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Madrid Fusión 2008

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Before the spring of 2003, I was a food and wine enthusiast like many others with a passion for travel, dining and fine wine. It was at that time due to an inopportune respiratory illness before a planned trip to SARS-filled China, that I discovered and became involved in eGullet, an episode of serendipity that changed my life and proved that the internet is indeed a land of opportunity. Over time, as a result of my involvement with this organization and the connections I have made through it, I have had the good fortune to develop a deep interest in culinaria into a true avocation. The result is that I have been conferred with press credentials for such culinary events as The Starchefs International Chefs Congress, The NY Fancy Foods Show and now the 2008 Madrid Fusión, something I would never have dreamed of five years ago.

Though I am no more than a competent home cook, events like the Starchefs Congresses, the CIA's World of Flavors programs and Madrid Fusión, intrigue me because of the confluence of incredible creativity, especially in an area that appeals to me perhaps more than any other creative endeavor - the culinary arts. I relish the creative give and take that these programs foster as well as the opportunity to improve my personal understanding of what these creative icons are accomplishing. It doesn't hurt, either that these events often afford an opportunity to nourish the gustatory senses as well as the intellect and the soul!

I arrived in Madrid on Sunday morning, taking the day to recover and re-orient myself to a city that I had not seen in person since 1974. Helping me do that was none other than eGullet Society member, Rogelio, who took me on a walking tour through old Madrid with stops for tapas before culminating in a fabulous lunch at Asturianos, however, that is material for another discussion. The rest of the day, I spent acclimating to the time change. The following morning I spent walking around Madrid taking in Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia Museum and walking through the Retiro Park before taking the efficient and clean Metro to the Palacio Municipal de Congresos in northeastern Madrid where the conference would be held.

Madrid Fusión is a large conference with a lot of coordination involved. Over 4100 people were involved with the event as either guests, speakers, journalists or staff. Speakers, mostly chefs, numbered 54. There were 140 members of the international press and over 500 from Spain, who provided daily newspaper and television coverage of the event. Given the complexity of the event and my relative inexperience as a first time participant, check-in to obtain my credentials prior to the 3:30 PM start time proved hectic and somewhat chaotic, although I did manage to complete the process and obtain a simultaneous translation transmitter/headphone set prior to the delayed start of the program.

This year's Conference was billed as Gastronomy, Internet and New Technologies. Indeed there was a focus on these elements, where in years past according to what experienced Fusion goers told me, there had been none. Indeed, one would think that this would be a natural topic for this conference that celebrates all that is new and inventive in the world of food. Unfortunately, these elements when presented conflicted with other presentations and demonstrations and my involvement with these was minimal. Hopefully, others who were involved can relay their experiences here.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will do my best to convey a sense of what transpired at the conference as well as the flavor of the event.

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José Carlos Capel, the founder of Madrid Fusión provided introductory remarks before introducing the two principle moderators of the event, prominent Spanish culinary journalists Ignacio Medina and Juanma Bellver.


The introductions proceeded quickly into the first demonstration of the conference entitled, Barcelona-Paris: Bistronomic-Bistronomie. Inexpensive bistros: low cost haute cuisine. This is a topic not unknown to members of the egullet Society, discussed under the moniker of "New Paradigm." As evidenced by this presentation, the "haut-cheap" phenomenon is apparently a global one encompassing some of the world's finest culinary cities and some of the best young culinary talent. The first presenter was Rafa Peña, the young chef-owner of Barcelona's Gresca.


Chef Peña preparing a dish with host Pau Arenós looking on from the podium.

At Gresca, Chef Peña focuses on making and selling high quality, inexpensive food, offering a three course lunch menu for €18. He does this by eschewing expensive product, instead using high quality local product procured in Barcelona's markets. For his demonstration he prepared a set of dishes from his menu from the previous week. One ingredient he focused on was the humble egg. Though ubiquitous, when handled well, it is a magic ingredient that helps allow for fine dining at a reduced cost. He also uses a number of vegetables, less expensive seafood such as mackeral and cheaper cuts of meat. He takes Ferran Adria's advice that "a good sardine is better than a not so good lobster" to heart and makes the best of what he can procure for a reasonable price. peña eschews garnish on his plates, stating that he wishes the diner "to eat the dish as a whole."


