Jan 29 2018

6 Things I Learned at Madrid Fusión 2018

Another year of Madrid Fusión has come and gone, leaving this writer hungrily breaking into her piggy bank, trying to spherify faux egg yolks at home, making restaurant reservations for three months down the road, and searching desperately for an industrial sous vide cooker that she just has to have. Though created as a forum for professional chefs, it seems that no one who attends Madrid Fusión is immune to the inspiration it affords.

Text: Adrienne Smith

Madrid Fusión 2018: Joan Roca and his mother Montserrat

International culinary conference Madrid Fusión is a haute cuisine extravaganza worthy of tempting even the most conservative of palates. The many treasures to be found within the huge exhibition area, featuring some of the best gourmet and innovative gastronomy products on the market today, included the incredible wine tasting Enobar area sponsored by parallel wine conference Enofusión, the workshops with top-tier Spanish chefs, and the cocktail exhibition and the Drinks Show conference – all held within the framework of Madrid Fusión. There is so much to see and do at this event.

But, despite the lure that this conference might have for even amateur food lovers, it is important to remember that, in essence, this culinary conference is primarily a forum for professional chefs. This is where top chefs from Spain and the rest of the world, come to learn, be inspired, share ideas, concepts, collaborations, innovations, techniques, inventions and to support one another. For us starstruck mortals, names like Andoni, Quique, Eneko, Mario, Joan, Ángel and others, fill us with the sense of being in the company of greatness, as well as whetting both our fascination and appetites.

And this is why, after some ten years attending this annual fete as a journalist, this writer insists that the very best of this conference goes on in the main auditorium, where acclaimed chefs present their current work, discoveries and – at least in the case of Ángel León – dreams, both during the morning sessions, which host acclaimed chefs from around the world, and the afternoon ones, which are held under the auspices of Saborea España (Tasting Spain) and feature only Spanish chefs.

So, having parked myself in a corner of the auditorium over the course of this three-day conference, here are some of the things I learned from listening to the chefs at Madrid Fusión 2018.

A fried egg isn't just a fried egg...

Madrid Fusión 2018

... it's a gateway to a realm of infinite possibilities. Former elBulli-ites Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas of Compartir and Disfrutar restaurants shared their experiments with juices, extractions and caramelizations attained using the Korean OC’OO high-pressure slow cooker, which, among other things, does an excellent job of the aging and fermenting simple products like cauliflower and celery. After showing us how to extract the essences of foods, the chefs used these essences to create a mind-blowing new take on one of the most stalwart foods there is: the fried egg. By creating spheres in the shape of egg yolks out of pesto, beet, plankton, truffle, crushed roe and other substances, the chefs are able to replace the yolk of a fried egg, yielding infinite, flavorful and surprising possibilities. It’s the essence of creativity and innovation in an essential dish.

Mario Sandoval wants us to eat more fiber

Madrid Fusión 2018: Mario Sandoval

Or fibers, that is. The latest innovations from the kitchen of R&D devotee Mario Sandoval, of Madrid's Coque restaurant, involve the use of fibers, which he refers to as “the hidden ingredient in food.” Working with frequent collaborator Dr. Marta de Miguel of the CSIC's Institute of Food Science Research and the company Bioactive Gastronomy, Sandoval has focused his recent work on the properties of various fibers found in different foods (cacao, corn, the heads of crustaceans, yeasts...), applying them in haute cuisine where, in the words of the chef, they “add nuances, can at times (be used) to emulsify, to simulate other (ingredients), to change textures, to preserve, to add volume, to change the dimension of the dishes. And they are within everyone's reach.” Sandoval demonstrated these applications on stage at Madrid Fusión, in one instance adorning his dishes with colorful and crunchy sheets of plant fibers. Grape fibers, which it turns out are excellent for making dry meringues, also play a role – as does beta-glucan, a fiber found in yeasts and certain grains, which the chef uses to make wonderfully delicate dumplings and silky arepas.

