Flights to Spain this week will be as full of chefs and gourmands as those to Switzerland will be crammed with policymakers and bankers. Madrid Fusión, which begins on Tuesday, is cooking’s answer to Davos – a ritual meeting of the profession’s elite, purposely designed for the cross-pollination of ideas.
For three days, some of the world’s most exciting chefs – Gastón Acurio of Peru, Matthew Bax from Singapore and Ferran Adrià with compatriots Martín Berasategui and Juan Mari Arzak from San Sebastián – will perform culinary theatre on stage, demonstrating their latest techniques, and their most famous dishes.
This gathering has proved so successful that many other cities have followed its example. After Madrid comes Omnivore in Deauville, France, then Tokyo Taste, Identità Golose in Milan and London, Star Chefs in New York; and finally, in November, Gastronomika in San Sebastián. The relative newcomer is Seoul Gourmet, which for the second time pulled starry chefs en masse towards South Korea, just before the G20 summit last year.
All these conferences have interested parties – tourism bodies, city councils, sponsors, hotels, airlines – but the main goal is educational. Young chefs in the audience, numbering up to 1,000 a time in Madrid or Tokyo, are reverentially silent as Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck in England or Grant Achatz from Alinea in Chicago, walk on stage, trailed by a brigade of assistants.
Stationed at a high-spec kitchen observed at all angles by TV cameras, the chefs’ movements are minutely scrutinised. And there is much to learn: the programme for this year’s Madrid Fusión promises induction into the art of everything from micro-emulsion sauces, sea sausages and the “new culture of cold” to sour cuisine, Mexican culinary sensuality and the architecture of ice cream.
In Seoul I witnessed similar heights of invention. Carlo Cracco from Milan demonstrated his egg yolk-only spaghetti with smoked garlic and chilli – an eye catching dish with a deep yellow colour. Dr Bruno Goussault, master of sous-vide cooking and every inch the professor with his thick grey hair, again proved the benefits of this technique, in which ingredients’ flavours are preserved by prolonged cooking in a vacuum, at relatively low temperatures.
Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain and Luigi Biasetto from Padua, Italy showed off their patisserie skills, both concentrating on chocolate desserts, contrary to the Asian propensity to end a meal with fruit. Roca is known for his “colourology”, creating entire desserts in a single hue, and his use of perfumes as sources of inspiration. Michel Troisgros, from the revered Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France, also operates a successful restaurant in Tokyo and was generous with his advice on how South Korean ingredients can make inroads into Europe, with an emphasis on packaging and design.
But the hero of the Seoul event was Sang-Hoon Degeimbre. Born in Korea and adopted at the age of five, when he went to live in Belgium, Degeimbre now runs the two-star Michelin restaurant L’Air du Temps in the village of Noville-sur-Mehaigne. The South Koreans warmed to the return of this prodigal son, who is an irrepressible experimenter – creator of liquid ravioli of yoghurt and verbena, and eggs cooked at 63°C.
And Ferran Adrià, who announced on stage at Madrid Fusión last year that he would close El Bulli in July 2011, has become the demonstrator par excellence. The enthusiasm and speed of his delivery makes him compelling, whether finishing off a sous-vide dish, talking about the future of El Bulli or answering questions from aspiring chefs. His topic for this year’s Madrid Fusión? “The New Bulli”, proving that re-invention can be just as fashionable as innovation.
Seoul Gourmet, www.seoulgourmet.org
Madrid Fusión, www.madridfusion.net
Could Korean food go global?
There is no shortage of top-quality Korean ingredients – fish, shellfish, marbled beef – and there is great affection for kimchi, a condiment of fermented cabbage, radishes, chilli, fish sauce, garlic and ginger. But there is a sense that Korea’s cuisine has been overlooked.
In some respects, Korean food is in a similar position to Spanish cooking a decade ago. While the Spaniards used to believe their cooking was inferior to that of the French and Italians, Koreans feel that their cuisine has been unjustly ignored in favour of other eastern flavours, particularly Thai, Japanese and Chinese. Madrid Fusión was launched by José Carlos Capel in 2002 just as the world was beginning to appreciate the talents of Spanish chefs. And, similarly, Seoul Gourmet hopes to spread Korean cuisine beyond the current expat clusters in Koreatown, Los Angeles; between 31st and 36th Streets in New York; and around New Malden, Surrey.
This is eminently possible. The current vogue for tapas bars and Spanish restaurants certainly did not seem probable a decade ago. Korean food – spicy, quickly prepared and served – also lends itself to the informal style of restaurant that has seen Wagamama, Busaba Eathai, Yo Sushi!, Ping Pong and Pho in London, as well as Momofoku in New York, achieve such success.
Koreans in New York may already have the answer. The Korilla BBQ, a roving food truck, has since last autumn been serving Manhattan tacos or burritos with fillers such as ribeye beef, kimchi-and-bacon fried rice, and a choice of six different kimchis. Following this is the soon-to-open Kimchi Taco Truck, another mobile business set up by New York restaurateur Phillip Lee and chef Youngsun Lee, who has worked with Momofuku’s David Chang.
Phillip, whose self-stated aim is not to rest “until every refrigerator in America has a jar of kimchi”, was born in Korea but later moved to New York. He feels that one of Korean food’s problems is that “it’s tricky in terms of understanding. Kimchi is a powerful flavour – it’s a difficult taste to acquire and people get turned off by it. Korean barbecue is expensive. But growing up with Korean food, I know there’s a lot to offer.”
The solution to this problem, which Youngsun will hand-prepare in the truck daily, is a menu of gourmet street food that layers more recognisable American flavours with the classic tastes of Korea. “We’re trying to package these complex flavours into familiar items that people are familiar with in the US,” Phillip says. One example is their adaptation of the Philly cheesesteak, replacing the sautéed onions with sautéed kimchi. For their beef tacos, the meat is prepared in a Korean barbecue marinade of cumin, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic ginger, onions and spring onions. “We also make it unique by including apples and Korean pears.”
The tacos, with a choice of chicken, beef, spicy pork or falafel, will sell for $7, and Phillip is already pleased by the response. “We have over 1,000 Twitter followers and haven’t hit the road yet.”
Oyster and kiwi?
To most domestic cooks, science and cooking are not natural bedfellows, writes Sybil Kapoor. Yet with the rise of molecular gastronomy, these two disciplines are becoming ever more closely entwined. Next week at Madrid Fusión, Bernard Lahousse, a Belgian bio-engineer and the managing director of the food consultancy Sense for Taste, will present his latest research on the science of flavour-pairing.
Lahousse’s idea is that certain foods will taste good together if they share a common flavour component. “I wanted to tackle problems from a scientific point of view,” he says, so in collaboration with universities in Europe, he set about analysing ingredients’ flavour “profiles” by identifying their “aroma compounds”. Since 2007 he has given free access to this data online and his latest website, foodpairing.com, is due to be launched at Madrid Fusión this month.
Click on “coffee”, for example, and you can see 32 ingredients that share common flavour components. Honey, vanilla and roast hazelnuts are obvious; but roast chicken, mango and asparagus perhaps require an inventive mind to pair with caffeine.
Other chefs are beginning to dip into Lahousse’s concepts. British chocolatier Damian Allsop was inspired by food-pairing in his anise “cloud” chocolate. As the crunchy interior melts the anise is peppered with coffee before the two merge to create liquorice notes. Sang-Hoon Degeimbre has used the site to create everything from “kiwitre”, a delicate combination of kiwi and oyster, to lobster in strawberry gazpacho.