Star Spanish Chefs, Creative Fermentation, and Lots of Beets at Day 1 of Madrid Fusión

The 2017 edition of the big Spanish gastronomic conference offers the unusual, as usual

Top-rated Argentinean chef Germán Martitegui of Tegui in Buenos Aires, onstage at Madrid Fusión.

This year marks the 15th iteration of Madrid Fusión, the three-day conference and exhibition devoted to forward-looking haute cuisine from Spain and beyond — and the first year that the Spanish insurance giant Asisa has stepped in as a major sponsor (supplementing contributions from Madrid itself and a host of other enterprises) and claimed naming rights.

The "guest country" this year is Argentina, and there is also a noticeable presence from the Philippines, the site of the younger Madrid Fusión Manila (to be held in April this year), as well as several other Asian and Latin American countries.

Taking up the large main auditorium, two floors of food and drink stands, and numerous conference rooms, Madrid Fusión serves largely as a way to put new (or noteworthy older) products and, above all, the latest culinary techniques and ingredients being used around the world in front of a mostly professional audience of chefs, restaurateurs, and journalists.

Today's first session featured Mario Sandoval of the two-Michelin-starred Coque in Humanes de Madrid, just outside the capital itself, sharing a stage with Argentinean mixologist Diego Cabrera, whose Salmón Gurú is one of Madrid's hottest "gastro-bars." While Cabrera (who'd look right at home in Brooklyn with his facial hair, jaunty headgear, and striped apron) constructed elaborate cocktails — one involved sherry, tequila, orange water, apples, and Hall's cough drops; another combined Scotch, Thai chiles, lemon juice, and two lemonades, one made with ginger and roses, the other with mint and dehydrated beets — Sandoval built a number of avant-garde tapas, most of them involving fermented vegetables or kombucha.

A "traditional" cabbage kimchi was made with stevia, garlic, ginger, thyme, oregano, rice vinegar, chiles, and rice flour. Sandoval also makes his own miso using not soy beans but Spanish legumes — red Tolosa beans and lentils in one case, white La Granja beans in another. (He used the former with a dish of hare marinated in kombucha vinegar, adding pomegranate, mushrooms, amaranth, and beets.) Sandoval calls his pickled and fermented creations "live food" and notes that "through fermentation, we are discovering a really fascinating world."

Argentina came to the forefront with a presentation by Germán Martitegui, whose Tegui in Buenos Aires is ranked No. 9 in Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants for 2016 (and as the best restaurant in Argentina). His segment began with a bizarre short film clip from the 1968 Argentinean sexploitation film Carne (“Meat”), in which the heroine is chased through aisles of hanging beef carcasses by a menacing man. His point, Martitegui said, was that "Argentina is not one huge cow" — that is, there's a lot more to its food than its famous steaks. He showed another film, this one documenting the 30,000-kilometer (18,640-mile), 240-day road trip he and his team took around Argentina looking for regional foodstuffs, meeting producers, and just in general drawing inspiration from various corners of the country.

He demonstrated two dishes, one inspired by northern Argentina, the other by Patagonia in the south. The first was chopped raw llama meat on a fermented amaranth crisp with a sauce of liquefied baby potatoes and hot chiles and a topping of crumbled chuño, the "freeze-dried" Andean potatoes. The second was a gigantic oyster, as big as a filleted duck breast, grilled over Applewood, with thin slices of the root of an Argentinean indigenous plant with a name that sounded like "niqua," wakame seaweed powder, and samphire. (Martitegui, too, had a mixologist on stage with him, in this case Tato Giovannoni of Buenos Aires's Florería Atlántico.)

The only American restaurant represented in Madrid this year is New York City's two-Michelin-starred Atera. Restaurant director Matthew Abbick and the establishment's imported Danish chef Ronny Emborg shared the stage, with Abbick doing most of the talking and presenting a number of dishes and drinks — a red rose on the stem seasoned with rose vinegar and rose salt, concealing a bit of lobster salad and pickled beets in its heart; thin crispy waffles with fermented (of course) ceps, New York Cheddar, and truffles; fried foie gras topped with peanut butter, crushed peanuts, black currant purée, and brown sugar; a mock Champagne (part of the non-alcoholic "temperance pairing" the restaurant offers in addition to wine and tea pairings) based on an infusion of Douglas fir needles…. Emborg revealed that Atera is building Manhattan's largest indoor garden to grow herbs hydroponically; he was spending as much as $1,200 a week on specialty herbs, he said.

Ferran Adrià hasn't been to Madrid Fusión in four or five years, but there is always plenty of Spanish star power around. Catalan superstar chef Joan Roca interviewed María Fernanda di Giacobbe, the Venezuelan chocolate specialist and winner of this year's Basque Culinary Institute World Prize, and then took a bow as a part of a tribute to past years of Madrid Fusión, along with Ferran's brother, Albert Adrià (one noted writer on Spanish food was overheard to say, "He's ultimately a more important chef than his brother"), Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subijana, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Martín Berasategui, Quique Dacosta, and other luminaries. Ángel León from Aponiente in the Andalusian town of El Puerto de Santa María (another Michelin two-star) was named “Best Chef of the Year in Europe” by Madrid Fusión and one of its sponsors, the kitchen surface company Silestone.

Other participants on Madrid Fusión's first day this year included Jonnie Boer of De Librije in Zwolle, Holland; and a double bill of Marc Miró of La Llotja in Ametlla de Mar and Hideki Matsushita of Koy Shunka (arguably Barcelona's best Japanese restaurant). There were also sessions devoted to cooking with turrón (the famous nougat of the Alicante region), the celebrated morcilla (blood sausage) of Burgos, and non-breakfast uses of oats, as well as competitions for best sandwich using cheese and best creative sandwich.


A Madrid Fusión offshoot called Saborea España (“Savor Spain”), involving demonstrations pitched more toward traditional and regional dishes than the avant-garde, offered afternoon programs with such Spanish heavyweights as Albert Raurich of Dos Palillos and Dos Pebrots in Barcelona; the former elBulli creative team of Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, and Mateu Casañas (who now have Compartir in Cadaquès and Disfrutar in Barcelona); and Juan Carlos Padrón of El Rincón de Juan Carlos, the best-known chef in the Canary Islands. He began with a disquisition on the famed Canarian dish papas arrugadas, "wrinkled potatoes" cooked in salt water until they're shriveled and crusted with salt, and then went off on flights of fancy, tweezers in hand, showing other adaptations of the Islands' delicious potatoes, interpretations that would have fit in fine with the more contemporary morning sessions.