Europe 2013 – Culinary Pilgrimages: Part 2 – Madrid Fusión

Jamon Iberico de Bellota de Pedroches

Jamon Iberico de Bellota de Pedroches

Though not quite 100% on Tuesday, we managed to get up and make our way out to the IFEMA site for the second day of Madrid Fusión. I was sadly disappointed to have missed both David Muñoz and Pascal Barbot the day before as well as Quique DeCosta, Eneko Atxa and Sven Elverfeld, but such is life. We each had enough appetite to sample sufficient quantities of Jamon Iberico de Bellota as well as goodies from Brazil, Colombia and other parts of the world. In addition, presentations from Josean Alija, a few chefs from the Minas Gerais area of Brazil, Elena Arzak, Andoni Aduriz, Dominique Persoone, Paco Morales and Albert Adria amongst others.

Stefan Weisner of Gasthof Rössl in Switzerland

Stefan Weisner of Gasthof Rössli in Switzerland

Stefan Wiesner from Gasthof Rössli in Switzerland stood out as someone who I had not previously been familiar with and captivated with his forest influenced cooking. It was a fruitful day and we were mostly over the symptoms that knocked us for a loop the prior day.

Carabineros a la Plancha

Carabineros a la Plancha

 The evening brought us to a tapas crawl in the newly renovated Mercado San Miguel just off the Plaza Mayor. We found ourselves hanging with Gerry Dawes (always a fun time), George Mendes and his sous chef, Mitchell Barr, Caroline Hatchett from StarChefs and a couple of cooks from Gasthof Rössl. The highlight of the evening, which would also been the highlight of nearly any evening was carabineros a la plancha from a stall called El Pescado Original. These bright red, deepwater shrimp off the Andalucian Coast  are huge and something unlike any other shrimp. They come full-bodied.

Carabineros from John Sconzo on Vimeo.

The technique is to twist off the head from the body and suck the copious, heavenly juices til dry. The tail remains for a last bit of gustatory pleasure. The first time through, my technique was lacking finesse and I lost a fair amount of the delectable juices onto my coat. By the second round, my lesson had been learned and I wasted nothing. The video above shows perfect technique.

Baby scallop at La Castela

Baby scallop at La Castela

From the Mercado, most of us followed the ever-knowledgeable Gerry’s lead and took taxis to a small Taberna called La Castela, where we whiled away a couple more hours and ingested a few more calories with raciones of impeccable calamares, berberechos, gambas rosas, pimientos and baby scallops. LJ and I walked back to our apartment feeling good through the brisk night air (For more photos from La Castela see my Flick’r Photoset).

George Mendes, myself, Alex Atala and Modest Amaro at Madrid Fusión 2013

George Mendes, myself, Alex Atala and Modest Amaro at Madrid Fusión 2013

Wednesday was the final day of Madrid Fusión. The effects from a couple of days earlier were not entirely gone, but we were still able to manage our way through the day. George Mendes gave an outstanding presentation on his cooking which is reflective of the vast global influences within the Portuguese tradition from which his muse comes. Alex Atala inspired with his Brazilian exoticism, while Modest Amaro from Atelier Amaro in Poland did not disappoint. His was one of the presentations I was most curious about. Needless to say, Poland is now a place I would like to visit. My Congress finished with David Toutain, who remains one of the most intriguing chefs in the world for me.

Flamenco artist Victoria Duende

Flamenco artist Victoria Duende

Although on the surface totally touristy, our evening was one that was both profoundly Spanish and intensely enjoyable despite continued lingering effects of our illness. Gerry took us to what may be the finest Flamenco club in Madrid, Cafe de Chinitas, where we were astounded by an amazing performance of top flight Flamenco dancers and singers.

Preparing Cochinillo at Casa Botín

Preparing Cochinillo at Casa Botín

Following the Flamenco, we made our way to a light late repast at Casa Botin, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the western hemisphere, if not the world. I had first experienced Botín in the 1970′s as a teenager on a school trip. One of the leaders of the trip, a priest, took myself and a few others as a treat to this restaurant. This was my first time returning and to do so with my own son, made the return that much more special. The stupendously delicious roast suckling pig didn’t hurt, nor did Gerry’s reading of the end of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which takes place at Casa Botín. Unfortunately, a 7:15 flight the next morning cut our evening short and we made our way back the apartment for the little bit of sleep still left to us.

Having the apartment in Madrid was quite fortunate for us. Found at a reasonable price through AirBnB.com, my son and I each had our own bedroom and bathroom. With a convenient location, washing machine and a usable kitchen, it proved to be an oasis and used for much more than originally intended.


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