Chefs Create Tapas Inspired by Experiences in Spain
How does one go about condensing five months of culinary, gastronomic and cultural experiences in Spain into a bite-sized morsel, or tapa? Look no further than the young international chefs who participated in last week's 8th International Tapas Competition in Valladolid to find out!
Wonderful in all their interpretations, tapas are possibly the most beloved Spanish culinary concept around the globe – so much so that twenty-five-Michelin-starred French chef Joël Robuchon stated at this year's Madrid Fusión international culinary conference that he believes Spanish tapas are the model for the future on a worldwide level: "Go anywhere in the world and you can find tapas".
Therefore, it's not surprising that one of the main goals of the annual ICEX Training Program in Spanish Gastronomy and Tapas is to create culinary ambassadors from near and far who will go back to their home countries and spread the word about Spanish gastronomy through its cuisine and tapas. Meanwhile, it promotes Spain's excellent pantry, and traditional and avant-garde culinary techniques, which they have an opportunity to practice with some of the country's most renowned chefs.
Truly, there is no better way to prove the success of this five-month program than through its final challenge, the 8th International Tapas Competition in Valladolid. For this contest, the twelve international chefs participating in the current edition of the ICEX program were charged with preparing an original tapa of their own creation that reflected their experiences in Spain. These experiences began at the International School of Culinary Arts (EIC) in Valladolid with six-weeks of language, culinary and cultural training, in tandem with internships at this city's celebrated tapas restaurants. This was followed by three-month work experiences at some of this country's most renowned restaurants and tapas bars, and the adventure culminated with a two-week trip around Spain visiting restaurants and producers in the agri-food industry.
Despite the different backgrounds of these twelve chefs – who represent nine different countries (the United States, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Poland, China, Sweden, Ireland and Mexico) –, they all seemed to fall in love collectively with many of the products that crossed their paths during their time in Spain.
For example, Spanish extra virgin olive oil, pimentón (Spanish paprika), saffron and Ibérico pork products topped the list of favorite ingredients used in the preparation of their tapas, perhaps thanks to the group's visits to extra virgin olive oil producer Casas de Hualdo in Toledo, Ibérico ham producer 5Jotas Osborne in Huelva, saffron plantations in Castile-La Mancha and pimentón paradise in La Vera, Extremadur. Another source of first-hand knowledge about these and other products were the workshops the chefs attended in Valladolid, such as the olive oil seminar sponsored by the Interprofessional Organisation of Spanish Olive Oil.
The competition's second-place winner Maximiliam Weber of Germany based his tapa, entitled "Sorpresa de gazpacho tapado", on these four ingredients, in addition to using Pedro Ximénez vinegar, roasted bell peppers and black olives. He states, "I decided stick with my ‘favorites’...on the one hand with my favorite dish, which I modernized and turned into a tapa using both modern and traditional techniques, and on the other hand to accompany some of my favorite Spanish products to create a flavorful tapa whose taste will remind me of my stay in Spain forever."
Kayla Von Michalofski of the United States, who tied for third place in the competition, used Ibérico ham to create an evocative tapa named "Christopher Columbus’ Return". "I wanted to showcase Spanish ingredients, and I loved the concept of new world ingredients coming to Spain. The ingredients underneath represent a boat and the runny yolk and jamón package represent a sail. When you cut into the pouch they all fuse together and make a wonderful combination."
For her part, Dain Jung of South Korea created a tapa entitled "Gift" out of Ibérico pork, olive oil, saffron, rice and other ingredients to, "represent Spain and express a ‘Paella’ in my own feeling". Kevin Bui of the United States used pimentón, PX vinegar, chorizo and octopus for his tapa entitled "Octopus, chorizo, falafel"; while Yunseong Yang of South Korea, wanted to make “a tapa inspired by this place. I used techniques and goods that I discovered during the program, new things that I learned in Spain during my time here." Among other things these included olive oil, pimentón, pine nuts, shrimp and chanterelle mushrooms; which came together in a tapa called "Flowering".
