|Gastronomika San Sebastián Wrap-Up 2009:
by Karine Bailly and Rachel Willen with Will Blunt; translation by Mikel Treviño de Luis
This past November 23rd through 25th, Palacio Kursaal in San Sebastián, Spain was the destination for a Who’s Who list of chefs from around the world, along with over 5,000 trade show visitors and attendees, all gathering in honor of the 11th annual Spanish gastronomy conference, Gastronomika. There could be no place more fitting for the convergence of so much culinary talent and so many luminary chefs. On the Basque coast of northwest Spain, the wealthy, seaside town is touted as being one of the best food destinations near France, its restaurants holding more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world, Paris included.
2009 marked a change in leadership for the symposium, with the Basque Country’s most notable chefs coalescing to take the conference to a new level. The opening ceremony saw Hilario Arbelaitz of Zuberoa (Oiartzun, Spain) speaking about “working to establish Gastronomika as a world [culinary] reference for many years to come.” As Martin Berasategui promised, their aim would be to “continue to grow and represent the avant-garde” of the global, culinary world. The proof: a combined total of 68 Michelin stars shared amongst the various chef presenters and workshop leaders.
|Photos from the 2009 Gastronomika San Sebastián
Trajectories: The Memory of the Future
Respect and Evolution
In accordance with the day’s theme, Chef Arbelaitz launched the day’s program by demonstrating preparations based on tradition, speaking to "the old recipes of his mother” to express how classic dishes can be interpreted for modern times. Similarly, Chef Pascal Barbot of Restaurant l’Astrance (Paris, France), sometimes referred to as the “Savior of French Cuisine,” delighted the crowd with a dish based on citrus and Blue fish and a Millefeuilles de Foie Gras. He demonstrated innovative techniques and flavor pairings, such as combining pasta dough with teas and spices.
Mediterranean Versus the Baltic Sea
Chef Joan Roca and Pastry Chef Jordi Roca (Restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain) presented dishes which paid homage to the Mediterranean and “all that it has contributed to our culture throughout history.” Joan Roca demonstrated six recipes, one highlight being the iconic, Mediterranean Mussel,preparedusing earth distillates, nitrogen and gels. On the pastry side Jordi Roca presented his innovative, inflated caramel technique, filling sweet potatoes with “caramel glass.”
Restaurant Chez Dominique’s Chef Hans Valimaki (Helsinki, Finland), a master of smoked preparations, encouraged the chef-audience to respect the world’s dwindling seafood resources, noting that “even the tiniest part of a product can be used in the kitchen.” His Raw and Smoked Baltic Herring dish married traditional and modern techniques—brining and clarification meets liquid nitrogen.
Cross-Cultural Impact: Two-Way Dialogues between Japan and Spain
Chef Ferran Adrià, of famed el Bulli (Roses, Spain) and Chef Carme Ruscalleda (Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar, Spain) hosted a tribute to the culinary dialogue between Spain and Japan. Together the duo presented their views on the relationship between Spanish-Japanese Cuisine, its history and how the exchange of culinary and cultural information has influenced them as chefs. Adrià said of his first trip to Japan, “the simplicity and purity of Japan's cuisine surprised me and opened my eyes,” and that “there comes a new era in which what really interests me is that the flavor goes beyond the [local] environment.” One of Adrià’s presentations, a sous-vide melon, colored using osmosis to resemble a Shark Fin and served with Angel Hair Soup, offered the audience an ecologically-conscious twist on the traditional, Japanese delicacy.
Chef Ramon Freixa of El Racó d’en Freixa (Barcelona, Spain)described his cuisine as based on Mediterranean roots with innovative and playful compositions, intending for food to be an interactive experience for his diners. At Restaurante Casa Gerardo (Trendes, Asturias), Chef Marcos Morán likewise aims to blend time-honored dishes with creative twists. “I always keep the old recipe and show the new (improved) one.” Chef Morán presented three dishes and ended his demo with "Muddy Oysters,” an homage to how his Asturian ancestors cooked oysters in mud.
Chef Martin Berasategui of Martin Berasategui (San Sebastián, Spain), which boasts a contemporary Basque menu of individually impeccably plated dishes, demonstrated five plates including White Chocolate Tail and Air, served at the conference’s opening. He was followed by 2008 ICC presenter Chef Carlo Cracco of Restaurante Cracco (Milan, Italy) who, similarly, aims to reinvent Milan’s traditional dishes in a contemporary way. This was demonstrated in Craccos’ take on risotto: a dish of Orchid Petals Risotto served with Basil Water, Anisette Star Dust and Tumeric Caviar.