Quique Dacosta has still got it

Madrid Fusión 2018: Quique Dacosta

After a four year hiatus, three Michelin-starred chef Quique Dacosta (of Quique Dacosta restaurant in Denia) returned to the stage at Madrid Fusión to present his work with the ancient technique of salt curing, an important tradition in his adopted region of Alicante. As traditional a technique as it is, the chef has still managed to revolutionize it, using short curing and drying times to yield creamy roe, or by putting a smoked piece of bluefin tuna belly or loin into a tunnel of salt – but not in direct contact with it – in the refrigerator for five months. The fish's skin and belly help preserve some of the moisture in the cured final product, and the tuna absorbs the aroma of the salt without ever actually touching it. Air-cured and then charred octopus, milk and salt-marinated monkfish “foie gras”, and a fermented rice dish with pig shank and moray eel, were also on the day’s menu. Of course, as always, Dacosta champions the use of local products and the expertise of local purveyors.

We’ve been eating crustaceans all wrong

Madrid Fusión 2018: Ángel León

It wouldn’t be Madrid Fusión without a jaw-dropping demonstration by newly-minted three Michelin-starred chef Ángel León of Aponiente restaurant in El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz). This wacky culinary genius and self-titled “Chef of the Sea” is an expert at amazing and delighting attendees at this annual conference, and this year was no different. First, he demonstrated his techniques for non-chemically decalcifying the shells of crustaceans, making them soft enough to eat whole (shells and all), while not adversely affecting their delicate flesh. Working with the Universidad de Cádiz, León came up with a recipe (a mixture of water, enzymes found in seaweed and vinegar) that would do just that, thereby replicating the soft shells of the animals during their molting process, and opening an unimaginable range of culinary possibilities. The same method can be used to make fish scales edible.

Then León had his dream: a restless siesta, a shoemaker, fish skins... and the rest is haute cuisine history. From that dream, León got the idea of removing the skins from fish, and then stuffing the skins with whatever he chooses before sewing them up again. For his cochinillo del mar (suckling pork from the sea), he removes the skin from a moray eel, takes out the fish’s numerous bones and then re-stuffs the flesh into the skin and sews it back up again. Always a showman, León portioned the dish on-stage with a small plate, in the style of the traditional roasted suckling pig of Segovia. The possible variations on stuffed-fish skins are truly mind-boggling and we are sure that he will explore them all.

Blue is the new green

Madrid Fusión 2018: Rodrigo de la Calle

For years his name has been associated with his so-called “Green Revolution,” through which chef Rodrigo de la Calle has long championed the use of vegetables and plants in the kitchen, first in his eponymous establishment in Aranjuez, and currently in El Invernadero, his unique restaurant located in the town of Collado Mediano, north of Madrid. However, ever since the chef discovered spirulina – a blue-green algae declared the “Millennium Food” by UNESCO – blue has become the new green for de la Calle, who has pushed the envelope on the culinary applications of this superfood with more protein content than beef, chicken and soybeans. He has replaced meat, fish and wine on his menu with “Smurf-blue” spirulina-enriched foods and alcohol-free cocktails. Actually, while the spirulina lends proteins and other nutrients, vitamins and minerals; the color that pervades the dishes comes from phycocyanin, a blue accessory pigment to chlorophyll. The chef demonstrated some of these latest recipes on-stage at Madrid Fusión – beautiful in their simplicity.

Mother knows best

And Joan Roca isn't afraid to admit it. This chef and his entire staff of seventy from El Celler de Can Roca, troop across the street every day to have lunch at his parents’ bar/restaurant Can Roca, in Girona. This traditional venue, which was Roca and his brothers’ (Jordi and Josep) second home throughout childhood, not only constitutes the roots of their culinary passion, but can also serve as inspiration for their world-famous restaurant today. Montserrat Fontané, or “Mama Roca,” took the stage at Madrid Fusión with her son Joan to prove just that. While she prepared a beloved simple soup, her son and his team exhibited a selection of haute-tapas inspired by his mother's cooking: a tender mother-son gastronomic moment in front of a packed auditorium.