Madrid Fusión has always been heavily steeped in history since its inception in 2002. Arguably one of the most important gastronomic stages where chefs engage in critical discussions, present innovations, and challenge consumers with realities gripping the food industry, this year’s congress in Spain’s capital stakes its claim in culinary history as one that acknowledges—and even responds to—the current state of the world.
In many ways, the 2019 edition streamlines how chefs could and should use their influence to a generation brought up on smartphones, social media, and sustainability.
When iconic Spanish chef and this year’s keynote speakers Ferrán Adrià of former three-Michelin star restaurant elBulli detailed his plans of focusing on a new vision built on knowledge sharing, it signified a moment that chefs do have the power to sear radical changes onto the general public even outside the premises of a restaurant. His decision not to reopen his restaurant and instead focus on cultivating resources and spreading the results of research exhibits a chef’s ability to secure a firm future for the whole industry.
“ElBulli hasn’t come back, mainly because it never left,” he says. “The restaurant closed, but its spirit remains as powerful as ever.”
There’s Bulligrafía, a gastronomic archive-museum that will hold recipes, videos, photos, and text all related to elBulli’s past and present meant for the consumption of young chefs because as Adrià says, “There is no understanding of cuisine if there are no resources.”
But it’s elBulli1846, which is scheduled to operate in February 2020, that is generating the most buzz. Neither a restaurant nor a university, elBulli1846 will function as an exhibition lab and workshop on the very same location in Cala Montjoi, Catalonia where the former five-time world’s best restaurant stood—only expanded to 6,000 square meters—to empower creatives to explore new directions, carry out experiments, conduct research, and offer new perspectives that aren’t just rooted in gastronomy. “The mission of elBulli1846 is… to create quality knowledge of restaurant gastronomy and everything that surrounds it.”
While this has informed much of Adrià’s “capacity to create” since his restaurant’s closure in 2011, it’s a telling factor of how gastronomy has largely captured its own combustible kind of revolution. “We have to change the perspective of how people look at cuisine,” he says. “Avant-garde doesn’t last.”
“We have to change the perspective of how people look at cuisine. Avant-garde doesn’t last,” says Ferrán Adrià.
Indeed, especially when there are far more territorial gains to be made outside the restaurant vacuum. The outcome of Adrià’s opening salvo may have been different but the message is not: There’s no need to compromise on creativity and innovation no matter how or where it is delivered.
The same can be said throughout the three-day exhibition at Palacio de Congresos in Madrid where different viewpoints gathered, consumed by more than 13,000 visitors and 2,000 delegates—a 10 percent increase last year. In a sense, the 17th Madrid Fusión congress seems to be an attempt to place gastronomy’s role on a more acutely aware scale. “Cuisine has become a social movement like stopping food waste and plastic,” says Madrid Fusión president José Carlos Capel in his opening remarks. “We are working hard every day for an equitable [future].”
Working under the theme of Redeveloping Cooking: Changing the Rules, chefs covered the spectrum from pure revolution—as in the case of Aponiente chef Ángel Leon’s real-time crystallization of sea water to salt—to exciting fanaticism and even the gradual demarcation of activism and gastronomy in certain instances. Unsurprisingly, much of the talks showcased a respect for nature and championed the idea that to be in complete control of their visions, influential figures in food should place a significant amount of trust in a forward-thinking attitude.
Strength of gastronomy
Several speakers were strong indicators of that standpoint. Chef of the Year Award 2019 recipient Eneko Atxa, and journalist and founder of artificial intelligence company Sherpa Xabi Uribe Etxebarria have joined forces to give producers and suppliers all over the world visibility. With a panel of commissioners that will determine the best produce from each region in the world and assess their quality (for example, where to find the best tomatoes, who produces the sweetest fruits, what company raises the best breeds), Atxa and Etxebarria hope to embrace this platform as a culmination of their efforts to search for quality and recover extinct breeds. “In order to do that we have to create a web platform, bestfarmers.eco, so anyone in the world can click it so you can find the best producer in each area per category,” says Atxa.
Valencian avant-garde cuisine leader Quique Dacosta’s jubilant demonstration on the taste of beauty was filled with techniques that allowed him to employ fantasy in the kitchen. “For us, the beauty is not in the aesthetics, it’s in the taste,” he says. “Our intention is to connect with customers.” However, an effortless balance between presentation and flavor prevailed when Dacosta showcased how he uses “stamps” to create gorgeous, edible doilies made of algae, potato, fondant, and beet root that made for intriguing examinations. Sole Asian representative Richie Lin of Mume in Taiwan, who collaborated with Toyo Eatery’s Jordy Navarra in the past, meanwhile achieved a similar effect with his melding of Eastern and Western techniques in reinterpreting pigeon, a Cantonese cuisine staple, into a beautiful, spice-stained work of art.