Peña working with his pastry chef wife and business partner, Mireia Navarro.


Egg Soufflé

This egg dish was constructed by separating the white from the yolk, whipping the whites, wrapping it in film while placing the yolk back into the center, then cooking at 70ºC.


Lacquered pork cheeks with bread and tomato.

Inspired by the ubiquitous in Catalunya, " Pa amb Tomiquet" or "Tomato Toast", he has deconstructed that and added slow braised pork. Particularly notable about the dish is the economy used as Peña uses leftover bread crumbs mixed with otherwise discarded tomato parts by combining them with a thermomix.


Peas with cod.

Dried cod is one of the more expensive items he uses despite its history as a common food. This dish combines two basically simple ingredients to complete a tasty whole.


Mackerel flavored with thyme

Mackerel is an inexpensive fish that when handled well is delicious. For this preparation he finishes it with heat from a blow torch and serves it over a pepper and vegetable escalibada.


Roquefort biscuit with lychees and apple.

The presentation was completed with this dish, a dessert combining sweet and savory elements in an original way.

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Iñaki Aizpitarte, a Basque chef working in Paris at the restaurant Le Chateubriand followed Peña's lead in discussing his bistronomic experience. At his restaurant he serves a lunch menu for €14. The price balloons all the way up to €40 for dinner though. :wink:

For Aizpitarte, the goal is not Michelin stars, but to create a dynamic cuisine based on inspiration from home and family recipes that is accessible to the world.

His dishes are clearly dynamic with an underlying visual beauty. No doubt delicious, they bear no resemblance to recipes from my home and family!


Sparkling oyster dressed with red fruits


"Bow and arrow" of a giant macaroni with cigalita


Five Radish Salad


Morcilla (blood sausage) transformed into a chocolate dessert with mandarin


Aizpitarte answering questions from the audience and Pau Arenós and Juanma Bellver

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Doc-I am looking forward to your report. I've always enjoyed your restaurant reviews and photos-especially your thoughts on El Bulli. The Spaniards are quietly plying their trade, yet they seem to be on the cutting edge of leading us into a new world of cuisine. Thanks, your writing and photos will be interesting.

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Nice report, I look forward to more.

Has anyone had the morcilla dessert? Combining morcilla, chocolate and mandarina sounds like a really delicious idea.

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Unfortunately, due to a need to attend to some administrative items, I missed what undoubtedly was a very interesting presentation from Oriol Rovira of Els Casals in Catalunya entitled "Rural Refinement: the rural chf in the 21st Century." Given that I live in a relatively rural area, this was a topic of particular interest to me especially as it was from a chef of whom I have heard some very good words. From what I am able to discern from materials provided by the conference Rovira's presentation centered upon the sourcing of local, quality produce, much of which is grown directly by and for the restaurant so it can be harvested and used at the optimal time. That being the case, Rovira and his hotel/restaurant are not so locally chauvinistic that they totally avoid quality products from elsewhere. Though the bulk of their bounty comes from their own fields, streams and forests, they are also quick to use quality products from other locations such as Iberian ham from Extremadura. This type of product-driven restaurant has become quite prominent and popular in the United States as evidenced by such internationally known restaurants as Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns, David Kinch's Manresa and Sean Brock's McCrady's and perhaps the less well-known, but still excellent Farmhouse at Top of the World in my backyard of Lake George, N.Y. Each of these restaurants places a premium on top-quality, home-grown produce where the chef, in addition to preparing the food is directly involved with the farming as well.

Edited by docsconz (log)

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Maria José San Roman is widely considered as perhaps the foremost culinary authority on saffron in Spain, which given the prominence and importance of this element in Spanish cooking, also certainly means one of the foremost authorities in the world. Her topic entitled, "Saffron in technicolor: new techniques" was proof.

