Yesterday marked the first day of Madrid Fusión, the original international culinary summit. This year the focus is on how traditional and street food inspires some of the top chefs in the world, shaping their techniques, the ingredients they use, and their culinary worldview. It would have been impossible to cover every presentation and demo, but what follows is a brief overview of some highlights from our time here.
Mehmet Gürs kicked off the Congress promptly at 10AM. At Mikla, he fuses tradition with innovation. The restaurant staff includes an anthropologist, who for the past six years has been paid to venture in the Anatolian countryside and document traditional, and little-known Turkish fare. Mehmet picks apart the results, then recreates and refines the traditional approach into fine gastronomy. He prefers traditional, natural methods to preserve and manipulate food; instead of molecular techniques he tweaks age-old approachs and emphasizes quality of product. His work envelops the past within the present.
Gert de Mangeleer of Hertog Jan, in Bruges, presented next. Constrained by language, his ideas unfolded in a sparse conversation with an interviewer, in which he briefly talked about Hertog Jan’s vegetable garden and his passion for treating workers well. His food did most of the talking: a brilliant green slice of avocado with a dash of bright tomato powder, seasoned with olive oil and sea salt; summer bell peppers, preserved in olive oil and vinegar, stuffed and born again with fresh goat cheese, anchovies, tomato powder and sea salt, with african marigold powder and a charred pepper head on top. Austere celeriac and luxurious black truffle joined in gastronomic matrimony. Gastromony, for short.
Eneko Atxa is a young Basque chef out of the Basque country; his restaurant, Azurmendi seeks to continue the tradition of culinary excellence established and elaborated by his compatriots – Joan Mari and Elena Arzak, Andoni Luis Aduriz and Vitor Arguinzoniz, to name a few. At Azurmendi, he offers his guests the opportunity to learn first-hand about the entire culinary process. It’s farm-to-table, with a stop in the laboratory and the kitchen along the way. Like many of the presenters at this year’s congress, he highlighted not only the importance of the produce they use, but also the importance of the producers themselves. His dishes included a unique Asturian tomato he aims to bring back from near extinction, Swiss Chard that need not be cooked, and a flower garnish from Azurmendi’s garden.
One look at David Muñoz is all it takes to know that the man, rocking a trim Mohawk and ear spikes with a black t-shirt, has some unconventional ideas. His fusion of spicy Asian street food with Spanish ingredients and concepts flies in the face of the stereotypical Spaniard that dislikes spicy food, DiverXO, his fine-dining space, recently won its third Michelin star, but the focus of this presentation was his hyper-casual street food restaurant, StreetXO. Less a presentation than a transplant – ten members of the audience came on stage, where he recreated the full StreetXO experience, including ten killer courses and techno-house music blaring over the PA – Muñoz fully captured the energy and expressivity that makes his version of street food such a hit. Look for him in London later this year and then, hopefully in New York in 2015.
My friends José Ramirez and Pam Yung of Chez José, a pop-up restaurant in Brooklyn, were the only non-Spanish American chefs to present at this year’s Congress. So many of the presenters here, big names and small, head up huge, sprawling restaurants with staffs numbering twenty people at the least. Chez José, on the other hand is an exercise in autonomy – open (and fully booked) three nights a week, Pam and José are their own staff; they do everything from sourcing product to serving it. It takes long hours and certain sacrifices to pull this off, but that’s the price for independence. These two Brooklynites are the vanguard of a class of serious chefs looking for something outside the stuffy constraints of traditional business model.
Unfortunately, we only caught a fraction of the presentations and workshops today, missing talks from Joan Roca, Dani Garcia, Paco Torreblanca and Quique Dacosta.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the awesome vendors lining the exhibition hall, including three jamón producers that we had visited in the past week (Arturo Sanchez, D.O.P. Pedrochez, and Extrem Pura) and many more that we did not. Bartenders practiced the art of the Spanish GinTonic at a few different stations, while beer, wine and Asturian cider promoters served beverages with reckless abandon. Compared with last year’s congress, hosted at an enormous and dismal convention center/empty warehouse nearby, the 2014 Congress is reinvigorated with new ideas and an improved economy.
Pop and I wrapped up the day with a nice dinner at Paco Morales’ young restaurant, Al Trapo, where we enjoyed Paco’s creative twists on paesano classics, like wood pigeon with ramen and oyster sauce, and an excellent pluma Iberico cooked with a creamy, spicy black peppercorn sauce. It turned out to be a who’s who in the culinary world in the dining room. It was a great way to end a great day.
All Photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D. For more please see the Flick’r Photoset.