Queen Sofía attended the inauguration of Spain Fusion, held in Houston. It was the first day of the four-day event, which continues on Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. The Spanish pantry, with cavas, wines, vinegars, Ibérico cured meats, cheeses, olive oil and canned foods are the protagonists of the event
On May 15, Queen Sofía attended the inauguration of Spain Fusion in Houston. Just off the plane from Spain, she presided at the Premios Sophia a la Excelencia 2023 awards ceremony, promoted by the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute. Queen Sofía visited the C. Baldwin Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton where the first of the four days of the second edition of Spain Fusion Texas is being held. She greeted the exhibitors and guests while making a thorough round of the booths offering products, tastings and dishes.
“This congress is an excellent way to introduce Spain’s products and gastronomy,” commented the Emeritus Queen to María Naranjo, Director General of Industria Alimentaria de ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones (Food & Wines from Spain), who welcomed her together with Íñigo Iribarnegaray, Director General of Nuevos Negocios de Vocento, and Benjamín Lana, Director General of Vocento Gastronomía.
Some 250 people, mostly from the hospitality industry, retailers and the specialized press attended the event. A number of them had also taken part in the earlier session of talks and guided tastings. However, while the daytime session centered on technical and informational topics, the evening cocktail party – designed to convey Spain’s spirit of hospitality and celebrate its gastronomic culture – was an invitation to socialize and enjoy dishes prepared by Periko Ortega, Sergio Remolina, Danny Lledó and Mat Schuster in a laid-back atmosphere with Spanish pop music playing in the background.
Periko Ortega, from Córdoba, coordinated the team of chefs and offered a light ajoblanco, beautifully flavored with vinegar, with a Rioja wine jelly that brought a touch of sweetness as a contrast to the grapes, while San Antonio-based Mexican chef Sergio Remolina prepared patatas bravas with a touch of smoked chili in the sauce that added a distinctive depth to the dish. Washington born Danny Lledó, whose palate was shaped by his childhood years in Denia, offered a paella contest, and Mat Schuster did the same with two types of Spanish tortilla de patatas – a classic one without onion, and another with a touch of chorizo, which attendees swooned over.
Perhaps the most surprising thing was to see an American guy with Asian features cutting ham with a perfect slicing technique. Varin Keokitvon, an instructor at the Seattle Culinary Academy, did honor to the quality of pure acorn-fed Ibérico ham from the Pedroches Valley, creating a sensation. “Live slicing, aside from offering special nuances, is a very compelling and surprising spectacle for the public,” said Alfonso Fernández, who specializes in Spanish products, collaborates with ICEX at international events and is the master of ceremonies at Spain Fusión.
Conveying culture and bringing people together
“Gastronomy has the power of conveying the essence of a culture, and also the ability to bring different peoples closer together,” said the Director General of Vocento Gastronomía, Benjamín Lana, during the inauguration, and highlighted the historical and cultural ties between Spain and the large prosperous state of Texas. Benjamín Lana invited industry professionals to enjoy a “wonderful dive into the Spanish pantry, recipes and way of life and celebrating food” that this event, promoted by ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones (Foods&Wines from Spain), represents. The occasion was also supported by María Naranjo, ICEX’s Director of Industria Alimentaria.
Away from the stage, the head of Vocento’s gastronomic division explained that it is precisely these cultural ties, plus the fact that Texas is a state that is booming and is not as saturated with gastronomic events as other places, “led us to decide to start Spain Fusión’s initiative here, which for us is an ideal format for publicizing Spanish gastronomy around the world.”
Lana, who did not rule out that in the future the format could be taken to other countries, underlined the importance of showing these products as a fundamental and essential part of Spanish cuisine’s DNA. “The prominence that Spanish gastronomy has achieved in the last 25 years has also sparked great curiosity with regard to what Spain produces. The idea is for Spain Fusión to become consolidated, and the best proof of that is the fact that now, in its second year, the event has expanded from Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, where it made its debut in 2022, also to Houston, the most populous city in Texas and the state’s gastronomic capital.”
Next, Alfonso Fernández, one of the great connoisseurs of the Spanish pantry and a partner of ICEX, who is also a world ambassador for Spanish products and master of ceremonies at Spain Fusión 2023, gave the floor to the first speaker, Mat Schuster. The chef, from the restaurant Canela in San Francisco, heads the introduction of sherry vinegar – one of Spain's most intriguing and previously unknown products in the United States – to the audience made up of chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs, retailers, journalists and food influencers. He will offer a tasting session featuring several dishes in which he uses sherry vinegar, revealing its ability to enhance flavors and add complexity. “The woody notes it adds are amazing,” said one of the chefs there, adding that he uses reserve PX vinegar for desserts made with strawberries.
Ibérico cured meats, wines and cheeses
While Ibérico cured meats, wines, cheeses and EVOO are already well-known and appreciated by the American public, canned foods do not yet enjoy the same gastronomic recognition in the United States. “Good quality canned foods are not very common here, and that’s why they are usually considered a cheap product and of little gastronomic interest,” commented chef Danny Lledó, whose Michelin-starred restaurant, Xiquet, is in Washington DC, and who is responsible for debunking that myth at Spain Fusión. “Just open a can and taste the contents to understand that this is a great undiscovered treasure and that many Spanish restaurants that can benefit from these top-quality products that also enjoy a long shelf life. Lledó explained that in his restaurant he uses sardines in olive oil for cocktail parties and appetizers. “Perhaps in a fine-dining establishment like mine – that’s more focused on rice dishes and products and ingredients from Valencia – using canned food is restricted to a few dishes, but there are other eateries, such as tapas bars and stores, that can rely heavily on them,” he added.
Throughout the day, the C. Baldwin Hotel, Curio Collection of Houston, whose name honors Charlotte Baldwin, was the scene of presentations and tastings. Baldwin and her husband were the architects behind Houston’s prosperity, a city the couple founded in the nineteenth century on land they owned.