Madrid Fusión 2007: What’s at the vanguard of international cuisine?
by By Heather Sperling, Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
January 2007

What’s at the vanguard of cuisine internationally? Not a new machine, nor a different hydrocolloid, and while Spain’s great trailblazing chefs Arzak and Adria rhapsodized about freeze-drying, ultimately it was that elemental building block, the product, that was the focus of the fifth annual Madrid Fusion. The supremacy of ingredients, and the self-evident mantra of “know your product,” served as a jumping off point for the discussion of various methodologies, with particular emphasis on purity, comprehension, and integrity.

The meditation on products took various forms. Pascal Barbot of Astrance in France spoke of conserving the structure of the products – the flavor, color and texture – and keeping one’s ingredients as natural as possible with the use of technique and pairing. Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in Spain focused on both the structure and biology of aroma, presenting a chart that classified and described 33 scents, while demonstrating its direct application in the kitchen. For example, he explained how knowledge that the aroma of nasturtium has a chemical component close to mustard seed makes pairing it with meat a no-brainer.

Day 2 began with Dani Garcia of Calima in Spain, who spoke of creating dishes that are “completely pure and true to its ingredients.” With one dish, he offered homage to olive oil, playing with the euphemism of olive oil as “liquid gold”: olive oil transformed into dense, creamy ingots with the help of gold dust, an iSi whipper, liquid nitrogen, and a Paco Jet. Before preparing a dish of quisquillas, wild and sweet baby Mediterranean shrimp, he gave a lengthy description of the methods with which they are raised, and the interesting discoveries made in the course of his research into the origin of the product. In one of the simplest and most elegant presentations, Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya’s in Australia worked with deep red Mediterranean prawns, emphasizing the importance of minimal handling of ingredients and approaching a dish with respect for the produce and its integrity: "whatever produce gives us, that's what we use and we use every part of it."

To a packed auditorium, Ferran Adria of el Bulli in Spain gave his fifth annual presentation, beginning with an enthusiastic description of Alicia, a large public culinary research facility that he is building to further the dialogue between cuisine and science. With a philosopher’s tone, he then outlined 9 “Reflections about the Product (before you cook it),” from origin and composition to flavor and price, lauding the concentrated flavor and texture of often discarded parts of products – tomato and melon seeds, citrus pith, mackerel belly and hare ears. Ferran went on to present demonstrations using alginate and freeze-drying, but came back to the main them of the conference in his conclusion, stressing the essential importance of comprehending product, and suggesting that 80% of one’s time should be devoted to this task.

Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the United States did just that, with a minutely detailed description of the logic behind each component of a dish, from the cross-breed of the lamb and its feed to the variety of fennel planted and adding almond dust to the soil. He explained sustainability in the context of flavor, and how comprehension of every part of the product and the growing process can lead to a better end result on the plate and the palate. Joan Roca of El Cellar de Can Roca in Spain and Zhenxhiang Dong of Da Dong in China crossed cultures to explain the sea urchin from two perspectives, the Chinese, which uses the outside, and the Catalan, which values the innards and meat.

On day 3 Quique Dacosta of El Poblet in Spain spoke of the senses, using aromas and presentation to evoke emotion and capture an experience, best embodied by his dish “Animated Forest” that references the visual, sensual and emotional experience of a walk in the woods via aroma, texture and taste. Sergio and Javier Torres of El Rodat in Spain followed with their recent ventures in impregnation, or seeping, a technique that uses a vacuum to imbue products with flavor without actually cooking, and sensitive crystallization, a method for measuring the quality and genetic history of produce that they are researching with the University of Alicante. Juan Mari Arzak of Arzak in Spain followed by underscoring the importance of both research and understanding the composition of product; research, he suggests, helps cuisine constantly move forward, and knowing the scientific composition of produce allows us to develop a formula for the best way to cook it. Arzak, a leader and father-figure in the world of Spanish avant-garde cuisine, recognized the scientists, chemicals and physicists as having integral roles in the evolution of cuisine, and made a practical suggestion: surround yourself with people who know how to do the things you don’t have the time to learn.

The final day was one of philosophy and technique, with Grant Achatz of Alinea in the United States speaking of the aroma of experience, presenting evocative scents, like a tempura battered caramel lollipop on a cinnamon stick. For Achatz, aromas, textures and the physical interplay of the diner with the food are all aspects of the experience used to make the act of eating more cerebral, emotional and engaging. Charlie Trotter followed by presenting his new, dairy-free spa cuisine philosophy developed for his recent venture, the One and Only Palmilla resort in Mexico. The cuisine highlights fresh, unadulterated products in vibrant presentations. To demonstrate the versatility of the concept, he began by plating a prawn and leek terrine with blood oranges, fennel and a vibrant orange curry oil in the style of the Palmilla, then plated a second version, a la Trotter’s, in which each element of the dish transformed texture, temperature or shape to create a visually different dish that maintained the nutritional and flavorful integrity of the original.

Santi Santamaria of Can Fabes in Spain followed, with an impassioned monologue against scientific cuisine, admonishing chefs for focusing more on aesthetics and losing touch with the simplicity of cuisine. Santamaria’s heartfelt manifesto drew laughs, applause and a standing ovation from the audience equally surprised, entertained and inspired by the honesty with which Santamaria spoke his mind.

With 3-D glasses and goodie bags for all, Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck in England concluded the presentations and stole the show with the introduction of his newest concept: a restaurant experience that truly begins at the time the reservation is made. To build anticipation and excitement ahead of the actual night of dining, he's developed an interactive reservation process with a candy shop theme that plays upon the three guiding principles of his dining philosophy – contrast, synesthesia, and context. Though best known for the science that Santamaria criticized, Blumenthal's presentation and philosophy jived with Santamaria's plea to get back to the roots of dining and cuisine, which for Blumenthal, and most chefs, is ultimately about experience, pleasure, and fun.



^ Top of page