Madrid Fusión 2012: Day Three

An inside look at the events of the 10th annual Madrid Fusión gastro festival

The Daily Meal's editorial director, Colman Andrews has been reporting live from Madrid Fusión this week. Click here for coverage of days one and two

Why do people come to Madrid Fusión, the annual three-day gastronomic fair that concluded today — Thursday, Jan. 26 — in the Spanish capital? To sell (and buy) food products, culinary equipment, and wines and spirits, most of them Spanish; to observe new or unfamiliar culinary techniques and draw inspiration from chefs from all over the world; to exchange ideas, business cards, and occasionally lingering looks; to sample lots of food and drink, from the mundane to the ethereal (from, for example, the olive oil bar above); and most of all, just to connect with their peers and colleagues and idols from Spain and elsewhere in the contemporary cooking universe.

"I like this show because there are people from everywhere," said Dmitry Alexeyev, Moscow-based restaurant critic and vice president of the Association of Russian Gastronomy Observers. I suspect a lot of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian, Belgian, Italian, English, and Australian attendees, among others, would agree.

Onstage sessions run continuously in the large, comfortable, well-designed auditorium and from a temporary platform stage in front of row of folding chairs in a corner of the exhibition floor from 9:30 in the morning until early evening. The whole event seems very well organized in general, with programs paced well and demonstrations kept fairly short. (It is also remarkable how much food and drink gets served in various contexts and how quickly and efficiently the remains are policed.)

My first auditorium session of the day was watching Javier de las Muelas, proprietor of the elegant Barcelona cocktail bar Dry Martini, give a charming presentation on the importance of good service (one shining moment: his onstage bartender dipped his hands in an ice bucket before picking up a metal cocktail shaker so that he wouldn't warm up the contents as he shook).

After him, Sang-Moon Degeimbre, the avant-garde Belgian–Korean chef whose L'Air du Temps in Brussels has two Michelin stars, expanded the definition of what kimchi could be, creating a carrot version almost instantly with sous-vide technology, using kimchi juice to marinate scallops and clams, and combining it in various contexts with ingredients as diverse as fresh cheese, butter, acidulated mayonnaise, and Jerusalem artichoke purée. He then constructed a dish he calls "red tuna," which is in fact cooked beets (holding up a cross section of one, he pointed out how it resembles red tuna in both color and striation) garnished with slightly spicy cabbage kimchi, mini anchovies, clams, thin slices of pickled radish, green seaweed, microgreens, and probably one or two other little bits of things.

Joël Robuchon (identified on the program as "Jöel Robouchon") was supposed to talk about "cryoconcentration" with Bruno Goussault, the so-called father of culinary sous-vide technology. The great French chef was a no-show, but Goussault carried on, giving an interesting presentation focused on the ability of vacuum sealing to produce reductions and essences. Daniel Ovadía, chef-owner of Paxia San Ángel and Paxis Santa Fé in Mexico City, evoked a few quiet gasps when he dished up fat red agave worms (they seemed to be still wiggling as they settled on the plate) and garnished them with nopales, translucent slices of cactus pear, a purée of papalo (a cilantro-like herb), and wedges of sweet avocado, and smoked the whole arrangement with smoldering agave heart under a ceramic dome made from volcanic earth. Then he displayed roasted beef marrow bones showered in black pepper, salt, and lime juice, topped with thin slices of fried artichoke and cilantro shoots and served alongside small rolls of thin-sliced avocado and wedges of onion cured in lime juice and baked in bread dough.

In a small conference room upstairs from the auditorium, the Basques rolled out their new gastro-tourism initiative, for which they marshaled a who's who of modern Basque cuisine: Juan Mari Arzak, Martín Berasategui, Pedro Subijana, Andoni Aduríz, and younger chefs Senen González, Josean Alija, and Iñigo Lavado, all of whom spoke glowingly of their home region and its culinary variety. ("Ours is just a wonderful region," said Arzak, with apparently guileless sincerity.)