San Roman started studying saffron in depth at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. Saffron, as a spice has been around for a long time. Although it is cultivated in various parts of the world, there really is only one variety of crocus used for the saffron spice - the crocus sativus. The majority of the world's saffron is harvested in Iran. The quality of the saffron depends more on its handling than it does its place of origin. This applies to its handling after harvest as well as during its processing. Saffron is best used as early as possible as it loses pungency with time. Some techniques for extending shelf life include keeping it in an airtight, light-free container and perhaps freezing it. The older it gets, however, the less effective it is.

The useful properties of saffron are derived from a number of chemicals. The color comes from a carotenoid, crocin, while the scent and flavor characteristics come from picrocrocin and safranal.

Most recipes that involve saffron are highly subjective, referring to "a pinch" or "threads" here or there , not providing sufficient detail while calling for much more saffron thn is necessary. During her studies, San Roman discovered that saffron's qualities are best utilized when extracted in solution prior to use. By first grinding it and then putting the saffron into solution either in water, oil or fat, various properties can be extracted, quantified and used as appropriate and desired. For an interesting look at Maria José San Roman's approach to saffron, see Peter Kaminsky's article in the New York Times from this past May.


4 grams of saffron is infused in one liter of water. each 250ml makes for one dose of the saffron infusion.

For her demonstration, San Roman created several dishes employing various elements of saffron. To demonstrate the spice's ability to impart color as well as flavor she used an aliquot of saffron infusion to make a rice with snails. To achieve optimal color saturation without overwhelming the dish with the flavors of saffron, she uses 3 s50 ml doses for her aliquot.


Different solution strengths of saffron



Adding the saffron solution to the pan of rice


Saffron rice with snails.

She also used saffron in a vinaigrette for a seafood salad. In this case, the saffron was not used to add color. Aroma and flavor was the singular purpose for saffron here.


Seafood Salad with Saffron vinaigrette

The vinegar, infused with saffron, did not take up any of the color of the saffron.

She also demonstrated other ways to use saffron such as by infusing it in honey.


Saffron infused honey

Edited by docsconz (log)

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As I hadn't had lunch and was starving and thirsty, I only caught glimpses of the afternoon program which included Carme Ruscalleda and Paul Pairet talking about their successful experiences operating restaurants in Asia during a presentation entitled, Travelling Chefs: a creative look at when East meets West. Ruscalleda is the first 3 starred female Michelin chef in Spain for her restaurant Sant Pau. She also operates a sister restaurant in Japan and splits her time between both places.


Carme Ruscalleda

Paul Pairet, chef of Jade on 36 at the Hotel Shangri-la in Shanghai, demonstrated a playful sense of creativity and discussed his experiences working in the East.

As I got carried away upstairs in the Trade Show, I also caugt only a glimpse of another presention I very much wished to see, Maria Carmen and Lola Velez from La Sirena Restaurant in La Petrer in Alicante.


Ignacio Medina with Lola and Maria Carmen Velez

The Velez sisters and Braulio Simancas, a young chef from El Silbo Gomero on the island of Tenerife discussed Magic sauces using Olive Oil: the latest in mojos (sauces) aliolis (garlic mayonnaises). Unfortunately, I was unable to return in time to catch any of this no doubt excellent set of demonstrations.

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There was simply too much going on for any one person to get to everything and absorb it all. As I said earlier, I hadn't any lunch and was starving, which is a good but dangerous state to be in when attending the trade fair portion of a conference like Madrid Fusión. This was especially true when the first displays one encounters when stepping off the escalator are alcoholic beverages like pisco sours, brandies, wines and beers! Though it wasn't easy, I did manage to keep myself from going overboard too quickly as I started making my rounds.


Making Peruvian Pisco Sours

The first display I encountered when getting off the escalator was that from Peru, where the pisco sour was the drink of the hour. I developed a fondness for this drink a year ago whilst traveling in its native land. This was a pretty decent rendition!


Huerta de Albala

There was a wide variety of Spanish wines and brandies available for tasting.


Slices from this jamon iberico de bellota from Dehesa de Extremadura were much welcomed by me.


