By day three of Madrid Fusion, between all the running around, not to mention the lack of sleep amidst the socializing, dining and drinking, I get pretty exhausted. Yet, the congress remains compelling, especially when the likes of the great Massimo Bottura is once again recognized with an award as “European Chef of the Year.” Bottura is more than just a great chef. Sure, his food is spectacular – creative, beautiful and delicious. He also happens to be a wonderful human being, full of energy, life, compassion and an incredible artistic disposition. He is one of my heroes and not just for his place in the culinary world. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award than Massimo. My day started by running into him as I was arriving at the Congress for the day. That is never a bad thing.
While their combination of flavors and textures were of interest, their imaginations were fully evident in the way they present cocktails focusing on small details and novel approaches including a fur coaster and a cocktail served in a box lit from the bottom.
I had never heard of Jaime Rodriguez before. From Cartagena, his food explores the local street and market food scene, elevating the products, flavors and textures with imagination, wit and an artistic touch. I am generally done with videos at chef demos, but he presented one that was actually essential for understanding his cooking. Shot with wit and skill, it wasn’t a vanity presentation. Rather, it helped enliven the whole event, feeding my appetite to visit Colombia and especially his restaurant.
Only recently coming back into the mainstream of tourism, Colombia appears to be a tropical paradise as evidenced by this fruit cocktail passed out to the crowd by this lovely brightly dressed Palenquera woman from Cartagena.
Rodriguez was my personal discovery of the Congress – someone previously little or unknown to me, who stimulated my imagination and appetite more than any other.
Wine is a central component to Madrid Fusión with the denomination of Ribera del Duero a major sponsor. The photo above shows my good friend and wine expert and importer, Gerry Dawes tasting the wines presented from Ribera del Duero.
Angel Leon is certainly creative and doing his share and then some to extend the human food supply, seeking out and working with new (to humans) culinary products from the sea including algae, plankton, seaweeds (he made an oil from salicornia) and even daphnia, tiny crustaceans often referred to as water fleas. While I cannot personally speak to the deliciousness of these products, I applaud his efforts and suspect that thanks to them, our species may be able, by shifting the kinds of things that we eat, be able to feed more people and feed them better.
Simon Rogan of L’Enclume in Cumbria, England spoke mostly about the difficulties and rewards of his “green” program and vegetable based cuisine.
Leonardo Pereira returned to his native Portugal from an extended stint at noma, bringing with him the principles that he learned there, applying them to his local ingredients and birth cuisine.
Once he was able to get himself out from under the blizzard of the ages in Washington, D.C., Jose Andres was everywhere at Madrid Fusión, here judging croquetas de jamón and winking at my camera.
The final session that I attended was also one of the most interesting. Synesthesia is when one sense interprets another such as when one may describe a taste as a color. Neil Harbisson is a self-described artist and human “cyborg,” who has implanted an antenna in his brain that allows him to convert color (he was born colorblind) into sound so that he may hear color. He has teamed up with El Celler de Can Roca pastry chef, Jordi Roca, to develop a culinary application for this process. They along with a team from Can Roca have adapted this color sensing antenna into the beginnings of a dish that produces musical tonality. If this were anyone else but the Rocas or a few other trailblazers, I might easily write this off as gimmickry, but with their attentions and creativity, I have great hopes that this can result in something truly artistic and life-enhancing. It is precisely this kind of presentation that used to provide great energy to fuel Madrid Fusión in its more vanguard dominated days. Much of that, while always curious and interesting, may not have resulted in long-lived advances, but much of it did. I hope that this ultimately falls into that latter category.