Wine is integrated freely into the exhibition space, and there is a separate area billed as Enfusión, where there are more wine stands and then a large room with a real miscellany of Spanish wines arrayed for tasting. Some of the discoveries for me here were a couple of angular but tasty red wines from Jerez de la Frontera, sherry country (Altos de la Finca, 60 percent petit verdot and 40 percent syrah, from the venerable sherry firm of González Byass; and Samaruco from Bodegas Luís Pérez) and a wine from Leiro in Ourense, in Galicia, called VX Cuvee Caco, a blend of souson (50 percent,) caiño longo, caiño de le terra, carabuñiera, and mencia — only the latter of which, frankly, I'd ever heard of — that I found delightful, bright, fruity, and full of spirit. Two other wines made from grapes that were new to me: Castro de Limes from Bodegas y Viñedos Obanca in Asturius, 100 percent carrasquin, and Golán from Bodegas Tempesta in Léon, 100 percent prieto picuado; the former was faintly cherry scented and charming, a bit like a Swiss pinot noir; the latter was light and without much interest.

I also sat through a late-morning guided tasting of 15 wines, including some big names, from the Ribera del Duero. This region used to produce wines with real elegance, possessing plenty of intensity and strength, but still vinous and enjoyable to drink. (They still can, as a 2009 Pesquera I encountered later in the day reminded me.) Almost without exception, the examples chosen for this tasting were high-alcohol, excessively tannic, and strangely anonymous wines. With about half of them, if you'd told me that they were pricey new-style Argentinian malbecs, I would have believed you. It took me half an hour to get the (figurative) wood splinters out of my mouth. (I achieved this task in part through a visit to the Schweppes "Mixology" suite, featuring the company's new line of Botanical Indian Tonics: Original Indian Tonic, plus versions flavored with ginger and cardamom, pink peppercorns, and orange blossom and lavender. Gin and tonic is the chefs' cult drink in Spain, and plenty of them were being poured here, for chefs and other attendees alike, in huge glasses clinking with ice. I opted to spike my ginger and cardamom version with Flor de Caña, a good rum from Nicaragua, and the last of the tannin from the wine tasting disappeared.)

The best things I ate at Madrid Fusión:

  • Moist, beefy wagyu sliders (not called that; the term hasn't yet hit Spain, though the concept obviously has, judging from the iterations of the idea I saw at Madrid Fusión) from a company called Nuestro Buey, our beef, in Burgos.
  • Slider-size bocadillos (little sandwiches) of sobrasada, the lightly spicy Mallorcan spreadable sausage, on perfect little crusty oblong rolls from the Berlys bakery.
  • An example of "nuevo sushi vegetal" by the aforementioned Basque chef Senen González, whose restaurant is Sagartoki in Vitoria-Gasteiz. He makes sushi-like constructions wrapped in thin sheets of various vegetables, including carrots, tomatoes, and beets. I tried a carrot-wrapped roll of rice, pickled leeks, and Spanish bacon — delicious.
  • Shaved black truffles on rounds of Melba toast with a sprinkling of salt. The fragrant truffles came from what is apparently the largest cultivated truffle grove in the world, run by a company called Arotz in Soria, in north-central Spain, and they were as good as any French truffle I've had.
  • Paper-thin slices (and plenty of them) of some extraordinary jamón from Los Pedroches near Córdoba in Andalusia — by no means the most famous source of Spanish acorn-fed ham, but obviously the place to watch in this regard. Made from purebred black Ibérico pigs, like all the best jamón, this ham has a subtle nutty flavor and sweet, almost fruity fat. Clemente Gómez, the sure-handed cortador de jamón, or ham-slicer, who offered me taste after taste of this wonderful specialty told me that when the pigs gorge on acorns, the oil leaks out of their joints — not ham fat, exactly, but something akin to vegetable oil, high in oleaic acid. Maybe that's what gives the meat its remarkable character. Whatever it is, it works for me.
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