Torta del Casar

This cheese was prominent throughout the conference. I didn't mind one bit.


Canned clams and cockles from Ramon Peña

These delicious Galician canned seafood products from Ramon Peña are each hand-packed one morsel at a time. The quality is astounding.


Jamónes de Joselito

Perhaps the most famous brand of ham in the world and arguably one of the very best, this stall was a popular pit-stop. I must say that I enjoyed it! They served both jamón and lomo.

Throughout this, I ran into some old friends and made new ones. I met up with Rogelio. Along with a few friends we migrated over to a special party in a neighboring hotel featuring fresh Galician seafood. Unfortunately, I missed the percebes, but I managed a few wonderful navajas or razor clams and got to chat and exchange business cards with some of the navaja, percebes and algae fisherman.


Serving navajas

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The food didn't stop in Galicia. I had been invited to a Press dinner at the restaurant Europa Decó in the Hotel Urban. Unfortunately, I arrived late so I missed most of the cocktail hour. Even so, it was fun to chat with Susur Lee and meet Heston Blumenthal amongst others.


Susur Lee chatting with Heston Blumenthal.

The food was prepared by a medley of Spanish chefs including the host chef, Joaquin Felipe, Juanjo Lopez from La Tasquita de Enfrente and Alberto Chicote from Pan de Lujo all in Madrid.


Ensaladilla Rusa with sea urchin by Juanjo Lopez

This was a lovely potato salad, though the presence of the sea urchin was subtle.


Trout caviar dim sum with a celery, olive oil and tuber melanosporum soup by Alberto Chicote

Though difficult to eat as a dim sum, this dish was creative, pretty and decadent.




Pure Iberian pork stew by Joaquin Felipe

This dish was rich and flavorful, proving that Iberian pork is suitable for much more than being cured.


Chocolate, bread, olive oil and banana by Joaquin Felipe

This was a stylish presentation of a classic combination - very nice.

Conversation throughout the course of the meal was delightful as at my table I met interesting people from India, Japan, Romania and the United States amongst them Yukio Hattori from the original Iron Chef.

The dinner was sponsored by Bodegas Julián Chivite of Navarra DO, the oldest winery in Spain and featured their wines as accompaniments to the food. The wines served were all from their top of the line Collección 125. Each wine was a delicious accompaniment throughout the meal starting with the 2004 Rosado, followed by the 2004 Blanco, the 2002 Reserva Tinto from magnum and finally the 2005 Vendimia Tardía Moscatel.


Chefs Joaquin Felipe, Juanjo Lopez and Alberto Chicote

The dinner was a fine end to a wonderful day. I went back to my hotel to try to sleep, albeit with limited success.

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I've been in Els Casals last december and his work (with his 3 brothers, his wife and his mother) is amazing. Not only for the philosophy of all that but also because the food was delicious, the pork superb, the woodcock very, very good. I've stayed one night, and it's just around 50 euros to eat and more 50 to sleep and have a perfect breakfast with bread made there and a variety of sausages too. Rovira deserves his star and more attention, nice that you posted your commentary on his appearance in MF.

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molto e   

Doc...looks like you really had to tough this one out-Joselito Jamon, wine, and treats from some of Spain's finest...some VERY nice images as well...look forward to seeing what else went on down there


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The year I was there legions of people were keeling over with food poisoning - all those canapes left out in the warm for hours, waiting for the shows to end. Glad to see you made it through, Doc.

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The year I was there legions of people were keeling over with food poisoning - all those canapes left out in the warm for hours, waiting for the shows to end. Glad to see you made it through, Doc.

I had heard those stories from years past. Fortunately, that did not appear to be the case this year at least within my experience. Perhaps like most good organizations, they learn from experience.

Thanks for the kind comments. With great food, fascinating ideas and wonderful people in an energetic and beautiful city, how could one not enjoy oneself?

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Day Two: Tuesday January 22, 2008

Getting up in time to have breakfast, hop on the metro and get to the 9:30AM start of day two was not easy, especially since like the previous night, I couldn't fall asleep very easily the night before. Somehow, however, I managed it, perhaps because I was very much looking forward to this entire day.


