“We don’t eat many vegetables in Spain,” said chef Rodrigo de La Calle from Madrid’s Huerta de Carabana, kicking off Day 3 of Madrid Fusión with a kimchi demonstration. Kimchi seemed behind trend for a summit that thus far has featured fish exsanguination, Chinese cleaver cutting, and beef consommé with jellyfish, and that prides itself on being the lead reference point for modern gastronomy. More interesting was La Calle’s interest in making his own black garlic, which he has been fermenting with black beer in vacuum-packed bags (at 78 degrees for 30 to 40 days), as well as a presentation by Tom Sellers of his signature dish at Restaurant Story in London, the conference's annual truffle auction, and a conversation with superstar French chef Joël Robuchon.
Sellers, the young Michelin-starred British chef who spent time at Noma and Per Se before opening his own restaurant, Story, singled out "identity" as the most important thing in food — “above technique, ability, and training,” and explained that the “narrative side of food” is an integral part of his approach. He demonstrated Story’s signature dish, “Bread and dripping,” which consists of beef fat candles lit tableside that melt into a well to be sopped up with beef extract and homemade bread. It’s a dish chef Sellers called more powerful than caviar and foie gras.
“The two most important things in life are actually the things you can’t control: where you were brought up and who brought you up,” Sellers explained. “For me this symbolizes that and my relationship with my father, which was on and off, and difficult at times. And it was not in candle form, but this was very much a food served on a Sunday or Monday following a family dinner. We’d save the beef fat and extract because we didn’t have money and because that was the way it was.”
This year’s installment of the annual Madrid Fusión truffle auction presented an amusing moment. The hosts noted that while usually there is a black truffle and a white truffle auctioned off, this year because of the difficulty of procuring a white truffle, there were two black ones. A 400-gram (14-ounce) black truffle from Soria went for 5,000 euros ($5,700) to a Chinese gentleman from Hong Kong who, when prompted to come on stage, said he would like a white truffle too, much to the amusement of the organizers. The second black truffle (560 grams, or almost 20 ounces) went to a chef for 6,200 Euros ($7.080). Suddenly, a white truffle did materialize on stage (120 grams, about four-and-a-quarter ounces), and the Chinese gentleman, who had returned to the crowd, true to his word, won the bidding again.
Post-auction, the afternoon provided a lineup of headliners that included Yoshihiro Narisawa, Dani Garcia, Daniel Patterson, and Joël Robuchon, so it was all I could do to get away in between these heavyweights to get to the product booths that make up a large portion of the public draw of Madrid Fusión. As noted in yesterday’s coverage, the upcoming Madrid Fusión Manila in April will be the first in Asia. So it makes sense for there to be a booth at the entrance introducing summit-goers to flavors of the Philippines. Among the tastiest bitese were the lechón (roasted suckling pig) with roasted liver sauce, and chicharróns (fried pork rinds for the uninitiated) that they urge you to dip in spicy vinegar, the latter producing a eureka moment for anyone who has never done it. Two products that many Westerners might struggle with are “gourmet tuyo” and “tabang talangka.” Tuyo is a riff on traditional Filipino dried herring that has been packed in oil with garlic and peppers; tabang talangka is a pungent orange crab roe that they call "crab fat." “Filipinos like strong flavors because they eat these things with lots of rice,” explained the booth rep.Dong is one tall man. I hadn't realized that the 'Da' that precedes his name is actually a nickname that means 'big.' I don’t need to explain the jokes you could expect to have followed.
It seems as though there’s a jamón ibérico stand every 100 feet or so, but past several crowded bars upstairs and over the bridge there are some 40 or so booths and another demo stage, where it seems as though more commercial talks are being given. There’s Alaskan salmon, sobrassada (the spreadable cured pork sausage seasoned with salt and paprika), a booth devoted to Korean flavors, another to selling products created by legendary Spanish chefs Albert and Ferran Adrià (the only appearance at Madrid Fusión 2015 by the famed brothers), as well as commercial booths for companies like Makro, the international chain of warehouse clubs that Americans will know as Pace Warehouse. Few chefs have the kind of branding that Da Dong Zhenxiang does this year, with a large white booth featuring his smiling face. I had a chance to experience the chef’s food last night downtown at Zen Market with restaurant critic and editor of the West Australian Good Food Guide Rob Broadfield, and was left a little disappointed not to have experienced the roast duck he is so famous for. I’ll tell you this: Dong is one tall man. I hadn't realized that the “Da” that precedes his name is actually a nickname that means "big." I don’t need to explain the jokes you could expect to have followed.