Spain Fusion Texas Foods and Wines from Spain ends its second edition, captivating attendees and opening up commercial opportunities for Spanish products
The products and dishes, the explanations about the history, origins, production and ways of using each ingredient, plus the experience of taking part in the Spanish spirit of celebration that revolves around food, delighted the gastronomy professionals who flocked to Spain Fusión Texas (Foods and Wines from Spain) in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. During this second edition, in addition to institutional support, thanks to the presence of Queen Sofia at the inauguration in Houston, word of mouth led to an increase in attendance, and both the daytime working sessions, with presentations and tastings, as well as the evening cocktail parties with Spanish dishes and products, surprised and impressed attendees.
The quality of the food and speakers, the format and the staging were praised by representatives of the hospitality industry, such as the Texas Restaurant Association, schools such as the American Culinary Institute of San Antonio, the Dallas Culinary School and the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Austin, as well as by the heads of the gourmet food chain Central Market, all indicate that the event is achieving its goal. “In the first edition many exhibitors secured distributors, which shows that Spain Fusión Texas has a clear impact on exports. We’re entering an interesting but new market. We’ve got to keep working, but we couldn’t be happier,” said Elisa Carbonell, General Director of Internationalization of ICEX Companies, the entity promoting the event.
The second edition of Spain Fusión Texas Foods and Wines from Spain introduced two new features. The first was the inclusion of Houston – the state’s biggest city – in the four-city tour together with Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, which were visited last year. The second was the debut of the cocktail party format with Spanish music and traditional dishes, which proved to be a hit. “This year we chose to show attendees what Spanish cuisine cooked by us is like, and people responded in a brilliant way. When you see the reaction of the public sampling the paella, the ajoblanco or the tortilla that Mat Schuster combined with local ingredients, it’s very satisfying. Texans understand exactly what we do, but until now we hadn’t explained it to them, so this is important,” said Periko Ortega, chef at Recomiendo (Córdoba) and coordinator of the cooking team comprised of Danny Lledó, Mat Schuster, María Jiménez Latorre, Sergio Remolina and Varin Keoktivon.
The goal of this event was to bring the Spanish pantry to Texas, a market that is regarded as a strategic gateway for agri-food imports, and to promote the Restaurants from Spain certification (Restaurants from Spain (foodswinesfromspain.com) for Spanish restaurants abroad: This involves commitments – using foodstuffs with a designation of origin, preparing traditional recipes correctly and respecting Spanish decor and atmosphere – in exchange for benefits such as staff training in Spanish gastronomy, participation in events, networking with producers and suppliers, and promotion.
“ICEX has five trade offices in the United States but all the food and gastronomy aspects are managed in New York. However, there are very attractive states where we want to focus our efforts, and one of them is definitely this one,” explained Carbonell, who added: “Texas is the second economy in the United States after California. It has high purchasing power and very deep historical ties with Spain. They love Spanish food here and they know us well, so we thought it was the right time to actively promote our products in Texas.
Spain Fusión Texas offered a day of immersion in Spanish gastronomic culture by means of talks and tastings for professionals in the restaurant and food industries, events planning and tourism. The hand-picked team of Spanish and American speakers was coordinated by Alfonso Fernández, an avid ambassador of Spanish products around the world, who collaborates with ICEX and other institutions in promoting our products internationally. Fernández was very satisfied with the work done, but warned: “This is a seed we’ve sown and that’s put us on a very exciting path, but we must continue sowing to be able to harvest what comes next.
The welcome given to us by attendees was astounding.”
The event’s format, developed by Vocento Gastronomía, which organizes some of the most prestigious congresses in the world, from Madrid Fusión and San Sebastián Gastronomika to Encuentro de los Mares, Féminas or Worldcanic Lanzarote, also called for the commitment of several producers and distributors. The distributor Forever Cheese, headed by Michele Buster – an American in love with Spain in general and Valencia in particular – was one of the first to commit to the project, providing tastings with an impressive range of artisanal cheeses, hams and Ibérico cured meats from Los Pedroches, extra virgin olive oils and PDO sherry vinegars, among other foodstuffs. “We work with several countries, but no one else does what Spain does to promote its products,” remarked Buster. “I admire this effort very much, and I support Spain Fusión because I see it almost as our responsibility as distributors to encourage this type of event, and also because, from a commercial point of view, being the first is important,” she said.
Fernando Mora, Master of Wine and founder of Bodegas Frontonio, also took part in the event in his dual capacity as winemaker being and responsible for the presentations on wines and cavas from Spain. “As a winemaker, what I’ve seen is that a significant number of the attendees were professionals from restaurants and hotels; that’s important to me, because my wines are only now being introduced in Texas. There were people who discovered us here and now want to buy from us. And, as a speaker on wines, the beauty of this is that everyone has the impression that Spain only has two DOs and two types of grape, some sparkling wines and some fortified wines, but thanks to this event, they’ve discovered a country with diverse wines in terms of soil, land, people and grape varieties, and that encourages them to learn more about us.”
María Jiménez Latorre, in charge of the presentation on EVOOs, stressed that, despite the good reputation that olive oil has in the world as a healthy product, much remains to be done to raise awareness of it. “Judging by the interest in EVOOs by attendees, who constantly came to ask questions, they’re starting from scratch when it comes to this product, so there’s a lot still to do. They always refer to Italian oil, but they don’t know that a large part of the Italian oil they consume is sold from Spain, that we are the world’s leading producer and that 46% of our production is exported.” Jiménez Latorre highlighted how the bouquets of aromas and flavours of Spanish extra virgin olive oils surprised the American attendees. “For them, anything that has flavour is a sauce, so they ask: ‘How do they make it, and how can it really be oil?’ They’re discovering the myriad nuances in EVOO, and they really like it. For me, Spain Fusión has been a fantastic way to plant a seed, because gastronomy is cultural and needs to be explained.”
For the head of Business Internationalization at ICEX, Spain Fusión Texas is, in short, a seed. “We’ve given ourselves these two years to test and understand each city and see what impact we make, but even in the first year there were attendees who secured distributors. We issue an open call to see which companies would like to participate as exhibitors, and as these events have a very high promotional content thanks to industry professionals, journalists, influencers and those who are already here, it helps them to further their brand value and positioning and so on. We’re seeing is that they’ve returned, which indicates that last year went well. There are also producers who weren’t here last year, such as Raventós, which in 2022 sent people to assess the event and this year they’re participating," she said.
Carbonell pointed out that ICEX has various resources and programmes to help companies internationalize and encouraged people to use them. “We have tools to support each stage of the internationalization process; for those who have never exported anything and don’t know where to start, to fairs and events for companies that are already exporting, as well as programmes for companies that already export and want to make a quantum leap,” she explained. “Internationalization is expensive, though messing up is even more expensive, but it’s a must because internationalized companies are more innovative, create more jobs and are much more resilient than those that aren’t. That’s where ICEX comes in, so the process it isn’t so expensive, so that you can access information, financial intelligence, promotional tools and talent more affordably, and these benefits are felt by every company.”