As we go to press, we get word from reliable sources that Madrid Fusion is, in fact, pushing through end of September.
This is contrary to earlier news that the international event that has put the Philippines on the global culinary map would not push through this year.
After excruciating months of speculation on the part of delegates, chefs, speakers and the food world in general, it was confirmed that Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 would not be held.
This would have been in violation of the five-year contract signed by the Department of Tourism under the previous administration with Foro de Debate, the Spanish company which owns the Madrid Fusion trademark.
Madrid Fusion Manila is due to run for two more years; 2017 was only the third year the satellite version of the prestigious international gastronomy conference took place in the Philippines.
It is widely rumored that Singapore has been angling to get the rights to Madrid Fusion in Asia.
The loss of Madrid Fusion Manila will not come as great surprise to many at this point.
For an event set in April, there should have been a flurry of publicity on the foreign chefs set to fly in. Invitations should have been sent out to foreign and local press. By now local restaurants should be excited already at the prospect of representing the Philippines in the three days’ worth of lunches.
On a more practical level, the venue would have had to be booked, sponsors invited, tickets sold or given out. As soon as the decision had been made for it not to push through, for whatever reason, the right protocol would have been to let everyone know as soon as possible.
It could be argued that we dodged a bullet: the ignominy of having an unsuccessful Madrid Fusion Manila. What if we had gone on with the show and no one showed up? Only a handful of foreign press and delegates, fifth-tier unknown chefs mumbling onstage with no budget for simultaneous translators (and the expensive headsets needed for this), no four-hands collaboration dinners at Gallery Vask and Toyo Eatery.
In my conversations with regional media and chefs during Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants dinners in Macau, I never stopped inviting people to come visit the Philippines and try our food. The more forthcoming of them told me: “I hope to cause no offense, but our editors have been discouraging us from taking trips to the Philippines, because of the peace and order situation there.”
What can you say to that? That you’ll throw your body in front of them if a “Tokhang” killer comes around?
Despite all this, I still believe that canceling Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 would be a mistake. Notwithstanding the skittishness of some to come to what had become in the wider world’s minds as a conflict region, nonetheless there is enough interest in the Philippines as food destination, and Filipino food is already in the global imagination, so that with enough push, we could have built on the inertia from previous years to finish the contract.
Although the Mamasapano tragedy took place in January 2015 and was played up, 2015 was the strongest year of the conference. Speaking of conflicts, Thailand was still under martial law when Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants moved the ceremony to Bangkok.
A properly organized conference with strong advertising and a good roster of chefs and speakers would still have attracted a sizeable crowd.
(Here’s a little secret about the food world: No one is quite as susceptible to Fomo or fear of missing out as a foodie. If others are Instagramming it, you have to be there as well.)
No one stands to lose more from the cancellation of Madrid Fusion Manila than the Filipino people. By this, I don’t mean the local celebrity chefs like Margarita Forés—her place on the world stage is secure, and she is the last person to need Madrid Fusion Manila; the event needs her more than she needs the event.
It’s the young chefs who need the chance to have a conversation: with their peers from different continents and with their elders.
Where else would a student who scraped his way to get into culinary school get a chance to ask Joan Roca or Elena Arzak questions? In what other context would a fisherman who flew in from Batanes be able to present his skills to an audience that includes Japanese food writers, who drew parallels to the millennia-old methods of breaking a fish down in Japan?
Local farms and farmers could show off the best of local produce, and Madrid Fusion Manila is a chance for Filipino food to evolve and be noticed
—to present itself to the world while figuring in an exchange of ideas between the great minds of world gastronomy.
And, most importantly, Madrid Fusion is a challenge for Filipino cuisine—to think of itself as part of an ongoing global conversation about food and foodways and everything that comes with it: culture, identity, memory, tradition, sustainability.
Madrid Fusion Manila, as Agriculture Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat said in an interview with CNN Philippines last Wednesday, before the news of the cancellation broke, was “a game changer.” For chefs, for farmers, for us all.
Forés says: “It jump-started not just a nationwide, but also an infectious global movement, celebrating Filipino culture and cuisine, chefs, produce and ingredients… We slowly became the new center of gastronomy in this part of the world. This renewed sense of pride that we now carry has sparked not just the food and tourism industries, but has, more importantly, helped the Filipino farmer, home cook and artisan country-wide. We have come so far, and I hope we can still continue to build on this.”
The project that Cesar Montano, in his role as Tourism and Promotions Board chief, envisions to take the place of Madrid Fusion Manila is laudable. But there is no reason it could not have happened at the same time as Madrid Fusion.
Much has been made of Montano’s unexpected promotion, and why he should be the one to decide the fate of Madrid Fusion Manila—because he’s “just” an actor. But people get to their positions in unexpected ways; Ramon Jimenez, after all, was “just” a top advertising executive.
How one gets to a position is one thing; how a person rises to the importance and stature of his position is another. Let’s hope that Montano gets to play competently the role he is