Learning from 20 chefs in 3 days–feeling sated not only with their food, but also their ideas | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

ANDONI Luis Aduriz

So, Madrid Fusión Manila has come (in a big way) and gone. Those who attended the food congress, where Spanish, Asian and Filipino chefs expounded on their cooking and use of ingredients, felt sated not only with the chefs’ dishes but also with their ideas.


We expected, of course, that the Spanish chefs were influenced by Ferran Adria’s cocina de vanguardia, the preferred Spanish term for molecular gastronomy.


Everything that we learned from 20 speakers in three days is difficult to enumerate. But here are choice snippets.


Juan Carlos de Terry of Terry’s Bistro Manila said chef Elena Arzak advised him to talk about “roots,” and so he dealt with history—how Spanish food was influenced by different cultures (Phoenicians, Roman, Sephardi and Arabs).


He traced his own roots as well, to Ireland and Cádiz, Spain. And like Spanish food and ingredients, he found his way to Mexico and then the Philippines.


Paella cooked three ways—dry, wet and soupy—made up Quique Dacosta’s first demonstrations to illustrate how he does it in his restaurant in Valencia, Spain. The three-star Michelin chef wowed everyone with his method of doing soccarat, that toasty rice at the bottom of paella, “tutong” as Filipinos call it. He peeled each piece whole, especially the dessert made with rice and strawberry.


Fernando Aracama of Aracama in Taguig recalled how his father gave him his first taste of shrimp kinilaw dipped in coconut vinegar, and his mother’s cooking from his home province, Negros Occidental.


His subject was souring ingredients, the base of many local dishes, from sinigang to inasal using fruits like batuan, calamansi and tamarind.


New techniques


Elena Arzak of Arzak in Spain said that cuisine in general has to innovate for it to move forward. Among the new techniques she showed were sheets that looked like plastic but were actually made of starch that can be formed into any shape, then squirted with parsley juice to give it color, which is important in cooking.


She also touched on comida frondosa, food wrapped with leaves, such as the dish of hake cheeks on bamboo leaves.


Myrna Segismundo, who recently retired from Restaurant 9501 in Quezon City, talked about the coconut, enumerating the various uses of its leaves, trunk, pith, stone fruit (drupe) and inflorescence (flowers). It was a surprise to know that two by-products of the flowers are honey and flour.


Francis Paniego of Echaurren in La Rioja, Spain, thought that some people walked out of his talk because they were queasy about his subject, offals. We surmised they weren’t Filipinos who love their laman-loob (innards).


His pictures of the dishes he serves, such as pigs’ snouts and brains, were like works of art. The latter he said he served with forget-me-not flowers.


The handsome Mario Sandoval talked first about the cochinillo of the family’s Coque in Madrid. The main ingredient, he said, should be a three-week-old suckling pig that has been nourished only by its mother’s milk. It’s given a spread-eagle cut, the feet also taken out for callos and the neck scored in squares to let the oil out when cooking, so that the skin remains crunchy after it is cooked in an oven that should have only oak for firewood.


Later he discusses his modern dishes created with research institutions. It showed that cuisine is both science and art.


Claude Tayag of Bale Dutung, Pampanga, dealt with a favorite but also controversial subject—Filipino adobo. He made it clear that adobo is a cooking technique using an acid, plus whole pepper and salt as flavor base, and that it can be employed in many ingredients, whether meat, marine products or vegetable.


It is difficult, he said, to standardize adobo because it is not one dish since Filipino families have different versions. He closed by pointing out words of Spanish origin that Filipinos still use, though adopted (lamesa for mesa) and some that mean the opposite of the original Spanish word (e.g. siguro).


Outstanding disciple


If there ever was an “aha” moment at Madrid Fusión Manila, it was when Paco Roncero made rice kernels from olive oil for his paella. The two-Michelin star chef of La Terraza del Casino in Madrid, considered an “outstanding disciple of Adria,” has his own award-winning creations, mostly made from olive oil, that he demonstrated during his talk.


Bruce Ricketts of Mecha Uma in Taguig was supposed to talk about local seasonal ingredients, but instead focused on his restaurant and cooking. Maybe this talented chef is too young and needs to be more seasoned.


Margarita Fores of Grace Park in Makati talked about “What Gives Life,” ingredients connected to sexual reproduction. There is the male fish sperm sac, also called taba in Luzon or bagaybay in Iloilo in the Visayas, Fores’ province.


There are the eggs still forming in a chicken called sapola. And the unusual, if you come from Manila—the obre or mammary glands of the pig.


Perhaps the most awaited speaker was Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain, regarded as a culinary genius. His talk included experiments, one of which was to recreate the smell of sampaguita using five different aromas which, when taken separately or “out of context will not make sense.”


You also got a sense what it must be like in his kitchen laboratory, where he and his staff create 70 to 90 dishes a year.


Pepe Lopez of Rambla in Taguig did his many variations of churros or xuxos, as it is called in Barcelona. The way he makes it, that hole in the middle can be stuffed with anything. At the Malacañang reception for the chefs, it had foie gras topped with a thin slice of dehydrated apple.


Story line


Rob Pengson of The Goose Station in Taguig said there is a story line to his menus, both present and future. His depiction of Rizal’s life takes a diner from the national hero’s younger years in Laguna to his studies in Spain and then his last days in Fort Santiago.


A future Masskara menu will take one from the Negros economic crash of the sugar industry to the lighthearted festival of smiles.


Ramon Freixa Madrid carries the name of its chef, an innovator whose tapas you haven’t experienced in a regular bar. He made a tomato concoction look like a strawberry using a mold. And then he concocted “rocks” that tasted of ham colored with squid ink, and a red rolling stone that tasted of Manchego cheese from La Mancha. A good example of cocina de vanguardia.


Xtremely Filipino


Chele Gonzalez of Gallery Vask in Taguig took us along on his trip to research on Filipino ingredients and ways of cooking. He has incorporated the sour alibangbang leaves he discovered the Aetas use in his soup concoction, and upland rice from the Cordilleras for his rice dishes.


The comic relief, one could say, was Alvin Leung Jr. of Bo Innovations in Hong Kong. He called the dishes he made as Xtremely Filipino; they were his take on food we like, such as arroz caldo, canned sardines (his brand he called 666) and one we felt had no connection at all to us—chicken and Coke.

His stinging asides were hilarious, such as when he picked up some vegetables that fell and he called it “foraging,” a dig at the current trend that is really as old as our ancestors.


High regard


You could see that the Spanish chefs hold Paco Torreblanca in high regard because most of them were there for his talk. It was from him that Adria learned how to use materials and techniques that pastry chefs have subsequently been employing for years.


Most of his inspirations today come from his annual trip to Japan, where his room has no clutter and he can concentrate on only one thing, which is why his creations can be described as minimalist.


The last speaker, J Gamboa of Cirkulo in Makati, bridged the Spanish connection to Filipino cooking. There is the cochinillo, of course. And then the other parts of the pig not used in his Spanish dishes, such as the head of pig for the sisig, sometimes served with shoestring potatoes and poached egg and given the Spanish name Huevos Rotos.


The only speaker we didn’t get to hear because of a dinner in Makati was Andre Chang of Restaurant Andre in Singapore, one of Asia’s Top 10 chefs.


His talk was about fermentation—not unfamiliar in Asian countries but applied in his modern restaurant. We consoled our self by remembering his good food at Madrid Fusión 2011 and how he asked us for some of the ordinary candy we were eating, because he loves sweets, he said.


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