[kitchen staff laughs]

I'm able to take this bone out.

We can use for stock.

The fish is butterflied.

All the guts are removed from the fish.

That's how we grill it.

We break down about 40 or 50 of these a week.

You'll see multiple people working at the same time

in the kitchen because just one fish is one portion

and we sell a good amount of those.

All right, just knocked out 15 of these.

That should get us ready for service tonight.

So around 1:30 PM, so we're still looking good

on time to be ready for service.

So now we're gonna be making the pulla cream sauce

that I'm taking off Billy's prep list.

I'm gonna start adding my onions

for one of our popular dishes where we take trout,

lightly pound it so it's really, really thin.

When we're cooking it,

you only serve it in one side out of low temp.

And then we have the sauce hot, pour it over the top.

So we kind of finished cooking the trout.

We garish it with a little bit of chili oil,

a little bit of trout oil, some flowers from the garden.

It's really exciting to have some of the ingredients

that are in this dish be in our backyard

which is our garden right behind the restaurant.

I've never worked in a place

where you can literally step outside of the kitchen,

harvest a little bit of peppers, a little bit of flowers,

a little bit of garnish and then be back

inside the kitchen and use that.

That's something really special.

It's run by Anna Maria, our lead farmer,

and a lot of help with volunteers and even my mother.

She goes in there every Wednesday

and Saturday to help harvest.

We ever have any sort of leftover,

we give it to the community around the neighborhood too.

Now it's time to add the garlic.

One of these things that we have to do

with this recipe is constantly be stirring

because we're cooking at a high heat.

I can smell that sweetness coming from the pan.

Now is a perfect time to add the chilies.

Mexican food, it's so unique in the way we use chilies.

They're not too spicy, milder than the chili arbol.

They have a little bit of sweetness

and they add a nice really bright red color

to the sauces that you add 'em.

Now that the chilies are almost toasted,

I can smell it and I can see how they're changing color.

They're starting to be a little bit more of a deep red.

I'm gonna go get the toasted sesame seeds.

We make sure that they're super toasted

'cause that's when you can truly smell the sesames

and you get that nuttiness to the sauce.

This sauce is very simple.

It doesn't have a lot of ingredients, so we wanna make sure

that we take every ingredient to the max

so they can be greater than the sum of it's parts.

I'm gonna add heavy cream from a local producer.

Cream and fish is not something

that a lot of people will run for

but to me it tastes of us, which is Mexican, in essence,

paired with this chilies and you're able

to have a nice really balanced cream sauce.

It pairs really beautifully with the trout.

That's something that I'm really excited to be doing here.

Showing people how you can eat fish in different ways.

We're going to turn this down to a medium heat.

We're gonna let it reduce for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, I'm gonna check with the team,

see how lunch is going and how we're looking

for the rest of the evening.

So we cook the masa every night

and then we grind it every morning.

Tasting texture, flavor,

making sure that the dough is seasoned

because this is a canvas of what we get to do every day.

This is a vehicle that we eat a lot of our food with.

Wiping a plate, you can't have a taco without a tortilla.

We had somebody call out for the morning

'cause they were not feeling great.

So right now Gabe is training on his first shift on hot expo

which is a little bit more of like the senior stations.

How's it feeling?


Terrible. Why terrible?

It feels amazing.

It happens at every restaurant.

You gotta roll when the punches.

Gotta make it happen.

And then add the cameras, right?

Bring the cameras, work in your station.

[bleep] it, we'll do it live.

[Gabe] Oui, chef.

All right, this looks like it's reduced enough.

I'm gonna take it over there.

We're gonna start blending it and we're gonna season it.

When you're blending hot things,

we don't fill the blender all the way up

because if we do that, the heat's gonna rise as we know,

and then it's gonna explode.

And then it's gonna be a really messy kitchen to clean up.

That has never happened in this kitchen.

That's why we don't look to the ceiling.

The kitchen came like that, right Billy?

Yes. Oui.

It actually gets thicker

than what most people might think.

And that's because of the sesame seed.

The sesame seed are also acting like as a thickening agent.

I'm gonna call for Joaquin, who's our chef de cuisine

and he's gonna help me scrape all the delicious

bits into here.

Teamwork makes the dream work and the pulla sauce work.

We paid for every single piece of sesame seed,

so we wanna make sure we get the most

out of every single one.

Still needs a lot of salt.

If you're seeing this at home,

you're like, This guy's crazy.

He's putting an insane amount of salt.

This is a big amount of sauce.

So it's gonna take a lot of salt.

Also a lot of fat, a lot of heavy cream in there.

That's gonna soak up a lot of that flavor.

That's the right amount of salt.

That's exactly where we wanted.

Will you taste it, Spencer?

Yes, chef.

I get other people to try it,

mainly because maybe my palate gets tired or overwhelmed.

Palate fatigue.

I think it's there.

I think it's there.

I'm gonna cool this down.

I'm gonna label it with the date,

the name of the sauce, my initials.

If there's any issues with any sauce

where something wasn't made properly,

we can look at the initials and know where we went wrong.

It's not to point fingers at anybody

it's just to hold everybody accountable

and make sure we, as chefs, know

where we need to direct our our attention.

It's now 3:30.

We're gonna start transitioning to night people,

starting to come in and get ready for service.

Roll tide.

Roll tide, everybody.

Mini roll tide.

All right, guys, we have 202 on the books for tonight.

So we had over 60 walk-ins yesterday,

so let's be mindful that we are gonna be very,

very busy on this Friday.

Station's ready to go.

[Speaks in Spanish], chef.

[All] Si, chef.

All the lunch people are passing

off the station to the night people.

The menu's very similar.

We're not closing between service

so we're still seeing a lot of food coming outta the kitchen

and all the morning people are checking in

with the night people to make sure

that they're gonna be successful

and they carry on service until 10:00 PM.

My role in this morning is just kind of like

be the burden in the sky and check in

that everything is happening accordingly.

'Cause this is one of the most crucial moments.

Anything that we went through for lunch

that we are now gonna need to make for dinner

that we didn't account for this morning.

This is where we can make the most mistakes

if we're not careful and we're not putting attention.

All right, it's five o'clock.

My day at Este ends right now.

I'm gonna go check in our sister restaurant Suerte,

see how they're doing for the evening.

I hope this gave you an input to what it takes

to run a Mariscos restaurant, Mexican seafood.

Come to Austin, visit us soon.

I look forward to cooking for you. Bye.

[mellow percussive music]

Okay. [hands clapping]

You good? You good? [hands clap]

You good?

You good, chef? [hands clap]