StarChefs.com 2008 ICC presenter Wylie Dufresne was introduced as the ambassador of the American avant-garde, as reflected in the cutting edge menu at wd~50. He opened with a Clarified and Carbonized Bloody Mary, a tribute to the celebrated brunch cocktail which celebrated its 75th anniversary in October. One of his following demonstrations included an Air Foie with Mashed Brioche, Plum Sauce and Beet Vinaigrette. wd~50 Pastry Chef Alex Stupak was not in attendance but nonetheless sent along a dvd presentation of two dessert concoctions, one being a dish of frozen coffee foam with argan oil foam, chocolate cake, pecan puree, caramelized pecans, and chocolate sheets.
The second day of the conference was dedicated entirely to Japan and its cuisine. It was a first for Gastronomika, but points to the expanding, global influence of Japanese fare.
Japan’s Infinite Cuisine
Sukiyabashi Jiro’s Chef Jiro y Teiichi Ono (Tokyo, Japan) began his presentation outlining the history of nigiri sushi, born some 150 years ago when it was served as street food. He also explained the two focal points of well prepared sushi: properly seasoned vinegar rice and fresh seafood. Lastly, the Chef highlighted the importance of serving different fish at different temperatures in order to optimize flavor and depth.
Yoshihiro Murata followed with a discussion on “Kaiseki,” the ancient Japanese tradition of cooking based on the four seasons, as is reflected on his menu at Restaurant Kikunoi (Kyoto, Japan). He stressed the integral role that water plays in Japanese cuisine and also offered a brief presentation on the history of tempura, introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the mid-16th century.
Hiromi Yamada (Restaurant Hirosofi in Tokyo, Japan) trailed with a presentation on Kobe beef, another integral component of Japanese cuisine. Fittingly, Yamada is acknowledged as a connoisseur of meat as well as the ambassador of Italian cuisine in Japan. He is celebrated for the first Kobe trademark, Matsusaka Ushi, a beef recognized for its extreme tenderness and said to have peach and coconut aromas. The presentation was complemented by a discussion on the prevalence of Umami in the current culinary scene, as explained by Japanese Iron Chef commentator, Yukio Hattori (Hattori Nutrition College in Tokyo, Japan).
Chef Ricardo Sanz explained his philosophy on simplicity and delicacy in the kitchen. At world-renown Kabuki (Madrid, Spain), Sanz combines Japanese technique with Mediterranean products. The chef presented several dishes, including a toro tartare with eel. On the same topic, Hideki Matsuhisa of Restaurant Shunka (Barcelona, Spain) discussed how a 1997 trip to Spain inspired him to begin combining traditional Japanese cooking with Mediterranean ingredients.
At Les Créations de Narisawa (Tokyo, Japan) Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa respects the traditional Japanese calendar of seasons and translates it into modern cooking. The chef talked about bringing “nature to the plate” as he presented a dish of Pauillac Lamb with Lavender Scent, Coal and Meat Ozaki.
Japanese Touches on Pure Creativity
Andoni Luis Aduriz is another distinguished chef known to frequently use Japanese flavors and cooking techniques on his menu. (Restaurant Mugaritz in Renteria, Spain). Along with Yoshihiro Narisawa, Aduriz presented a dish of Idiazábal Cream with Cod Gnocchi, Olive Oil and Acacia Honey.
The Legend of the Kaiseki
The conference’s tribute to Japanese cuisine wrapped with a live demonstration of the Japanese tradition, “Mibu kaiseki,” as given by Chef Hiroyoshi Ishida of Tokyo’s acclaimed, Mibu. The restaurant itself abides by this cultural tradition which respects the seasonal calendar and is meant to bring Japanese literature into the kitchen. Mibu’s menu changes monthly, offering three seatings per day, each for eight diners only; at Gastronomika, chefs Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana were two of the lucky few who dined on stage and got to taste Ishida’s special cuisine. One highlight from the three-course menu was a dish of Sake and Winter Rose, composed of flour, ginkgo nuts and rose petals. In honor of his work, Ishida was appointed as a member of the International Federation of Gastronomic Brotherhoods (FECOGA), a federation dedicated to promoting the interests of culinary organizations in the Basque Country.
Gastronomika’s final day was dedicated to several of the industry’s most influential chefs, those who continue to drive for innovation in the culinary world and in their own careers.
From Evolutional Tradition to “No Memory”
Chef Dani Garcia of Restaurant Calima (Marbella, Spain) paid tribute to Chef Martin Berasategui while discussing his culinary vision, founded in time-honored Andalusian cuisine as married to cutting-edge technique. This play between the old and the new was captured in his dish of liquid nitrogen avocado paired with Motril shrimp, macerated in cherry wine and finished with shrimp’s head juice and tangerine fern.
