Rock stars and turnips at food summit

Madrid Fusión goes back to basics with focus on natural vegetable ingredients For some, the event is still too much about pressing the flesh

David Muñoz (left) presenting StreetXo at Madrid Fusión.
David Muñoz (left) presenting StreetXo at Madrid Fusión.Claudio Álvarez (EL PAÍS)

At Madrid Fusión, an international gastronomy summit now into its 12th edition, it is possible to see people having fish for breakfast, dishing out 30 euros for a cooking apron (what’s 30 euros compared with the thrill of feeling a part of the show?) and discovering the existence of delicacies like crab oil or the “bite of light.”

This year, the futuristic food fair is actually turning back to the past, devoting its three afternoons to traditional cuisine workshops.

And if something is self-evident at this trend-setting scene, it is chefs’ status as the new rock stars of the world. Or at the very least “magicians who emerge from the smoke,” to use the words of Fran Loira, a young chef who is here because he appreciates Madrid Fusión, if not all the hoopla attached to the event which runs ends on Wednesday.

“Sometime people come to exploit their own image more than anything else,” Loira argues. “In a way it’s a case of trafficking in influences.”

“My job is to attract the most brilliant cooks in the world. People come here to learn. Those who don’t, well that’s because they don’t want to,” retorts José Carlos Capel, president of Madrid Fusión.

It is hard to imagine that manufacturers, cooks, restaurant owners and other industry agents would not take advantage of this event to do some networking on the side. Supply and demand offers must surely flow more freely when one is standing in front of a plate of good ham and a glass of Rueda white wine.

People come here to learn. Those who don’t, well that’s because they don’t want to”

It is also difficult to find regular fans of cooking who are not in some way associated with the food industry. But perhaps that is partly because tickets to the three-day event cost 60 euros per person. “They are a minority, but yes, we have fans here,” says Capel.

In exchange for one’s money, however, one gets to see the new trends take shape directly in the hands of their creators, against a backdrop of carefully selected videos and catchy tunes.

The event’s slogan this year is Eating in the City, a gateway into urban cuisine and its ties to the natural, rural world. Pascal Barbot, of the triple-Michelin-starred Astrance restaurant in Paris, and Asafumi Yamashita, a walking encyclopedia on vegetables, disclosed the hidden flavors and beauty inside turnips and carrots.

Also there to discuss the importance of vegetables — which they personally grow outside their own restaurants — were the Belgian Gert de Mangeleer, owner of Hertog Jan in Bruges, and the Basque cook Eneko Atxa, whose restaurant Azurmendi recently achieved its third Michelin star.

Meanwhile, the celebrity chefs José Andrés (who owns several restaurants in the United States and is considered the man who popularized the tapas concept there) and David Muñoz (who recently earned three Michelin stars for his DiverXo restaurant in Madrid) revealed that the counter is the most modern piece of culinary equipment there is, and that the only table anyone needs is the one where food gets prepared and served.

Both men illustrate how Spanish cuisine has taken off abroad following the trailblazing work of Ferran Adrià and his legendary elBulli, which remains closed pending its conversion into a multidisciplinary center for food creation.

For his part, Muñoz is about to open StreetXo in London, while Barack and Michelle Obama recently celebrated their wedding anniversary at Andrés’s Minibar in Washington DC.

But El Celler de Can Roca goes one better. The Catalan eatery, voted World's Best Restaurant in 2013 by Restaurant magazine, has a botany specialist on staff. The disclosure was made by Joan Roca, one of the three siblings who run the place, in a greatly anticipated lecture. Roca also explained that his team is creating a catalogue detailing the location and characteristics of the hundreds of herbs and seeds found near their establishment.

While everyone else eats and smiles, Verónica Hernández cleans. Actually, she smiles too, especially when she imagines a scenario that would not be beneficial to her in the least.

"For now they're all behaving, they're not making the place too dirty. But I'm worried about what might happen later," she jokes.

Lunchtime is approaching, and considering all the gin tonics and glasses of wine in sight, her misgivings are understandable -- especially coming from someone whose shift began at 8am and will end at 9pm, when all the chefs have gone home.

But everyone was back on Tuesday, attracted by the promise of speakers such as Juan Mari Arzak and Thailand's Bo.Lan, and lectures on the haute cuisine of the Andes and "the multiplication of the egg." As summits go, this one was really cooking.

Madrid Fusión. Until January 29 at Palacio de Congresos de Madrid.

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