Madrid Fusión: Endless Variety at This Annual Celebration of World Gastronomy

Young Spanish chefs, a Japanese send-up of KFC, creative tapas, and much more

Joan Roca and his mother, Montserrat Fontané, at Madrid Fusión 2018. 

Madrid Fusión, the annual world culinary summit, now in its sixteenth edition, comes to a close in the Spanish capital today. With over a hundred chefs, 150 wine and food exhibitors, and Japan as this year's honored guest, this celebration of the latest cooking trends from Spain and throughout the world shows no signs of slowing down — though next year's congress will be branded "Reale Seguros Madrid Fusión," in honor of the event's new sponsorship by the Italian insurance giant of that name.

For three days, many of the most famous and influential chefs from around the globe participated in a whirlwind of activities at the Feria de Madrid installation 10 miles east of the city center, including cooking exhibitions, workshops, lectures, and tapas and sandwich competitions. This year's theme was "Fourth Generation: Those Who Own the Future" honoring the rising cohort of young chefs such as Mario Sandoval, Paco Morales, and Eduard Xatruch, among dozens of other exciting new culinary visionaries born in the 1980s who have quickly filled the shoes and the daises formerly occupied by the likes of Juan Mari Arzak, Ferran Adrià, or the late Santi Santamaria.

With 15 competitions, auctions, and awards events; 24 workshops; and 60 cooking demonstrations taking place in overlapping schedules in the main auditorium, the mixed-use space upstairs, the workshop area on the first floor, and the dozens of rooms and spaces distributed around the convention palace, Madrid Fusión may resemble nothing so much as the Hieronymus Bosch triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights," which in fact now resides a few miles away in the Prado Museum. The slender 150-foot escalator leading up to the third-floor exhibitors' area, the elevators swooping up and down the flanks of the building, and the myriad balconies, alcoves, and meeting rooms scattered throughout the well-lit glass structure all contribute to the sense of euphoria here — undoubtedly heightened by the wine-tasting and general hilarity running wild among the more than 2,000 attendees swarming from one event to another.

The delegation from Japan was led by Zaiyu Hasegawa, chef and owner of the Tokyo restaurant Den, famed as the enfant terrible of the Japanese restaurant world. Hasegawa demonstrated his DFC (Den Fried Chicken) — a take-off on / send up of KFC — with an explanation of the appeal of chicken-in-a-box: "You get to open it up and you find a surprise inside!" He encourages his customers to forget about chopsticks and eat with their fingers, he said. Describing his early days as a restaurateur ("Nobody came"), Hasegawa emphasized his belief in traditional products and techniques, with novelty only as an extra added attraction. "A restaurant should be like a mother cooking for her children," he declared

Roca of the Michelin-three-star El Celler de Can Roca in Girona and his mother, Montserrat Fontané, who runs the original family restaurant, Can Roca, gave one of Madrid Fusión 2018's most moving presentations, an homage to memory and the importance of origins, starring the maternal (and eternal) canelons — the Catalan take on cannelloni, traditional in the region since Italian tavern owners introduced it in the nineteenth century — and the importance and legitimacy of repetition, of eating the same cherished comfort food from the same loving hands. The presentation ended with a video of the Roca brothers' 85-year-old father in the family kitchen playing a food prank on a family member (think very hot pepper in a piece of chocolate) and helplessly cracking up with laughter; not a dry eye in the house.

The summit played host to exhibitions on countless other topics: sake; Zen cooking; the 1,000 faces of cod; creative tapas; creative sandwiches; new Ribera de Duero wines; modern fish cookery in Lisbon; sustainable energy efficiency; sea bass (wild or farmed?); Asian knife masters; all about frijoles; seaweed; Sevilla (a jam session of tapas and rice); fiber (the hidden ingredient); wild flavors from the Philippines; a truffle auction; Austrian-born chef Sebastian Frank of Horváth in Berlin (named Best Chef in Europe this year at Madrid Fusión); herbs and fragrances of Andalusian cooking; "chef of the tides" Alexandre Couillon (whose two-star restaurant, La Marine, on the French island of Noirmoutier, is accessible only when the tide is out); line-caught red tuna; cooking wild game; Asturian cider; eating crustaceans shells and all; the new Russian cuisine; the aroma management of black truffles; the fourth International Championship of the Best Ham Croquette in the World…The offerings were endless and irresistible.

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