A strange thing happened during a presentation entitled “Audacia, Técnica, e Imaginación” ("Boldness, Technique, and Imagination"). A violinist took the stage as chef Akrame Benallal (of Restaurant Akrame in Paris) was introduced. He put on a pair of black gloves, the lights went out except directly above the counter in front of him, then the violinist began playing. Using tweezers chef Benallal arranged amuses-bouches on a rectangular mat. Having finished “plating,” he waved his hands over the dish like a magician, then removed it. Out came a bowl and the process was repeated, but with a different dish. A series of others followed, each different, with an occasional break in violin playing. No verbal description by the chef (or anyone). No visual cue on the overhead video. Was that an appetizer? An entrée? Dessert? Is that short rib? Mango macedoine? Matcha dust? Were the dishes sweet? Salty? And was that a transparent cellphone buried in metal shavings? A pile of sticks? Wait, how many dishes is that? Six? Seven? I lost count.
It was a relaxing moment amidst the hustle of Madrid Fusión. Quenelles, thin discs, powder explosions, orbs, rectangles, squares — it was all form and presentation, but no cooking. No context. Almost as if one of the chef videos accompanying the seminars had come off the screen onto the stage. And while the acclaimed Restaurant Akrame is by all accounts wonderful, one had to recall what Filip Langhoff of Helsinki’s Restaurant Ask said on Day One: “You should be able to look down and see what you have on the plate and know what it is.”
Chef Benallal was awarded Madrid Fusión 2015's Best Chef in Europe, with presenter Juan Bellver's summary, “Part of the revolution for Ferran was the aesthetic, but with Akrame it is creating freedom and liberty,” and Madrid Fusión moved on.
The afternoon featured seminars from a variety of other notable chefs. Jari Vesivalvo of Olo, (Helsinki) talked about having to forage for ingredients to prepare for winter; Bernard Lahousse (FoodPairing.com) and Tony Conigliaro (69 Colebrooke Row, London) used molecular analysis to explain how to pair classic dishes with creative cocktails as well as classic cocktails with creative dishes (you would never have imagined that there are vanilla notes in a ray or that grilled strawberries over crab and parsnhip milk would be a good dish to pair with a vodka martini, but now you do); there was a demo by Paco Roncero about how to decide whether to expand overseas (including an overview of the risks, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities); a presentation by Sergio and Javier Torres of Dos Cielos (Barcelona) with vegetable ink printed on a host (yes, the unleavened wafer some people take in church) and chlorophyll peas served with real ones for textural variation; and Josean Alija (Nerua, Bilbao) offering paeans to al pil-pil (a preparation using oil in which fish has been cooked with garlic and small peppers called guindillas), piperade (a Basque dish prepared with onion, green peppers, Espelette pepper, and sautéed tomatoes), salt cod, and pimiento txoricero.
But there was no doubt among anyone that the main attraction was an introduction to the new documentary from the brothers from El Celler De Can Roca, the three-star restaurant in Girona, now ranked as the best restaurant in the world. During two 20-minute seminars (more than anyone has been given) Joan Roca teased and explained the documentary that he and his brothers filmed around their three-month tour of taking their restaurant (and staff) to six cities in Latin America and the United States, where they challenged themselves to learn about local ingredients, techniques, and cuisines, and then created 56 new dishes (and a new menu for each city). There will be a screening on February 10th in Berlin (it's called Cooking Up a Tribute). There's so much more to say on this very inspiring film, suffice it to note that established chefs who do things to challenge, educate, and enrich their staffs should be given a special place in the pantheon of kitchen gods, and well, heaven.
All Madrid Fusión Coverage on The Daily Meal
Madrid Fusión 2015 Coverage: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
Madrid Fusión 2014 Coverage: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
Madrid Fusión 2013 Coverage: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
Madrid Fusión 2012 Coverage: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3