While some of the chefs focused more directly on ingredients, others used this creative opportunity to mingle these flavors and others from the Spanish pantry with those of their home countries. An obvious example of this was in the exquisite tapa prepared by competition winner Nayab Aziz Siddiqui of Singapore. Her tapa, "Torto miniatura" combined suckling lamb ribs with extra virgin olive oil, Lodosa peppers and sweet pimentón.
In her words, the tapa was "a fusion of ideas from Asturias and Castile-León. I liked these Spanish ingredients a lot and I wanted to create something interesting with them. I made ‘chutney’ with peppers from Lodosa and a touch of my origins: an Indian spice mix to season the meat. I also did some pickles, which are used in Casa Marcial (where she did her work-experience) in many dishes, and impart freshness."
Representing Poland, Dzinanis Herashchanka's tapa, "Belorussian Scallop" combined pimentón with San Simón cheese, olive oil, ham, eggs and potatoes to make a kind of gnocchi similar to those made in his native Belarus, "but with Spanish products and flavor."
This young chef went on to say that "Food plays a very important role in Spanish life and culture. My favorite products are jamón, pimentón, Rioja wines and Galician cheeses. I adore that every part of this country has its own typical products, dishes, traditions and its own lifestyle."
Irish chef Patrick Brady also sought to fuse Spanish flavors with those of his native country in his tapa entitled "Wild Atlantic Coast Mackerel", made using salted almonds, olive oil, tomatoes, red peppers, eggs and mackerel. He stated that, "most ingredients used in this tapa are Spanish, however Irish ingredients have been added to offer my unique combination of flavors. I decided to use the Atlantic fish mackerel as it is common to both Spain and Ireland."
Gastronomic fusion also characterized the tapa created by Mexican chef Daniel García Navarro, who tied for third place in the competition. His "Lingote" was made with Valencian rice, "mixed with a light covering of chocolate and traditional Mexican mole, creating a crispy base which overflows [with] oxtail pâté mixed with a little Pedro Ximénez and wine from Ribera del Duero to give that elegant touch to ‘ingot’."
Likewise, Fredrika Äström of Sweden fused flavors of Spain and home in her "Black Tartelette". "It's a combination of ‘baby squid in its ink’ with aioli. It is a very traditional dish but I have given it a different appearance by combining it with tartelette, something very typical of Sweden. It is traditional and typical but in a new context." In addition to the baby squid and their ink, the dish also used pimentón, olive oil and red and green pepper, radish and garlic.
Finally, the two participating Chinese chefs found inspiration in Peruvian cuisine. For her part, Jin Shi of Beijing fused flavors from Spain, Peru and China in her tapa "Chinese Sandwich", which consisted of "Chinese bread stuffed with squid sauce, fried squid and squid ceviche". Similarly, Leung Sau Ting of Hong Kong used her experience working at Madrid's Estado Puro tapas bar to create "Land of Plenty", a tapa based on a typical Peruvian ceviche dish made using corvina, olive oil, rice, pimentón, avocado, lemon and lime juices and caviar.
The winning bite
With so many diverse flavors, culinary techniques, ingredients and inspirations, it seems miraculous that the competition's prestigious jury – led by two-Michelin-starred chef María Marte of Madrid's Club Allard restaurant and with members such as Chef Ronny Emborg (Atera NYC) and Oriol Castro (Compartir and Disfrutar restaurants) – was able to chose the recipients of its three awards. They did, of course, and Nayab Siddiqui was declared the first place winner, a distinction that comes with a trip to next year’s edition of Madrid Fusión sponsored by award-winning Spanish olive oil producer Castillo de Canena – where she will present her winning tapa –, two nights at a Parador hotel and a chef’s jacket designed by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.
Wonderful in all their interpretations, tapas are possibly the most beloved Spanish culinary concept around the globe – so much so that twenty-five-Michelin-starred French chef Joël Robuchon stated at this year's Madrid Fusión international culinary conference that he believes Spanish tapas are the model for the future on a worldwide level: "Go anywhere in the world and you can find tapas"