Madrid Fusión Day 3: Ferran Adrià Reveals a New Plan
Gastón Acurio himself, widely credited with having inspired the contemporary culinary scene in Latin America through his Astrid & Gastón in Lima and now many other restaurants around the world, spoke poetically of 7000 years of Peruvian cuisine and of how his generation was brought up in the dark, ignorant of its heritage, looking to France for culinary inspiration. This began to change about 20 years ago, he continued, and now chefs all over the region are redefining the relationship of cooks to other people, and discovering the traditions and ingredients that surround them. "We used to hide in our kitchens, trying to survive. One day we came out and discovered that Peru was a diverse country, and that we had 2000 kinds of potato, 200 chiles, 400 varieties of corn." His chef de cuisine, Diego Muñoz, demonstrated a dish of chile-marinated horse mackerel with its own toasted bones, crystallized sea lettuce, and wild tomatoes, and one based on "ham" made from lobster tail. Acurio is closing his original restaurant in a few days, he said, and in mid-February will reopen on a much larger scale in a 300-year-old palace, complete with cooking school, laboratory, and kids-only botanical garden.
Two highlights of the afternoon session were a couple of imports: Pino Cuttaia from La Madia in the Sicilian town of Licata, and Bertrand Grébaut from the celebrated Parisian restaurant Septime. Cuttaia ran changes on Sicilian tradition by making pasta alla Norma with the eggplant on the inside (a tube of thin eggplant filled with eggplant mousse and wrapped in a long baby eggplant, wrapped up in curls of angel hair pasta cooked in saffron water) and presenting boiled small octopus atop a false rock made from solidified octopus cooking water; parsley mayonnaise, chickpea cream, mussel and caper water, and lentils dehydrated and then ground to resemble sand were also involved. Grébaut's contributions were simple but delicious looking, including raw scallops "cooked" in acidulated milk with feta and hazelnut oil, and squid in red wine sauce with onions roasted in their own juices and a few pieces of sausage from the Jura.
Pino Cuttaia of La Madia in Licata, Sicily
Walking around the exhibition floor between sessions, I ran into — among others — writer/photographer and wine importer Gerry Dawes (whose knowledge of all things Spanish is encyclopedic), Jeffrey Weiss (proprietor of Jeninni in Pacific Grove, Calif., and author of the forthcoming book Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain), and Maria José San Roman (grinning broadly because her Taberna del Gourmet in Alicante had just been named Spain's best tapas bar in the new Solan de Cabras guide to the country's 100+1 best restaurants, and because business had been booming at her Monastrell since Michelin gave it a star last year).
Jorge Mas of Mas Gourmets, the Barcelona-based charcutier, gave me samples of his latest flavors of mini-fuets (small Catalan sausages), one flavored with black truffles, one with smoked mozzarella, and one, extraordinary, made with jamón ibérico. I also sample a line of new packages he is selling at his stores, a pulltop can filled with cheese mousse, crumbled pork cracklings, and mild white sausage, and a box with slices of full-size fuet made according to his grandfather's recipe from 1945 along with slices of regular longaniza and longaniza rimmed in black pepper. Mas told me there are still difficulties to surmount, but he hopes to be able to open his first U.S. store in September in Miami.
Of the many other things I tasted over the past three days, three cheeses stand out: These were at the Poncelet stand, Poncelet being a Madrid cheese shop and cheese restaurant, and included an aromatic soft white goat cheese from Fresnedillas de la Oliva, near Madrid; a wonderful sweet and fruity goat and sheep cheese from the Canary Islands called Bodega; and a pimentón-flavored cow's milk cheese from Asturias, Afuega'l Pitu.
And among the many wines I sampled, one is particularly vivid in my memory, not because it was the best I had but because it reminded me that there's still plenty about Spanish wine that I don't know. It was made from a minor red variety called Juan García, whose bunches are so small a whole one can fit into the palm of a man's hand, made in Arribes, in Salamanca. It was ripe, a little hot, dusty, and pretty tasty, sort of like old-style California zinfandel.
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