Carlos Cidón

The initial topic of the morning was entitled Nature's larder: the rheology of mushrooms, the new doctrine of black truffles. The first part of the topic was covered by Carlos Cidón, chef of the restaurant Vivaldi in León.

Cidón would tackle the area of mushrooms emphasizing different ways to use a particular boletus type mushroom from his home area of Castilla-León. These ways included changing the form of the mushroom, using various parts of it and using it in different preparations. Using the various parts was particularly interesting as he would peel the head of the mushroom, utilize the spores and the interior and exterior of the stems. The skin of the mushroom he found to be particularly useful in making liquids and gels with which to cover or infuse mushroom flavors into other ingredients.


Cidón with a photo of the mushrooms that he used in the background.


As an example of how he transferred mushroom flavors into other components, Cidón used a gastrovac to infuse an apple with mushroom flavor then "reconstructed his mushroom with the apple as the stem and the cap of the mushroom as itself. A recipe provided with the MF program uses a lemon-thyme infusion for the apple rather than mushroom. The mushroom cap is baked.



The underpart of the mushroom cap, which Cidón called the "spores" is utilized by him after a long, slow cooking to provide a mushroom essence to other dishes.

Cidón used a leavening taken from the peel of the stems from which he made mushroom "flour" and mushroom bread.



The mushroom bread is made in the shape of mushrooms.

He also made paper from mushrooms, though I did not catch the technique. The paper was used to enfold ingredients much like a Japanese nori handroll.


Mushroom "handroll" in pistachio cookie crumbs


Edible papers, on which edible inks such as squid ink can be used to write.

All in all this was a fascinating discussion and creative presentation on a subject that I thought I new something about.

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Sergio Azagra

The black truffle or tuber melanosporum was the principle focus of the demonstration from Sergio Azagra, a talented and flamboyant, Arzak-trained chef from Aragon. Though currently without a restaurant, Azagra is the author of two books, one on mushrooms called, Setas, Guía y Recetas and one on truffles that is called Trufas y Recetas.


Azagra gave a general treatise on truffles white and black. There are four principle varieties of black truffle for cooking, though Azagra identified only one variety of white. He described their anatomy as well as practical elements of identifying and handling truffles.


The truffle should be brushed, washed with cold water and dried with paper towels. Depending on the bulbousness of the truffle, there may be a lot of grit that needs to be cleaned. Ideally that should have been done before the truffle was purchased so that the weight of the dirt did not add to the cost of the truffle.


Truffles should be kept in airtight containers and can be frozen at -18ºC for up to a year. The latter approach is how he and other chefs are able to use truffles to good effect year round. He recommended against storing truffles in rice as the truffles impart their essence to the rice and dry out. Instead he suggested making a good risotto and shaving the fresh truffle onto it to provide better flavor, aroma and texture. In addition, Azagra discussed a variety of uses for truffles and specific aroma characteristics of tuber melanosporum such as earthiness, smokiness, cacao, coffee, cockles in vinegar, ammonia, sulfur, saltwater mollusks, black olives, benzene, cherry and olive mill.


Azagra prepared several dishes using various aspects of truffles.


Potato truffle

Truffled mashed potatoes are formd into balls and wrapped with truffle wafers. These are placed on top of a Tronchón cheese infusion and garnishd with celery leaves and crushed, toasted cocoa beans. For his demonstration he used "oyster" leaves, which supposedly have the flavor of oyster and go well with truffles. The recipe in the book calls for celery leaves.


Peas, Shrimp and Truffle

This dish utilized snow peas wrapped and steamed in a microwave and layered on the bottom of a serving plate. This was topped with a frozen carpaccio of shrimp that in turn was covered by a layer of truffle slices. Atop everything a tropical fruit vinaigrette with passionfruit and mango was sprinkled.

At the conclusion of Azagra's demonstration an award was given out -Revelation Chef- with finalists from around Spain. The winner was David Muñoz from DiverXo in Madrid.