Another of the most creative and provocative chefs of Spain, Josean Martínez Alija (Restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain), is recognized for basing his menu off of only two kinds of meat and fish, each prepared in a variety of ways. The chef spoke about his minimal use of meat and otherwise environmentally friendly menus, practices which he hopes will encourage greater eco-consciousness in the culinary world, and he then demonstrated two environmentally friendly dishes, one being a salt-baked Roseval potato with raw green bean juice.
As a tribute to the conference, Chef Pedro Subijana (Akelarre in San Sebastián, Spain) demonstrated an eco-friendly, ultra-modern 10-course menu. The first course included a savory selection of Snacks Akelare comprising of a blood sausage roll, an artichoke bonbon and a Zurruku tuna profiterole with Iberian bacon.
Representing South America, Brazilian Chef Alex Atala (Restaurant DOM in Sao Paulo) discussed his affinity for Brazilian culture and cooking. He recounted the details of his recent experimentation with some of the products indigenous to Brazil, including a method to remove the poisonous components of the Priprioca plant (commonly used in perfumes) and infusing it with caramel for use in pastry recipes.
Empyreumatic Flavors in Restaurant Pastry Making
From novel concept restaurant, Espai Sucre (Barcelona, Spain), opened in 2000 as the first, dessert-only restaurant and culinary school, Chef Jordi Butrón and partners Xano Saguer, Guillem Vicente, and Reme Butrón delighted the audience with one of their innovative desserts, comprised of a vanilla cream with caramelized banana, phyllo-coffee triangles and ice.
The Art of Environment Inspiration
The audience geared up for the conference’s most anticipated moment: a roundtable discussion with chefs Michel Bras, Quique Dacosta and Martin Berasategui. The three chefs spoke about the environments in which they were each raised and how those roots continue to bear enormous influence in their culinary visions. Chef Bras noted “dishes are like graphics of feelings…in the end all of it is life, and each of us expresses it the best way we know how.” Chef Dacosta agreed, also emphasizing the importance of passion for one’s work. Chef Berasategui concluded with a mention on how honored he felt to be at Gastronomika with the stage located only meters from his place of birth.
Sweet Nuptial Show
Escribá (Barcelona, Spain) chef Antonio Escribá, also known as the “Chocolate Wizard,” shared his savoir-faire in creating fantasy worlds where sweetness and spectacle merge into art. His interest in fantasy wedding cakes encouraged a look towards history, particularly in film, to understand how wedding cakes and their roles on screen have evolved, from Charlie Chaplin films through to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. He concluded the presentation with his version of the 21st Century cake: a seven-layer digital wedding cake. Each layer was represented by a flat screen television, each projecting different images and music, and all this to the accompaniment of a light show in the conference’s auditorium.
A Flavor Show
Quique Dacosta, chef and owner of El Poblet (Denia, Spain), is recognized for his investigation focused on seeds and sprouts and their role in the culinary world. The Chef spoke about his latest research dedicated to rice, aloe vera and mineralization. One of his presentations, entitled the “Application of the Plant World” consisted of grilled quinoa sprouts served with reduced pork stock and grilled and refined pigeon liver.
The Nordic Myth and Revelation
Arzak’s (San Sebastián, Spain) lauded chef, Juan Mari Arzak, discussed the bond between Danish, Japanese and Basque cuisine, whereby the three countries are known to look to ancestral cooking techniques as inspiration in their search for continued and future gastronomic improvement. Chef Andy Tosten followed, speaking on behalf of Noma’s (Copenhagen, Denmark) renowned chef, Rene Redzepi, who was unable to attend due to an illness. Chef Tosten explained what makes Noma so exceptional: the seventeen dedicated chefs at the restaurant are also the servers. This fosters an exceptionally intimate dining experience which really sets Noma apart and is reminiscent of the cozy restaurant settings of the past.
Magic and Surprises
The symposium’s last presenter was none other than 2008 ICC presenter Chef Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck in London, UK), celebrated master of molecular cuisine. The chef spoke about his trip to Provence as a teenage boy, an experience which “awoke a passion that has remained until today.” In his words, eating is “a multi-sensorial experience,” meant to evoke excitement. Blumenthal presented four dishes which stirred this very reaction: “Sound of the Sea” meant to reflect the beauty of the sea; “Fake Turtle Soup, an ode to the time-honored English tradition; “Hot and Ice Tea”, which involved cooking the tea at 52°C; and finally a dessert of Hot Sorbet. It was an unforgettable finish to match the impressive, three day line-up.