May 20 2023

The Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio hosts Spain Fusion

Talks, tasting, demonstrations and festivals complete the 2023 Spain Fusion Texas conference organised by ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones (Foods&Wines from Spain). The event took place in The Pearl district, the nerve centre of cultural life and restaurants in San Antonio

Declared a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, San Antonio is one of the country's leading gastronomy destinations, and the Pearl district, now brimming over with restaurants, shops and galleries, was the historical patch for artisan beermakers, distillers and barrelmakers.

Spain Fusion is a small-format event reserved for gastronomy professionals. Top caterers, chefs, sommeliers, retailers, journalists and influencers. In Houston, the success of the event was spectacular, with a full house during the day and also at the drinks party attended by the former Queen.

Spanish larder

Wines, olive oils, Iberian ham, canned produce, cheeses, full-bodied wines and vinegars from Jerez were the star attractions at this itinerant event, with a team of speakers featuring experts arriving from Spain, and chefs and instructors in Spanish cuisine with great prestige in the United States. One of them is Danny Lledó, chef and owner of the Xiquet restaurant  in Washington DC, which has a Michelin star. He is a specialist in rices and preserves.

Varin Keokitvon, the polyfacetic chef of the Seattle Culinary Academy. The winner of the ICEX Award for Training in Spanish Gastronomy, he is a consummate ham-slicing expert, and was demonstrating the world of ham and Iberian cold cuts.

Jerez DOP vinegar was presented alongside Jerez's full-bodied wines by Mat Schuster. Chef and owner of the Spanish restaurant Canela Bistró in San Francisco.

Alfonso Fernández López, gastronome, member of the Tasting Panel for Andalusia's for Agrofood Control and Quality Foundation, and associate of ICEX, introduced congress-goers to the universe of Spanish cheeses.

The richness of winemaking regions, the history and tendencies of the world of Spanish wine was the subject of talks and tasting conducted by Master of Wine Fernando Mora.

María Jiménez Latorre, chef, lecturer at the Alambique Cookery School and culinary communicator on programmes on Canal Cocina and Radio Marca, discussed olive oil, a Spanish product with some major potential for projection thanks to its healthy gastronomic qualities.

Coordination of showcookings and culinary demonstrations was the task of Periko Ortega, chef at ReComiendo (Córdoba), who divides his time between the restaurant and work as executive chef and technical director of the Córdoba School of Tourism, Catering and Gastronomy and Andalusia's Gastronomy Centre.

A party to remember

The Spanish cocktail-party/fiesta formula has proved to be the best way to round off the sessions offered by Spain Fusion, the event created by ICEX Food and Wines from Spain to introduce the Spanish pantry to the state of Texas. But the city that, unquestionably, connected the most with this itinerant event and embraced the celebratory spirit of Spanish culinary culture has been San Antonio. In addition to being sold out, great interest was shown in the presentations and tastings during the day, and restaurateurs, distributors, retailers, tourism entrepreneurs, journalists and influencers in San Antonio poured their heart and soul into the evening cocktail party. Some of them, after watching chef Varin Keokitvon – Ibérico ham expert and skilled slicer – leave the bone completely stripped of meat, asked if they could take it home with them. Yeehaw is a Texan cowboy exclamation similar to our olé, and last night the speakers and chefs at the event were given such a loud yeehaw by all of the attendees that the windows of the Emma Hotel almost shattered.

San Antonio has lived up to its designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, and this dynamic sector responded enthusiastically to Spain Fusión Texas Foods and Wines from Spain. The cocktail party, offering Spanish cuisine and products was held outdoors at the Pearl resort, and was totally sold out. The idea of going to the city’s area with the most bars and restaurants to enjoy wines, canned foods, ham and cheese, paella, tortilla de patatas, bravas and ajoblanco to the sound of Spanish music, was more than tempting. What perhaps surprised the organizers the most was that the number of attendees at the morning session was four times that of the previous year, and that no one left their seats during the six uninterrupted hours of presentations.

“We came to the first edition and so were on the lookout to see if it would be held again. I’d say that Spain Fusión has changed our buying habits,” explained Veronique Cecilia Barretto, from Vinously Speaking, a company specialized in organizing wine-related events. “I was already familiar with some interesting and little-known wine regions, such as Jumilla and Navarra, but this year we discovered Aragón, and we think it’s just wonderful. We’re always looking for good new products to surprise our customers with.”

Andy Sutalo, from Five Points Wine & Spirits Distribution said something similar: “Talking about wine, I have to say that no country can compete with Spain when it comes to value for money. That’s why, for me, events like this, where you can find new high-quality products, are very interesting.” The morning session was a mix of professionals in the sector and a few students from the Culinary Institute of America, the prestigious cooking school that hosted the event. Brianne Wilson, a degree student at the school, confessed: “I decided not to go to class today. “I don’t have the chance to mingle with chefs such as Danny Lledó, Mat Schuster or Periko Ortega every day. It’s been awesome to be able to ask them questions, but what surprised me the most was the talk on olive oils. Italy always sprung to mind first but here I’ve discovered wonderful Spanish oils,” she said.

Attendees were curious and had no qualms about asking questions, including the one from Gary Strus, a wine consultant who, for years, had asked himself what is done with the rest of the pig after the legs have been removed to make ham. Varin Keoktivon, an instructor at the Seattle Culinary Academy and the speaker responsible for explaining the world of Ibérico products, put his mind at rest, saying: “Don’t worry, in Spain we say that we use every part of the pig, including its squeal. The loin and different cold cuts made from other parts of the pig can be sampled at the tasting area.”

The great highlight of this edition was the evening cocktail party/fiesta, and the San Antonio crowd, always keen to party, threw themselves wholeheartedly into the event. Dressed more casually than in Houston or Dallas – the warm weather and lively atmosphere of a tourist destination influence mood and attire – guests enjoyed themselves, took thousands of photos, toasted and continued asking questions. Joel Rivas, founder and principal of Table Manners Hospitality Consulting, quizzed Mat Schuster, chef at Canela San Francisco, on the secret to a good tortilla de patatas. “I’d really like to know because it’s my wife’s favourite dish. She studied in Granada for part of her degree,” he said, chuckling.

Elisa Carbonell, General Director of Internationalization of ICEX Companies, who was present at the Dallas and San Antonio events, was very positive about the response. “Texas is one of America’s states we really want to focus on strongly. It’s the second economy in the United States after California. It’s a society with high purchasing power and historical ties to Spain. They’re very fond of Spain here, they like Spanish things and know us well, so we felt that it was the right time to actively promote our products. As a direct result of Spain Fusión 2022, many exhibitors have succeeded in securing distributors in Texas, which shows that the event has had a definite impact on exports of the products on display, so we couldn’t be happier,” she said.