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The second set of presentation of the morning was entitled "Acidified Cuisine: The new frontier in taste." The first presenter was Michel Troisgros of Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France..


Michel Troisgros

Troisgros discussed his zest for acid and its origins. From the program, Troisgros describes what he loves about acid in food,

the touch that supports the flavour. The dynamism that highlights a dish. The acidic flavour that citrus, marinades, juices, skins, ferments, herbs and certain spices and reductions give to my dishes

He feels that his interest in and love for acidified food comes from his Italian mother.

As the son of one of the bases of nouvelle cuisine and the nephew of another, Troisgros is well grounded in that idiom, however, he prefers a market based cuisine with cosmopolitan overtones. One ingredient that he has embraced is the Asian citrus, yuzu.


Curd and Yuzu

For this dish he curdled cream and made a curd cheese after having infused the milk with yuzu skin for 10 hours. He used calf rennet for both preparations. The cream was poured out onto a silpat covered tray and allowed to cool for 24 hours. He placed a square of the curd cheese on a plate, added some truffles (given the morning's presentations - they are not in the recipe in the program), placed a sheet of the cream on top, opened a slice into the top of the cream sheet and poured a line of liquid truffle and yuzu juice.


Troisgros answering questions from the audience.

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The Scandinavian invasion was a major theme to this conference and the next presenter, Magnus Ek of Oaxen Skärgardskrog on a small island near Stockholm, Sweden, was the first that we would meet. Like his Scandinavian colleagues presenting at the conference, Ek creates a cuisine inspired by natural ingredients from the land and sea around him using a variety of techniques both classic and modern.


Magnus Ek

Ek explained that Scandinavians love acidulated food, but have to find other sources for the acid than Mediterranean countries might use as Scandinavia produces neither citrus nor grapes, the two staples of Mediterranean acidification.


One way that he acidifies his food is with smoke.


Ek created a device to infuse specific ingredients with smoke.


Ek added smoke to permeate lobster tails


Smoked Lobster with Melon

This dish incorporates watermelon, wild arugula and sour bread crisps to provide a little bit of crunch, something that Ek considers as sort of a signature in his dishes.


Blue Pike with Scandinavian berries

For this dish, Ek barely cooked the fish, instead using acid from the berries which have more ascorbic acid than oranges. These berries were used to make a sauce. The crunchy element was provided by pig's ears.


Cockles with orange sauce

Though not native to Scandinavia, Ek will not totally avoid citrus. In this dish, he macerated orange in salt and put it with the cockles that were cooked "al vapor". The crunch is provided by a squid ink flavored wafer.

Ek showed that the Scandinavians are indeed intriguing, a sense that would expand as the conference progressed.

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The auditorium soon filled to overflowing, while the front row was reserved for VIP's from both the culinary and political worlds. Why? The speaker to come was arguably the most important and most influential chef in the world right now. That would be the case whether one loves his food, hates it or has never even heard about it. Of course, that would be Ferran Adria of elBulli. The room was abuzz with anticipation.


Note: Because I have a lot of photos from this presentation, I will break up my post about it into a number of smaller ones so as to slow down downloads as little as possible.

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The front row at the beginning of the presentation. From the middle of the photo moving to the viewer;s right I can identify Fulvio Pierangelini, Heston Blumenthal and Gerry Dawes.


From L to R covering every other person, I can identify Juan Marie Arzak, Juli Soler and Quique Dacosta.

Some of the members of the front row changed during the presentation being replaced by political dignitaries such as the Mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón. While I did not have a seat in the front row, I was asked towards the end of the presentation if I would give up my seat to the US Ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, who was there to accept an award on behalf of Emeril Lagasse after Adria's presentation. I did.

