Back across the Atlantic in New York, a couple of days after the lights went out on this year's edition of the annual international gastronomic exhibition called Madrid Fusión, I've been taking a look back at the event and comparing it to previous iterations.
Bad news first: The 2013 show suffered from the soullessness and relative inaccessibility of its venue, Pabellón (Pavilion) 14, stuck away at the back of the massive Feria de Madrid complex. (In previous years, it has been held nearby in the much smaller, more convenient, better designed, and warmer Palacio de los Congresos; this facility is currently shuttered for safety code upgrades, following the trampling deaths of three girls last year at a Halloween party at another city-owned structure, Madrid Arena.) There also seemed to be fewer live demonstrations on the main auditorium's awkward catwalk stage, and a greater dependence on video — something more than one young chef, attending in the hopes of seeing some of his or her heroes actually cooking, was overheard to complain about. Commercial sponsorship of various presentations, while understandably important, seemed more heavy-handed this year than in the past (Quique Dacosta's onstage infomercial for Korea's Jang condiments seemed particularly egregious). And though there were numerous big-name chefs, from Spain and elsewhere, there wasn't really one compelling must-see headliner this year — a position occupied from the mid-2000s through 2010 by Ferran Adrià, with Nathan (Modernist Cuisine) Myhrvold unexpectedly proving a dynamic follow-up last year.
I must confess, in fact, that on the first day, I was walking around the show's exhibition space, seeing many of the same faces and same products that had been there last year and the year before that and the year before that, and wondering if I really need to come to Madrid Fusión again. By the last day, though, I had most definitely changed my mind.
The presence of a contingent from Brazil — a number of chefs from the state of Minas Gerais (including the amiable Ivo Faria of Vecchio Sogno in Belo Horizante, whom I'd met in Minas itself in August, and the modest but brilliant Alex Atala, whose D.O.M. in São Paulo has been called the best restaurant in South America) — added plenty of color and flavor to the proceedings; demonstrations by this group, separately and together, were some of the most revelatory of the whole show. There was also a good showing by chefs from Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. Factor in appearances by such major culinary figures as Anatoly Komm from Moscow, Wojciech Modest Amaro from Warsaw, Heinz Reitbauer from Vienna, Dominique Persoone from Bruges, and Pascal Barbot from Paris, and the truly international nature of Madrid Fusión comes into vivid focus. All too many American culinary extravaganzas depend on newly minted "stars" from food TV, the temporarily big names who draw crowds. One of the great things about this show is that it brings together genuinely talented chefs from all over the world, chefs who may or may not be household names in their own countries (and are rarely famous internationally) but who have been pursuing their own paths for years, developing mature cuisines specific to their homelands. I don't know of another event anywhere that features such a diverse collection of culinary talents.
Of course, the Spanish are well-represented, too — everyone from new media darlings like the punk-style David Muñoz of DiverXo in Madrid to icons of Spanish looking like Juan Mari Arzak. Make a list of the most important chefs in Spain today and you would have found most of them here — Arzak (and his daughter, Elena) and Muñoz but also Joan and Jordi Roca, Albert Adrià, Quique Dacosta, Martín Berasategui, Dani García, Andoni Luis Adùriz, Ángel Léon, Jordi Butrón, Paco Roncero, Sergi Arola… Though they all know and respect each other and often find themselves at the same events in various configurations, they all seem to bring their best game to Madrid Fusión.
One of the frustrations of the event is that there are always several things going on at the same time, some in the main auditorium, some on a multi-purpose stage out in the exhibition area, some — described in the English-language program as "Brilliant Workshops" (a bad translation of Talleres Magistrales, which might be better rendered as "Master Classes") — in a smaller auditorium. Among the events I missed, and would liked to have seen, were a presentation about quinoa by Diego Muñoz from Astrid y Gastón in Lima (and one on avant-garde uses of that and other Andean grains by Muñoz working with Joan Roca), a coffee seminar by Paco Roncero (the Ferran Adrià protégée who cooks at the Michelin-two-star La Terraza del Casino in Madrid) and Bernard Lahousse of the Belgian flavor analysis organization Foodpairing, Ángel Léon's appreciation of canned seafood, and a tasting of early 20th-century vintage Málaga wines, hard to find and far less well-known than they should be.
Trends spotted this year at Madrid Fusión? Lots of imaginative uses of indigenous ingredients — including quinoa, cassava, and many unfamiliar herbs and vegetables. (The Brazilians led the way with this, as they are doing on the international culinary scene in general, but their other South American counterparts were no slouches either, and Modest Amaro from Poland kept right up with them.) Lots of seaweed in great variety and in numerous forms. Beets (a reflection of the season, no doubt). Avant-garde chocolate and patisserie. Oh, and tweezer-and-squeeze-bottle cuisine is still going strong.
The atmosphere at Madrid Fusión is very collegial: chefs, restaurateurs, food producers, winemakers, journalists, and more mix on the exhibition floor, and there's always plenty of discussion and gossip. My initial misgivings aside, I really do think this is a unique opportunity for food folk to come together and learn from each other. I'll certainly be there next year, if they'll have me.