ICEX Culinary Road Trip Throughout Spain
Six young chefs and former ICEX scholarship recipients reunited at Madrid Fusión last week, revisiting their favorite flavors, products, dishes and memories of Spain.
Text: Adrienne Smith
Although the ICEX Training Program in Spanish Gastronomy is on hiatus this year while it undergoes a transformation, past participants in this prestigious initiative – which since it began in 2007, has trained well over 100 chefs from all over the world – are still invited by ICEX Spain Trade and Investment to return to Madrid Fusión year after year as part of their continuing education in the world of Spanish gastronomy.
This year, six chefs from all over the world seized the opportunity. They were Ralph Shelling and Christoph Aebersold of Switzerland who participated in the program in 2008–2009 and 2012, respectively; Jeffrey Weiss and Paras Shah of the United States, who participated in the 2009–2010 edition; Mikhail Dunaev of Russia from the 2012 program, and Sylwester Kosciuk of Poland, who participated in the 2014 edition of the training program.
And, not only did they spend the three day conference soaking up top notch presentations on culinary techniques by some of the world's top chefs, they also used this opportunity to further their unofficial roles as international “ambassadors” for Spanish gastronomy, sampling products that might eventually find their way onto these chef's menus and their customers’ plates in their home countries.
For Jeffrey Weiss, this trip also presented an opportunity to sign copies of his 2013 book, Charcutería: The Soul of Spain , at the stand for A Punto Librería, a Madrid publishing house specializing in cookbooks and similar food and beverage-centric themes.
After falling in love with Spain's huge variety of cured regional sausages while taking part in the ICEX training program, Weiss later returned to this country to tour and research the regional charcuterie of Madrid, Catalonia, Extremadura, Castile-Leon, Galicia and Asturias for his book; and, with help from ICEX, witness artisanal, regional butchering and sausage-making techniques.
In fact, Jeff returns to Spain again and again – often attending Madrid Fusión before embarking on some new journey into this country's culinary depths. This year promised to be no different. Right after Madrid Fusión wrapped up last Wednesday, Weiss, Paras Shah and Ralph Shelling hit the road, heading first for Bodega El Capricho , a mythical restaurant in the town of Jiménez de Jamuz, León, that specializes dishes made using meat from native breeds of bueys (oxen) that owner José Gordón raises himself.
From here, Weiss and Shah continued on their own, first travelling to La Rioja and Francis Paniego’s two Michelin-starred restaurant El Portal de Echaurren in the town of Ezcaray – where Shah had spent the training portion of the ICEX program working for this renowned chef. While in La Rioja, they also made sure to visit tapas mecca Calle de Laurel in Logroño for some pintxos.
The next stop was Barcelona, to dine at newly-minted, two-Michelin-starred restaurant Disfrutar. Here they visited with owners and Shah’s former chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas, from his time working at Ferran Adrià's world-famous, now-shuttered restaurant elBulli. The trip wound up in Valencia for some paella by the Mediterranean; the perfect end to this culinary road trip.
In the words of Jeffrey Weiss, “This trip was more like a little homecoming for us than anything else. It was about the three of us coming back to Spain to remember and honor our time here, and for inspiring some future projects.” While details of what these future projects might be are still under wraps, given the love that these chefs have for Spanish gastronomy, we have no doubt we’ll be hearing from them again soon.
Not only did they spend the three day conference soaking up top notch presentations on culinary techniques by some of the world's top chefs, they also used this opportunity to further their unofficial roles as international “ambassadors” for Spanish gastronomy