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Ferran was supposed to speak on the topic "Symbiosis of the sweet world, salty world," but he changed the principle topic to one of discussing recent dishes and advances from elBulli's 2007 season. Before that, however, he had a few words to say of a philosophical nature. The 2007 Conference was punctuated by fireworks from Santi Santamaria railing on modern chefs and their techniques, which seemed to be aimed directly at Adria and those who follow him for inspiration. Coming on the final day of that conference, it created quite a stir. Adria did not answer Santamaria directly nor did he refer to him. Instead, quite diplomatically, with the crowd listening intently to his every word, he issued a clarion call for freedom and liberty, saying that chefs should be able to pursue whatever style and kind of cooking they wish without criticism from other chefs. He basically said that there is room for many different styles of cooking and that each chef should be allowed to pursue the style of his choice. While I was not present for Santamaria's talk last year and could not personally gauge the response that he received, the response to Adria's comments were enthusiastic and warm. The themes Adria addressed were echoed later in the conference by both Juan Marie Arzak and Pedro Subijana to equal warmth.

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The audience listened raptly while Adria received the attention of the media and photographers including myself. The room contained energy pent-up as people listened to Adria's remarks either directly or through the headphones with the near-simultaneous translations.

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From L to R covering every other person, I can identify Juan Marie Arzak, Juli Soler and Quique Dacosta.


Between Juli and Quique there's Xavier Agulló, food writer based in Catalonia which has covered with great detail and passion the progress of hypermodern cuisine in Spain. He writes weekly in Metrópoli, El Mundo's leisure supplement.

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      Who said that everything is invented in the field of gastronomy. I wait for your suggestions!!

    • By Virbonus
      We've just come from 4 days in Madrid and an evening in Toledo. In Madrid we ate at Casa Salvador where my wife's oxtails were superb but I can only rate the flavor of my tripe as good, though it was cooked perfectly. I thought Barbara was going to swoon over the roasted marrow bone and beef at Sacha. She started with a fresh tomato salad in a very light balsamic vinaigrette that was perfection. I had the fried artichokes - paper thin slices of baby artichokes fried in olive oil that had the texture of potato chips but were pure artichoke flavor. I followed that with brains that were superb - lightly battered and fried, slightly crunchy on the outside, milky soft inside. Barbara had a chocolate thing for desert and she flipped. I had something akin to creme caramel, but I have no idea what it was, other than outrageously good. I think it had cielo in the name, but since I asked the maitre d' to just pick out deserts for us I'm not sure what we had.
      Then on Tuesday we went to David Muñoz's Diverxo. Extraordinary. And that's saying something because we got off to a really bad start. Twenty minutes to get a glass of wine ordered from the time we were seated. Then, when asked if I'd like chopsticks to which I replied in the affirmative, none ever arrived, but the food transcended all. An amuse bouche of edamame seasoned, perhaps with sumac and something else with a buttermilk-like garlic dipping sauce. Then we both had the seven course tasting menu (the other choice being the thirteen course menu). The seven courses were actually around eleven since a course would often be divided into two halves served sequentially, like the poached prawn (it was called something else) that arrived followed by the grilled, seasoned, head and body with the juices from the body drizzled over the poached tail. Somewhere in the middle were white asparagus wrapped in the skin of red mullet - actually the meal involved parts of red mullet in several of the dishes, such as a pate of red mullet liver on a thin crisp. The courses that I sort of remember include the soup served in a young coconut shell where eating the coconut meat was a desired part of the experience, a steamed roll with a quail's egg yolk barely poached on top, an extraordinary piece of tuna cheek that tasted like a sous-vide cooked short rib, and a piece of ox cheek that had been slow roasted for 112 hours, a small piece of hake served sauced accompanied by a horseradish cream and spherified lime, and a desert which I no longer remember. Very, very highly recommended.
      Yesterday, we made our way to Toledo, where completely by chance we went for lunch to Adolfo. It turns out that the chef, Adolfo Muñoz, is David Muñoz's uncle. And he cooks like it. Not modernist, but brilliantly. Barbara had a simple "small" salad ordered off the menu which was beautiful and then a scallops and artichokes starter with fresh baby artichokes and incredibly dense scallops barely accented with maldon salt flakes that were perfect. I had a risotto of black rice cooked with squid ink and baby calamari and manchego cheese that was off the charts followed by red partridge that was excellent, but paled in comparison to the risotto. Excellent.
      Now we're off to Lisbon.
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