Talks, tastings, cooking demonstrations and festivals brought this 2023 edition of Spain Fusión Texas to a close in the state capital, Austin. Organised by ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones (Foods&Wines from Spain), its aim was to showcase the Spanish pantry’s marketability and uses
The Ella Hotel, in the University district and close to Texas’ Capitol, is a reminder of Austin’s past as a city of cattle-raising landowners. The splendidly beautiful Ionic columns that grace the facade of this former stately home-turned-hotel is in stark contrast to the sleek skyline of the city's downtown buildings; and on Monday it also contrasted with the hip, multicultural and entrepreneurial crowd that packed the former ballroom and outdoor gallery from the first presentation of the day until the music died down at the end of the cocktail party offering Spanish cuisine. “Tex Mex was invented in Texas, but following the welcome Spain Fusión had in Austin, Tex-Mex has morphed into Spain-Tex-Mex or, at the very least, has helped to expand the cultural and gastronomic diversity of this city,” said Queralt Puig, the trade representative of ICEX's delegation in Miami, responsible for the state of Texas, and who attended the closing event of Spain Fusión Texas Foods and Wines of Spain.
Attendees at the last day of the itinerant event to promote the Spanish pantry and cuisine came largely due to word of mouth. “I’ve come here from Houston. I know that on Sunday, the event was on there but I couldn’t go. But my colleagues in Dallas told me it really was worth going to,” said William Smith, from the Wine Society of Texas (Wine Society of Texas). Madison Gessner also wanted to be there. She represents Austin at the Texas Restaurant Association (Texas Restaurant Association - Home Page (txrestaurant.org), whose entire board of directors attended all the events in the different cities.
Gesner arrived, surrounded by a very young all-female team. “Austin’s energy stems partly from the fact that in recent years it has welcomed many people from other states. This has caused the city to grow and has made it very dynamic and open to new initiatives,” explained Queralt Puig, who was “very satisfied and excited” by the public's reaction, adding: “During the morning session we had to provide extra seating for those who didn't have a seat in the auditorium, and the atmosphere in the evening was spectacular.”
A mirror of Austin's dynamism and open spirit was the originality of some of the ideas put forward by the food professionals attending. Owners of restaurants, stores and event planning businesses, as well as interesting individuals, such as Lisa Mays (Home - Wine With Lisa), a blogger specializing in wine and the creator of the “art paella” concept. “I've been in love with paella ever since I first tried it. I’ve taken classes with a number of different instructors, travelled around Spain and learned how to make it, but I give it my personal touch when it comes to decorating it.” Her flair led her to set up a paella company catering to events, decorating the paellas the with a map of Texas or still lifes worthy of Arcimboldo.
Katie Goss, a young entrepreneur, went to Spain Fusión in search of Spanish cured meats and cheeses for her company, which provides cheese and cured-meat tables for events, and discovered much more than she expected. “I’m really impressed by the ham; I knew about Serrano ham, but today I learned that there are many different qualities; the one we tasted is second to none, just like the cheeses. I was familiar with Manchego but a whole world has opened up for me,” she said. “I was about to go vegetarian but when I tried Ibérico ham, it changed my life and my diet forever. I couldn't even defend the animal welfare argument, as Ibérico acorn-fed pigs have a whole hectare of holm oak trees each,” explained Michele Buster from the stage. The founder of Forever Cheese, a company distributing Spanish foodstuffs in the United States, which made one of the most important contributions to the event, brought a substantial part of his cheese range, her acorn-fed Ibérico ham from the Pedroches Valley and an array of EVOOs as well as Spanish PDO sherry vinegars and vinegars from Jerez.
Buster believes that shepherding as a profession has to be recognised in order to safeguard the heritage of Spain's artisanal cheeses. “There's no point in setting up schools for shepherds if there aren’t people to go to them. Trades that sustain the production of quality foodstuffs – like those we’ve brought here – must be appreciated and recognized, and people must be willing to pay for them so that a new generation can take over,” she said.
The Restaurants from Spain initiative (Restaurants from Spain (foodswinesfromspain.com) also attracted many people to the Ella Hotel. Among them was chef Laila Bazam who, after living in Barcelona and opening the eatery Hawker 45 there, recently inaugurated a Spanish restaurant in Austin, called El Raval, together with her partner and business partner, Laura. “Austin is a welcoming city that has a great cultural mix. We want to transmit that same open spirit to the fusion of contemporary Spanish gastronomy,” they explained. Promoting the Restaurants from Spain certification, already held by 279 restaurants in 41 countries around the world, was one of the goals of Spain Fusión Texas.
Coordinator of the team of chefs in Texas, chef Periko Ortega (ReComiendo - Restaurante en Córdoba - Chef Periko Ortega (recomiendopower.com), introduced his creation called “Nolivella”, a variation on Nocilla or Nutella, that was a huge hit. “You absolutely have to patent it!” exclaimed an attendee after tasting this cream made with milk, cocoa, hazelnuts, EVOO and orange blossom honey. A convivial atmosphere, a lot of questions and great curiosity throughout the day, and in the evening – as in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio – plenty enjoyment and discussion about the Spanish dishes that each group liked the most. Perhaps because of a cultural similarity, the patatas bravas, once again served with a sauce created by Periko Ortega, were particularly popular, but everything was greatly appreciated. “It was so hard to decide. Come back next year!” pleaded Lisa Mays.
The Spanish pantry
Wines, olive oils, Ibérico cured meats, canned foods, cheese, fortified wines and sherry vinegars have been the protagonists of this itinerant event that boasts a team of speakers that brings together experts from Spain, and chefs and instructors specialized in Spanish cuisine who are familiar faces in the United States. One such case is Danny Lledó, chef and owner of the Michelin-starred Xiquet in Washington DC. His specialties are rice dishes and canned foods.
Varin Keokitvon is a multifaceted chef at the Seattle Culinary Academy. Winner of the Premio ICEX de Formación en Gastronomía Española (ICEX Prize for Training in Spanish Gastronomy), he is a master ham slicer and explained the world of ham and Ibérico cured meats to attendees.
Mat Schuster, chef and owner of the Spanish restaurant Canela Bistró in San Francisco, presented PDO sherry vinegars from Jerez along with fortified wines from the same region.
Alfonso Fernández López, gastronome and member of the Tasting Panel of the FCCAA (Andalusian Foundation for the Control and Quality of Agri-Food Products), who also collaborates with ICEX, was responsible for introducing the American public to the universe of Spanish cheese.
The wealth of Spain’s wine-growing areas, the quality, history and the trends in the world of Spanish wines were the topic of the talks and tastings led by Master of Wine, Fernando Mora
María Jiménez Latorre, chef, instructor at the Alambique Cooking School and culinary host of programmes on the TV channel Canal Cocina and radio station Radio Marca, was responsible for explaining olive oil, a Spanish product that has a bright future for reaching markets all over the world thanks to its gastronomic qualities, and also for being a healthy ingredient.
In charge of coordinating all the cooking demonstrations was Periko Ortega, chef at ReComiendo in Córdoba, who combines his work at the restaurant with being executive chef and technical manager of Córdoba’s School of Tourism, Hospitality Management and Gastronomy, as well as at Andalusia’s Centre for Gastronomy