Departing Slovenia with a 9lb trout on her lap, Chef Ana Ros went over each step of the cooking demo in her mind until mid-flight when the trout’s eyes exploded. But, great chefs adapt their recipes to those unforeseen moments. The 2019 Reale Seguros Madrid Fusion & Gastrofestival drew chefs from all over the world to share their techniques, their stories, their knowledge.
Spain is the world’s high-end specialty food shop. Standing within the hall of Madridfusion between seminars, I’m lost in an epicurean dream. Aisle upon aisle of Jamon Iberico, Cantabrian anchovies, Andalusian calamari, Catalonian olive oil, La Rioja wines, sherry, amontillado, oysters and black truffles seduce my palate at every turn. What makes the jamon so delectably addictive? The fat. Jamon carvers tell me the fat is the charm of the ham. I gleefully yield to all my temptations.
The theme of this year’s festival is Redeveloping Cooking: Changing the Rules. Chef Ferran Adria asserts that we have to speak about “quality” not about “natural.” Gastronomic restaurants are only about 200 years old. Before that there were only taverns and brothels. The role of the cook has since changed. We have to re-examine their purpose; and link and share knowledge of cuisines that are becoming more fair and equitable with the environment. Adria shares that his recent project, elBulli 1846, aims to disrupt the culinary world with new techniques created in labs and workshops.
Chef Angel Leon of Aponiente showcases his technique and culinary alchemy with his “live salt” creation. We watch in awe as he pours his mixture of boiled and cooled table salt, vinegar and calcium over a table of deep-sea prawns. On contact the salt solution crystallized, encased the shrimp, and reached a high enough temperature to achieve a complete cook in mere seconds.
For Chef Ros, her kitchen at Hiša Franko is a symbiosis of three ele- ments: territory, season and personality of the chef. “Working as we work is like walking on the edge.” She tells me. “We have to be alert, because everything changes. If there’s a frost that morning, there are no mush- rooms, so we have to completely change the menu.” Nature will always provide the answer. “Take what the season offers,” she shares. Working so close to nature requires a lot of creativity. “Combine the unexpected, and don’t be afraid to take risks.” Her aim is to optimize each ingredient, each product, so nothing is wasted. From the trout that she presented, and which she named Marta, she and her team created nine original and visually stimulating dishes.
Dining in Madrid is a feast for the senses. At Coque each dish reflects the delicate intricacies of a kitchen helmed by artists. A whimsical medley of peas, thin crisped-parsley root and Périgord truffles enrobe a golden yolk for a lively display of beautiful ingredients. A decorative sequence of blue fin tuna includes crudo with piparra peppers, a petite marrow chalice of glazed tuna cheek and caviar, and a lacquered tuna belly. Each melt-in-your- mouth morsel is more delicious than the last. Bottles of Spanish wine are poured for all, but I ask for the magnum of Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva 2005 to stay near me. Dining at Santceloni is the height of decadence, each course showing off the flare of a kitchen with the finest ingredients on hand.
Marinated mackerel served with apple jelly, cauliflower and caviar, is followed by an ox rib salad with spiced sweet potato and red thistle draped in black truffle. Red prawn, flambéed in whisky is nourished in a pour over of prawn head consommé. Artichokes stand at attention while lavished in a pil pil sauce—an intensely flavourful Basque specialty. For our cheese course we may select five cheeses from a cheese cart offering forty. We each select differently and share, while pairing with a plum-y Pintia 2013 Tinta de Toro and a sweet Fondillon 1964 Monastrell.
Chefs gravitate to Spain for the best ingredients in the world, to show- case them on their own, in tried and true classic recipes, or with newly developed techniques. As lovers of fine food we are the beneficiaries of them all.