Madrid Fusion 2009 – Day One – Winter Vegetables

Having posted an overview, the time get down to brass tacks with a description of my experience of the congress is long overdue. I will report on what I witnessed. While I caught a good part of the Congress, it is impossible for any one person to catch it all. I apologize if I missed something that the reader may have had a particular interest in.

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Day one, the 19th of January started at 3:30 PM with two back to back presentations on "Re-inventing Winter Vegetables."

Spain's culinary tradition is generally not one most well known for its vegetables, this despite the fact that they have stunning produce and a number of items that they have become particularly well known for, including peppers such as the piquillo, white asparagus and Navarran artichokes to name a few. Nevertheless, much of the restaurant culture at least remains very meat-centric. That is changing, however, thanks in large part to a relatively new-found focus of a number of chefs including the two who presented that day.

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The first, Fernando Del Cerro, of Casa José in Aranjuez, a bit outside of Madrid, spoke of "The Thousand Flavors of the Madrid Orchard." Del Cerro and his brother, Antonio have been instrumental in revitalizing the last orchard in Madrid proper and using its products as well as other locally grown produce in their restaurant. Explaining that his particular region was noted for its asparagus and strawberries, for this presentation, Del Cerro focused on using cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and romanesco, much of it raw. Del Cerro made three dishes featuring these ingredients along with a number of different proteins.

He started with a traditional Winter Salad from La Mancha with shredded young, green cabbage adding his own touches to it such as preserved summer plum tomatoes, Galician variegated bay scallops known as zamburiñas, and a vinaigrette using vegetable stock. He served it with a special olive oil made from wild olives. The oil is served as much for its unique mouth feel as its flavor profile. The recipe is here.

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Del Cerro next prepared a red cabbage salad using raw boletus mushrooms, pomegranate, herbs and a pine nut "cream" made from an emulsion of pine nuts and water, all dressed with a vinaigrette using duck foie gras fat and sherry vinegar. The recipe is here.

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His third and final preparation, Vegetables with a Spicy Sauce, utilized three green crucifers, broccoli, green cauliflower and romanesco. These were broken down into tiny florets and combined with persimmon and a vinaigrette made with bone marrow and a number of spicy chilis (unusual for Spain). The dish was finished with a sprinkling of beet sprouts. The recipe is not available.

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When Paco Morales was introduced, I was not yet familiar with him, at least not in the way that I would become later in the week, when I got to experience his cooking first hand. His subject was "Tubers." Morales spoke of and showed a variety of these here-to-fore humble root vegetables such as kohlrabi, turnips, salsify, yucca, jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, parsnips, crosnes and others.

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Morales prepared two dishes for his demonstration. The first, "Harmony of Winter Tubers" combined a variety of the above roots to arrive at a dish of subtle color variation, yet complex and beautiful. This was a dish intended for the savory portion of the meal.

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His second dish was designed to be a dessert. Beetroot Cooked with Crystallized Beetroot Shoots, Cream of Goat's Cheese and Dried Leaves took advantage of the natural sweetness of the beet and combined it with a goat cheese cream for textural contrast and mouth feel.

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Both dishes expressed an influence of his principle mentor, Andoni Luis Aduriz, combining a position of respect for roots and herbs as well as a bit of vanguardist technique as Morales used Xantham Gum to thicken truffle juice as well as a dessicator to dry some products.

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