In Spain, a food and wine fiesta is commonly called dinner. So intrinsic is the idea of celebrating every meal in this country that for a tourist, it can be a daunting realisation just how much time these folks spend on meals.
But they dont eat large portions, and yet manage to include a variety of food that shows double-digit variety. So when a country like this decides to put a food conference together, you know just how eclectic, how rich, and how tempting the final line-up will be.
Madrid Fusion is the name of the event where I was fortunate enough to be for the second time. Since my previous visit, which was a good few years ago, the event had grown and transferred to another (larger) venue. There was visibly more wine and beverages but outside of that, the show was fairly along similar lines.
The event is structured around talks by some of the worlds greatest chefsfrom Japan to Peru, Finland to South Africaand each chef presents his views, shares his experiences, and forwards his theories for food as we know it, and as they see it evolving.
And then, to complement all this, they have another stage where wine tastings and wine events are conducted throughout the day. The regions of Spainplenty of Ribera del Duero this timewere duly represented by winemakers from the respective regions and the ability to taste them side by side is a great way to understand the different Spanish wine regions. My favourites, by the way, are Galicia for its aromatic Alvario white wines and the Rioja for its tenderly floral, yet gently grippy Tempranillo-based reds. Regions that are gaining popularity would include Priorat, Monsant and Toro. There was also a small visit to one of the largest wine shops in Europe (at least by collection, if not in size) called Lavinia, where I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some precious Sherrytop among the worlds most under-rated winesand some of the special (molecular) sparkling wine (called Solid because the bubbles spiral up, but at almost 1/100th the normal speed of effervescence) that was created by the famous chef Ferran El Bulli Adri!
Casa Mariol would get my award for the most innovative packagingnot only did they employ bright colours for their labels, they also used graphs and pie charts to explain basic features of their winespairing options, service temperature, body and strength on palate. Gimmicky for some, perhaps, but it sure got my attention and the wines were very well made too.
On the food front, the chefs were presenting all sorts of innovations from Elena Arzak and her papier-mch creations to Chocolatier Dominique Persoone who made chocolate in every fanciful shape (mothers breasts!) to flavour (raw shrimp chocolate anyone) and then went on to demonstrate how chocolate can be simply sniffed directly to stimulate the right part of the brain, thereby bypassing the whole hassle with the alimentary canal.
Food is intrinsically linked with wine. Even if I didnt have a chefs degree to boast of under my belt (which, ahem, I do), I would imagine that all this would still be riveting stuff. Only through understanding and tracking food and wine right back to their ingredients and conceptual inception can one estimate the travails of trying to pair them at a table.
And then, there is action off the stage as wellwith journalists from the world over, one gets to not only see amazing creations come to life on stage, but also get an idea of the international response that these chefs can expect in the future. Cultural backgrounds suggest that what one group finds enjoyable and quirky, another may consider bland and uninteresting. Either way, when some rich and heart-warming Pata Negra ham does the rounds, followed by an unlimited array of classic old school tapas (pintxos in the north of Spain), the admiring oohs and aahs are almost unanimous and synchronised.
If MasterChef excited you, then this will blow your mind away. This is not emotional drama for the self-proclaimed foodies, this is the haute couture of gastronomy, which decides just how and what we will eat in the coming year in the best of restaurants around the world. Id happily watch re-runs of the lectures here over any food show ever made (including mine!)
The writer is a sommelier