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Oct 29 2018

Savoring Spain at StarChefs 2018

The stars were shining down on StarChefs International Chefs Congress last week in New York City... and by stars we mean top Spanish chefs and superb Spanish gastronomy.

 StarChefs 2018

New York’s Brooklyn Expo welcomed the thirteenth annual edition of StarChefs International Chefs Congress last October 21–23, 2018. This multitudinous and mouthwatering event hosted more than 150 culinary leaders from around the world to a three-day extravaganza of cooking demonstrations, workshops, wine tastings and other beverage events and business seminars – all centered around this year’s theme of “Cooking with Respect: Better People, Better Food.”

As with other editions of this prestigious event, Spain had a significant presence at  StarChefs 2018, particularly thanks to the main stage presentations given by top Spanish culinary gurus Ramón Freixa and Oriol Balaguer. This country’s wines were also well represented, as were some of Spain’s excellent agri-food products, while other Spanish and Spain-loving chefs represented this country’s cuisine at a variety of other events. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights for Spanish foods and wines at this year’s edition of this delectable international conference.

Ramón Freixa’s philosophy

This celebrated Spanish chef, whose eponymous Madrid restaurant has held two Michelin stars for nearly a decade, took the main stage at StarChefs on the afternoon of October 21, to discuss, “My Philosophy: Product, Technique and Feeling.” This fascinating talk began with an outline of this chef’s culinary beliefs, which he sums up in the phrase “Without tradition, there is no avant-garde.” He further explains this concept through the statement, “I am an enthusiastic creator with (my) points of reference in tradition, in family and in nature, because they are my roots, my source of inspiration, which I praise and share as far as possible.”

Freixa explained that his cuisine is, “a blend of tradition and avant-garde, madness and common sense in perfect harmony, where the main character is always the flavor,” a philosophy that is exemplified by some of the chef’s most emblematic dishes. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of the cultural tradition of Spanish tapas (“Tapas is not just a way of eating, it’s a philosophy of life. Joy through food,”) and then went on to talk about three of the most significant products from the Spanish pantry: Ibérico pork, Cava and Pedro Ximénez wines from Jerez.

Freixa of course put his culinary prowess to good use on stage, preparing a composition he calls a, “Study in Tomatoes,” as well as a recipe called “Under a black garlic veil...,” which is included in the Congress’s official recipe book.

Oriol Balaguer hits the sweet spot

Oriol Balaguer

For his part, famed Spanish pastry and sweet cuisine master Oriol Balaguer took the main stage on October 22, to give a talk entitled: “The Sweet Cuisine.” Like Freixa, this native of Catalonia followed in his family’s culinary footsteps, inspired by his pastry chef father. The recipient of the International Academy of Gastronomy’s 2018 “Prix au Chef Patissier” award, among other accolades, Balaguer has pastry shops in Barcelona, Madrid and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). Last week’s talk at StarChefs provided the professional audience with a preview of the latest – the seventh – of these sweet establishments. On stage, Balaguer seduced congress-goers with his preparation of “multi-sensory, texturally layered desserts that speak to the here, now and future of pastry.”

For the love of Spain

Brooklyn-based chef Alex Raij of Saint Julivert Fisherie was inspired to study cooking by a 1997 article about Ferran Adrià in Food Arts magazine. Since then, her successful culinary career has developed hand in hand with her love for Spanish gastronomy, a passion that over the years has materialized in the form of several New York restaurants dedicated to serving Spanish cuisine (alongside husband and partner chef Eder Montero, who grew up in Bilbao, Spain), as well as in The Basque Book, a cookbook she launched in 2016. At last week’s congress, Raij gave a hands-on cooking workshop that combined her knowledge of Spanish tapas and culinary traditions, exhibiting them through recipes for fresh Ibérico pork, seafood and more, all while using a red-hot charcoal oven. 

Where products rule

Quality Spanish agri-food products were on display at the congress thanks to the participation of six of the exhibitors at the Chefs Products Fair (COVAP, Goya, North America Meats, Philosophy foods, Quesos Corcuera and the region of Castile-La Mancha). Together they gave conference attendees a look at exquisite Spanish products including Ibérico ham, cheeses, extra virgin olive oils and much more.

Another highlight for Spanish gastronomy at the congress came in the form of the 2018 Valrhona C3 Pastry Competition, for which eight pastry chefs from all over the world were challenged with creating original desserts using this company’s chocolates. Held on October 22 and judged by a prestigious jury that included Ramón Freixa, one of the this year’s competitors was Spanish-based pastry chef Libertad Santiago of Dos Palillos restaurant in Barcelona. Her dessert drew on Mediterranean references like pears from Puigcerdam (Catalonia), lemon, thyme, and almonds from Lleida, among other ingredients.

Libertad Santiago

Spanish wines also had plenty of chances to shine at StarChefs, starting with the participation of ten Spanish wines representing diverse regions, grapes and styles of Spain, in the “Somm Slam” food and wine pairing competition. Participating sommeliers could choose from this bodega (cellar) of Spanish wines for their pairings, and the wines were also used in the blind tasting segment of this contest, as well as made available for tasting at the SOMM Bar. This was the ninth edition of this competition, which was sponsored in part by Foods and Wines from Spain.

And finally, Congress attendees had a chance to celebrate with Spanish Cava at the October 22 after-party held at Brooklyn’s Casa Pública restaurant. Party-goers to this happening late-night fete were welcomed with a glass of this excellent sparkling wine, compliments of Wines from Spain – just one more reason to say Olé to Spanish gastronomy at this edition of StarChefs International Chefs Congress.


Text: Adrienne Smith/©ICEX


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