Madrid Fusión Day 3: Date-Fed Jamón, Real Innovation From Poland, and Lots of Fish
The great Brazilian chef Alex Atala of D.O.M. in São Paulo (the fourth-best restaurant in the world, according to Restaurant Magazine) started by reminiscing about his first appearance at Madrid Fusión, in 2005, when Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak came up on stage with him and joked with him and made him feel one of their company. He then presented an ordinary looking coconut. "It is a wonderful thing," he said. "It falls from the trees and the sea takes it all over the world. When it is young, it has water inside. When it is older, it has more meat but little water and the water isn't very good. But in between, when it sprouts, the water turns to a kind of sponge. We call it 'coco apple.' Not very many people realize this." Atala learned about it from the native peoples in the Amazon, he said. "We are working with anthropologists," he explained, "who teach us how to work with the natives. Sometimes, when you try to help them, you hurt them instead. Human science is very important in my cuisine." In his demonstration, Atala took a coco apple that had been marinated in sugar and cumaru vinegar (he described cumaru as related to the tonka bean, but reference books say the tonka bean is the cumaru's fruit), added vanilla oil from a kind of rare giant wild vanilla pod ("I only have 10 or 12 of these a year," he said, "and the flavor is better than caviar, foie gras, truffles"), and seasoned it with seaweed salt, pickled horseradish, black garlic, and bits of codium seaweed — that was it.
Next he took a very liquid honey from wild bees, added a julienne of two kinds of chiles, stirred in orange flower water and lemon juice, then added a generous handful of tiny Amazonian blossoms of various kinds. Next, some bits of seaweed, salt, and crushed ice — "Vegetarian ceviche," he called it. It's pretty safe to say that there's no one else creating food like this.
This afternoon, I saw parts of a demonstration by Simon Rogan of L'Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, in northern England (which has two Michelin stars). He was preparing carrots, golden beets, and turnips that had been grown in hay. He combined these with a hay-flavored custard, salsify purée, "soil" made from crumbled malt biscuits, beet and carrot shoots, and "cheese snow" made from good Cheddar. Following him, the always entertaining Joan Roca of the three-star El Celler de Can Roca in Girona presented a lively, charming video of animated books to express his belief that "Reading is important as inspiration for chefs; too often we put cookbooks up on the shelf and never take them down." He illustrated his point by preparing a contemporary but rather baroque take on hare à la royale, one of the great French classics (and the kind of dish today found mostly in, well, books). His involved a classic version of the dish, made with foie gras and truffles; a hare flan; purées of beets and smoked raspberries candied ginger and juniper berries; and a leg of hare that had been rolled in black pepper, cold-smoked for a week, hung for two weeks, then shaved into scales resembling cecina, the Spanish dried beef. It looked pretty irresistible.
Unfortunately, no bites were passed around. I ended my visit to Madrid Fusión, however, on a gastronomic high note: Passing the stand for the city of Huesca, whose region is known for both its almonds and its black truffles, I ran into Carmelo Bosque, chef-proprietor of the city's one-star Lillas Pastia. "Taste," he said, holding out a tray of pale gray macarons. Oh great, I thought, the trend has hit rural Spain. Then I tried one. The cream filling was butter rich with truffle shreds, and the macaron was arguably the single best thing I'd tasted in the past three days. The balance of sweet and salt and earthiness was extraordinary, the butter was very buttery, the truffles were full of flavor. I tried another one, and then, with Bosque's indulgence, a third. If I thought I could get away with it, I'd probably still be there.