“Sustainability should not be a world of trends. It should be something you live every day. You need to know what you have in your hand. You need to know where your tomato or chicken came from. You need to know what you put in your body and you need to know the consequences if you buy something that you don’t even know where it came from. We have to think this way now, it’s not about instant gratification,” says Dominique Crenn.
From here, other chefs employed the necessity of sustainability in their presentations, appealing to make food that meets the challenges of discerning customers while keeping one eye on the state of the planet. American restaurateur, Mission Street Food founder, and chef Anthony Myint whose sustainable restaurant The Perennial recalibrated the industry’s fight against climate change through a culinary perspective believes that chefs have the power to change the world.
“A two percent increase in carbon in the subsoil of our planet would compensate for greenhouse gas emissions,” he says, indicating that the combination of capitalism, the food production process, and the degeneration of soils act as conduits for greater environmental damage. Despite The Perennial’s closure last Feb. 9, Myint says in an interview with Eater that he and co-owner Karen Leibowitz will continue to fight climate change and beef up awareness through their non-profits Perennial Farming Initiative and the Zerofoodprint, which works with restaurants across the globe committed to minimizing the “impact of their activity without affecting their costs and profits.”
Kyle and Katina Connaughton of SingleThread Farm in San Francisco, which was recently awarded three-Michelin stars, are undoubtedly cut from the same cloth. The couple acknowledge the fact that nature and hospitality can co-exist in the way they do what they do best: combining the landscape and the ingredients and making emotionally driven and genuine experiences from the organic farm to the kaiseki-inspired restaurant and to the homely inn. The two espouse an experience over luxury conviction, but nature as luxury they believe, is just as enchanting as traditional opulence. “Cooking is about giving a piece of yourself to someone else,” says Kyle.
Females to the front
Some of Madrid Fusión’s most exhilarating standouts however were the moments of female power lit up by luminous personalities juxtaposing food with festival-ready ferocity to give women a greater voice in the industry.
Multicultural “Basque/Moroccan” chef Najat Kaanache’s demonstration was inspiring in that the Nur Restaurant owner not only epitomized everything great about Moroccan cuisine—a colorful canvas of beetroot with camel milk cheese, turmeric, saffron, harissa, olives, and Moroccan produce—but also with how she defied gender stereotypes in a culture where it is not always accepted that a woman can also be a chef.
One of the world’s best chefs, Ana Ros of Hiša Franko in Slovenia, didn’t break new ground in the classic sense but her mastery of maximizing a single trout to create nine visual, well-produced dishes—utilizing everything from the skin, innards, and roe to the eyes, gills, and fins—gave new meaning to mouth-to-tail haute cuisine and sums up a congress where sustainability and seasonality are queens. These converge even more on Dominique Crenn’s stage where, alongside pastry chef Juan Contreras, the first woman in America to receive three-Michelin stars, overstate the need for diners to reconnect with nature and be responsible for the dynamics that occur when using produce like honey, which they used in their presentation, as a gripping statement to conserve the balance of the ecosystem. Crenn is also quick to point out afterwards that she remains rooted in her objective to use the fame she has earned as a platform for equality and social justice.
“Cuisine has no owner. Cuisine belongs to everyone,” says Quique Dacosta.
“We don’t wake up in the morning to get awards or one, two, three Michelin stars, we wake up in the morning to do the things that we love to do, to make sure that we can give that to customers and make people happy, and to do work that we believe matters,” she says when asked about the importance of all the honors she had received. “The stars and awards are platforms for us. Obviously it’s really nice for the team but it’s a platform so we have a better voice and we can hopefully do better things in this world.” This obsession almost always yields seriously compelling results even back at Atelier Crenn where her staff are given a living wage, decent hours, paid time off, and health benefits.
For some, Crenn’s shot at reinventing industry practices with her brand of people investment in a business dominated by sometimes unfair, unjust principles is in itself a triumphant bid for progression. Innovation after all doesn’t always mean avant-garde cuisine or pulling off gastronomic heft out of the kitchen—although Crenn and the rest of the chefs who presented at Madrid Fusión are quite adept at that—sometimes, innovation simply needs to fill a void in the world.
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