Welcome back to Docsconz’ coverage of Madrid Fusión 2014. Today’s was a grand show – not only do we have some brilliant minds presenting on behalf of their projects in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, we’ve also got some intel on what’s going on with the el Bulli Foundation and Bullipedia that is required reading if you have any interest in the future of cuisine.
At Central, in Peru, Virgilio Martinez and his wife, Pía León, do as Peruanos do: they look at their world, and their cuisine, with curiosity. Peru’s is a landscape of altitudes, featuring a large swath of Pacific coastline, arid deserts, the heights of the Andes and the plains of Sacred Valley. It’s intriguing by its very nature. What Virgilio and Pía have done is to reinvigorate Andean cuisine by rediscovering old flora and fauna. “Our cuisine is very closely linked to our nature,” said Virgilio, and his demo plates showed how amazing those two elements really are.
He grates a freeze-dried potato in water and bakes it into a chip, grating dried alpaca heart on top with some Andean mint and freeze-dried potato as a garnish. Crispy and rich, served as a snack.
Their second, and most interesting, featured cushuro, an agglomeration of bacteria that grows at high altitudes after heavy constant rains. These bacterium remind one of tapioca, except instead of bubble tea the cushuro are served on a purple corn puree, pink corn powder, crispy mote and finished with herbs. Their dessert demo tied some very Peruvian products together: coca leaf, cacao, cherimoya and coffee, uniting products from different microclimates on one plate. This presentation had all of my attention.
Although it does not have such a diverse climate as its neighbor to the north, Chile cultures have long made use of its boundless coast. Rodolfo Guzman has spent his 7 years at Boragó tapping into this natural goldmine, punctuating his coastal foraging with expeditions to the arid Atacama Desert and the dense rainforests of the south. Like many new naturalists around the world, Guzman has set out to rediscover old traditions and unique products, reinvigorating the global palate along the way. “We’re not so interested in the creative process, rather we’re focused on the value of food and what’s behind it,” Rodolfo said, but when you couple this with the fact that their menu changes seasonally throughout the year, numbering up to 700 unique dishes, one realizes that creativity and hard work has its place.
On his first plate, a savory course representing a traditional Rescoldo, he cooked Swiss chard directly on the embers of a very aromatic, endemic wood.
Plated with a carnivorous sort of sea snail called locos which resemble abalone (though they are, in fact, quite different), Chilean herbs and seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, and a very fleshy, intense black berry called molla.
Another dish focused on the life cycle of the peumo, a tree berry from the southern forests; the mise en place takes a year to create, and the final product includes four preparations of the berry, based on each season. Next came a course based off a parasite that attacks an endemic pine shrub in the thin forests of the Andean foothills – the final dish included three preparations of the berry-like parasite to make an “ancient and bitter dessert”.
They finally demonstrated a desert-themed dessert, using rica-rica, a powder from a flower that flourishes once every five years – the final plate includes a fermented-flower ice cream underneath a gigantic macaron, broken to resemble the cracked desert floor. Beautiful and brilliant.
You may have heard of Gustu, the restaurant that makes La Paz, Bolivia an attractive stop on a gastronomic world tour. The path has not been easy – neither chef is Bolivian – but Kamilla Seidler and Michelangelo Cestari have faced the challenges of reinventing a cuisine, overseeing a wildlife laboratory and operating cooking school with gusto. Research and authenticity are the name of the game. It’s made possible from their team of 30 young people, many of whom have left everything in order to put Gustu on the map, as well as the great variety in natural wildlife made possible by an amazing range of microclimates in this small, landlocked state.
Their first dish was a sort of llama steak, with llama-milk yogurt, hearts of the chakana cactus and a very acidic native honey. Although any use of llama milk is unusual for Bolivian cuisine (most indigenous Bolivians do not have the flora to process dairy), the simple dish highlights Bolivian product in a unique and interesting way.
Their second dish brings together three ingredients that are believed to have medicinal qualities: potato, beetroot, and hibiscus. While the resulting plate may or may not have the healing powers, the rich combination of textures and flavors should at least focus global culinary interest on the Bolivian capital. Gustu is still very young – it opened in early 2013 – but it is sure to only gain in stature as its cuisine matures and its chefs settle in to their new home.
Throughout three days of Madrid Fusión, my father and I listened to some of the most respected names in gastronomy. Midway through this last day we listened giddily to the philosopher-kings of La Vanguardia as they elaborated the next phase of el Bulli. Substituting a video introduction for his live (he was opening his month long exhibit at The Drawing Center in NYC), Ferran Adriá trusted his collaborators Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch to do the job. They remained relatively vague on the concept of the el Bulli Foundation – the exhibition and creative space that will reside in the original location at Cala Montjoi, focusing instead on Bullipedi, the highly ambitious culinary encyclopedia that seeks to classify the entirety of cooking in a straightforward manner, with definitions and classifications agreed upon by the consensus of the participants in the project. When you consider the scope of the project – Bullipedia seeks not only to classify techniques from around the world, but also materials used, chemical processes, preparations and the meaning of cuisine – you understand how grand an endeavor this is. Bullipedia is the marriage of epistemology, taxonomy, and food.
