Elena Arzak, of Arzak in San Sebastian kicked off Day 2 with a presentation entitled “Salt + Pepper = Sugar”. Here she talked about the values of sugar in savory coursing. The goal isn’t to make a 20-course dessert tasting menu, but rather a chef should be unafraid to use sweet like she would use salt or pepper. Sugar has a flavor that is flexible and that people like. She demonstrated what she meant with the manzana sanguina, a course in which she punctured a green apple repeatedly with a pin, and vacuum-sealed it in a bag with beet juice. Left overnight, the beet juice seeps into the punctures, creating a fantastic, spotted-red effect on the apple’s flesh. This bloody apple was sliced thinly with a mandolin and paired with a savory element underneath to create a provocative-looking plate.
Quique Dacosta has been coming up especially hot since he opened his eponymous restaurant, and he showed why on stage. His cuisine is totally nuevo tapas: the first half of the tasting menu is finger food, meant to be eaten in one or two bites, while the latter half of the meal is only a little more substantial. He shared a condensed, less personal (but still appealing) experience for the audience on Tuesday, churning out a 20 courses sequence in 20 minutes. Even more impressive was how original and appealing just about every dish looked. If his goal was to promote his brand, he succeeded, showing off bites like deconstructed ceviche: tiger milk in a cubic case of vegetable gelatin, cushioning a bite of fish belly with Korean hot pepper – served altogether on a spoon. A little larger – warm olive oil ice cream, served with a broken ice cream cone, vanilla, potato, black truffle and drizzled with chicken caramel. Texturally diverse, fruit-forward desserts. This man is doing big things.
Kobe Desramaults, of In De Wulf, showed next. He didn’t speak much, preferring to let his cooking and presentation speak for him. While he believes in quality of product, foraging much of it himself in the surrounding acreage or growing it in his garden, true cooking is an investment in the people, their hands, and their work. All of his food is prepared on premises, even the bread. He has a staff of six to make the bread alone. Thus, his cooking is not only an expression of himself, but also a true expression of Flanders’ history, terrain, and citizens. He only cooked a few dishes, but they looked deliciously true to form. A buttermilk/potato puree, topped with local white cheese and fresh horseradish for “punch”, finished with jus of potato peel, young herbs and salt crust-baked finger potatoes for dipping into the puree. Salt and curry plant cured mackerel, the filet lightly cold smoked and charred with a blowtorch, served on the cured mackerel’s head-on skeleton – “a dish for people who eat with their hands”. Finally, he served Judas ears mushrooms, picked in the forest and cooked in celeriac water until they achieve optimal springy texture and served on a log, as they were found. Nature in a pure form.
Michel Bras spoke, touching on creativity, television chefs and moral values in cuisine, among other things during an interview with Victor de la Serna. Regarding creativity: “Creation is something where everything comes together in a sort of bubble … [it] is telling stories. Even my bread and butter tell stories,” adding that he has always found inspiration in the street, both in the countryside and the city. On celebrity: it’s good that the trade of a top chef is very well known, but “I wouldn’t want the people who watch these programs to think that being a cook is to be a star, but rather to work hard and to fail and to maybe succeed for 20 years.“ On values: “The fact that we are renowned cooks and chefs, we need to respect both men and nature. There is a sort of slavery in the industry.” Some themes in this interview dovetailed with the populist sentiment behind many chefs’ presentations throughout the congress, signaling hope for some of those in the food chain who work so hard for so little.
Andoni Luís Arduriz of Mugaritz, in San Sebastián, is known for pushing the boundaries of la vanguardia with his thought-provoking cuisine. He wants to know what people think of his ideas, so with the help of an application he has developed to survey his guests he has a not-so-good idea of what people want, and a more definitive idea of what people don’t want. This, he argues, is because people don’t know exactly what they want – they know they want to feel, and to experience, but they do not know what the content of those feelings and experiences should be like. So Andoni pushes those boundaries, and refines his approach. The goal is to create emotional moments in their guests; sometimes, those moments involve shared experience.
To that end, he has been working with a University of London professor who is interested in the last two frontiers of digital communication – smell and taste. After a while, I sort of got lost in what they were trying to say – the presentation as a whole raised a host of tantalizing questions, most of which were left unanswered. I think it’s time to venture to Mugaritz and do some further investigation…
Yet again we, the dastardly duo, failed to come close to covering every aspect of this second day of Congress, but there are only so many hours in a day, and so many presentations in an hour. Among those that we regrettably missed was Angel León of Aponiente, who spoke on the sea in the city; Jordi Cruz of Abac, who talked about creative tapas, yet another demonstration by Joan Roca of certain, not-unknown notoriety, this time on Guisos Marineros and other things; and Mario Sandoval, of the muy popular Coque, who spoke about the traditional asador, or Spanish grill-house.
Join us again soon for some more exciting coverage from Madrid Fusión 2014, highlighted by the spellbinding presentations from some top South American chefs.
All photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D.