Given that this whole paragraph is a gross oversimplification of the project, perhaps Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch’s words would do Bullipedia more justice. To that end, I’ve included a segment of my transcript from their presentation below:
“Ferran has always been obsessed with classifying all the work we’ve done. We want to create a great cuisine encyclopedia. We have an index, which we used to classify our cuisine over the years. We took history books in order to see if there is some consensus, some way to classify cuisine so that people might realize that there are many variations. Why would we want to do this? Imagine an organized closet. If you wake up and you want to find a favorite shirt, no problem. A disorganized closet gives you a great problem finding what you want, and we wanted to fix this. What we are trying to do is order things in a logical manner such that everybody agrees with it – back to the analogy – colors, material, etc. Except obviously we classify techniques, processes, materials, preparations. We have now a map of the gastronomic process, wherein we identify each of the gastronomic processes we use to cook. We also group into families, into agreed-upon classifications.
We’ve been looking at cookbooks as far back as the 14th century such that we can try to understand them, but we find old, old recipes and try to understand the evolution of cuisine. It also helps us to mark when ingredients entered the culinary lexicon, and understand how they were used and how their use has changed over time. How culture has changed, even. One of the largest questions is “where is the limit to consider whether something is cuisine?” If we have a banana and give it to somebody, is that cuisine? If we have strawberries, and put them on crushed ice and serve them on a table, is that cuisine?
What is a fruit, what is a fruit? For European tastes, avocados are largely vegetable. In South America, avocado is mostly classified as fruit. Nobody is right! What is a chicken? Before producing our own classification we checked all sorts of classifications, we checked reference books and saw all sorts of classifications. In a market you can buy whole chicken with feathers, or a cleaned chicken, or cuts off the chicken. We have different classifications – primary would be the item as it appears in nature – a whole chicken, with feathers. A cleaned body would be secondary, a cut would be tertiary. It is the same with vegetables. A primary tomato is the whole plant. Secondary is tomato, tertiary is tomato pieces. We usually use parts of ingredients, not the whole thing, we usually use secondary or tertiary products. In modern cuisine we use more of the stems and the leaves, whereas in the past we more frequently use the traditional produce.
We have different tools, but we need knowledge to be able to use them. The combination of knowledge and tools is what we call a technique, whether it is slicing a product with a knife, a mandolin, or a ham slicers.
Example: Crushed tomato water, fresh strained from crushed tomatoes, put in glass – it’s a juice or drink. Poured into a dish it’s a soup. Heated in a pan, it then becomes a sauce! The classification changes depending on context. To add sugar or salt would be an elaboration. To buy something that is cooked for you is another elaboration altogether, an elaborated product. Take for instance, pan con tomate – we rub bread with tomato, take salt and olive oil, and a little bit of cured ham. Give me a name of a simple dish – bread with ham and tomato would be an answer. If we go deeper, the answer would actually be more complicated than many of the things we make at el Bulli. Why? Because we buy bread, made by someone else, finished olive oil, finished ham, all made by somebody else. If we made it all ourselves it would not be such a simple dish, it would not be as popular in all these restaurants in Spain.
We realized that we did not have to talk about particular cooks or restaurants or waiters, we talk about cooking in general. We can cook something in the kitchen, the waiter is capable of doing some cooking at the table. We also have to consider another cook, the guest – it can be helpful for our recipes and us. Consider an oyster, served with a lemon next to it. We could squeeze the lemon over it in the kitchen, or the customer could do it his way – eat the lemon first, then the oyster; or squeeze it over the oyster like we would. We could tell the customer how he is supposed to eat it – all of this comes into our frame of inquiry.”
The final day of Madrid Fusión wrapped up with more presentations from big names: Mario Sandoval of Coque just outside of Madrid, Bertrand Grebaut of Septime in France (who’s doing improvised tasting menues daily), Pino Cutaia of La Madia in Sicily, Peruvian giants Gastón Acurio and Diego Muñoz of Astrid & Gaston in Peru, Dani Ovadia of Mexico City’s Paxia, and Paco Torreblanca, the famous chocolatier of his eponymous chocolate shop in Alicante, and more fun on the floor of the exhibition hall. We tasted some excellent wines and licores from DO Palencia, as well as some more fabulous jamón from around Western Spain, just to remind ourselves what the good stuff tasted like. That wraps up our coverage of this event, but stay tuned for more coverage from this Ibérico odyssey as well as our foray east into the Adriá empire in Barcelona.
All Photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D.