Madrid Fusion Manila fever sweeps the Philippines
“I don’t cook,” President Benigno Aquino III confessed in his speech before some of the world’s best chefs.
Malacañang rolled out the red carpet Thursday night for Spain’s most celebrated chefs on the eve of Madrid Fusion Manila: Elena Arzak, hailed World’s Best Female Chef in 2012 by the jury of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards; Andoni Luis Aduriz, whose restaurant Mugaritz is currently No. 6 in the world; and Spain’s celebrated chefs Quique Dacosta and Mario Sandoval.
“The one time I had to cook,” the President shared, “I made soup (from a powder packet) … and I burned it!”
The audience at the Rizal Hall of Malacañang laughed with him, but if I had the chance, I would have told him “Mr. President, surely you have food memories other than burnt soup!”
He could have recalled that his father’s eldest sister, Maur Aquino, is one of the country’s most respected gourmets and a sought-after cooking mentor, known for excellent Spanish dishes like callos and paella. Or he could have shared the recipe for Swedish meatballs of his mother, the country’s most loved president; or mention that his sister Kris is now the country’s most influential foodie (like it or not). But in this hall full of esteemed chefs, the president recalled a painful moment that called for survival cooking.
Thankfully, the dullness of that memory was overshadowed by the bright spread at the other end of the hall: a lavish buffet prepared by the Philippines’ leading chefs. The brilliant spread included a variety of longganisa from north to south; kilawin by Chef Myrna Segismundo; lechon with perfectly crispy skin paired with mostarda di frutta by Margarita Fores; croquettas by Chef Juan Carlos de Terry; mini bringhe with taba ng talangka and crispy crablets by Claude Tayag; among other delectable delights! Hopefully the flavors from this buffet were able to drown out His Excellency’s soup story.
It seems that it did, actually, because P-Noy and Tourism Sec. Mon Jimenez were truly the most gracious hosts and stayed on to party even after the Spanish chefs left. Props to Malacañang, DOT and the participating chefs for going all out to show the foreign guests and members of the international press what Philippine flavors and hospitality are all about.
The soup story is relevant because of the thesis of Chef Aduriz: food is all about the memories it evokes. A pie can take you back to your carefree childhood years; spaghetti can bring back tears from a breakup; and soup, as in the case of the President, can take you back to painful days of Martial Law. This is the reason why you wine and dine corporate clients: you want them to have fond memories of you through the caviar and Chateau Montrose you serve them.
But Aduriz takes it a step further, as he explained in his talk at Madrid Fusion. He doesn’t just make your childhood spaghetti the way Pancake House does or use Chocnut in a pie the way M Cafe does. Aduriz creates visually entertaining dishes that will puncture your emotional walls and make you wonder about the whys and hows of the world. For years now, he has been elevating food from a satisfying to a sensory experience. (It is for this creative effort that Aduriz was given the Chef’s Choice Award of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in both 2008 and 2012.)
Chef Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez, a Mugaritz grad, has taken on this philosophy and applied it to Gallery Vask. Case in point, he ends his Kulinarya dinner with candies you will remember from your childhood, laid out in a sungka. You will feel like you are in fifth grade and playing with your mom again.
Beyond memories, the chefs of Madrid Fusion are all about their art. “I don’t do modern gastronomy,” Chef Chele clarified. “But my creations are an expression of myself.”
In fact, Gallery Vask makes you experience interactive art. You may be brought first to another floor where you will pick an hors d’oeuvre from a sculpture’s nose (or palm). Then at the end of the meal, you might be enticed to play a paper game guessing ingredients.
This is how Chef Chele is applying the Mugaritz philosophy in Manila. Best of all, he is using Philippine ingredients and not just bringing in recipes adapted from some of the best restaurants in the world. For instance, he uses Philippine sea urchin to create his beer urchin dish—a heavenly creation wherein he buries the urchin underneath foie gras powder.
He found eel in Sorsogon that he uses to create his version of kinilaw. He has incorporated kalibangbang leaves from Pampanga and eggplants from Bukidnon.
None of these are presented in ordinary ways; every dish is truly a work of art. “We are very proud of him,” Aduriz says, calling Gonzalez an ambassador of Mugaritz.
This is the changing landscape in the culinary world. In the past, it was all about technique. But the world’s best chefs have gotten bored with just applying techniques and now seek to elevate cooking to a form of expression. “The plate is a platform to tell our story,” Chef Chele explains.
And this is why Madrid Fusion is important. In one venue, these chefs who have rocked the culinary scene in the past decade, and who continue to be leaders in the industry, are sharing with our local chefs their philosophies and secrets of success.
Aduriz and Arzak spoke about creativity; Mario Sandoval spoke about roasts; Asian chef Alvin Leung shares why extreme cooking may or may not work.
At the same time, the Philippines has been a box of discoveries for these world-renowned chefs. Segismundo spoke of coconut and how we incorporate it in our dishes; Tayag talked about adobo; J Gamboa presented a lechon sisig.
Even at the welcome dinner, the Spanish chefs were already amazed. I heard that Arzak tapped Chef Rob Pengson and asked in amazement, “What is in this biscuit?” (that was created by Sunshine Pengson.) From that night alone, these chefs will go home with memories of mangoes, kinilaw, lechon, longganisa and more.
“I am fascinated with Filipino cuisine,” Arzak said at the welcome breakfast for her hosted by La Camara and attended by the Philippine-based Spanish business community. “I tried kinilaw, which varies from region to region. In that sense, the Philippines and Spain are the same because we also have varieties of a dish in every region. But then I also tried turon, which we also have in Spain, but your turon is not at all the turon that we know about! We will now have to create a whole new food dictionary just for Filipino cuisine!”
Food historian Felice Sta. Maria is actually already underway on that project of a Filipino food dictionary. But here’s the achievement of the DOT for this event: Philippine food like kinilaw and turon are now in the vocabulary of the world’s best chefs.
We are on the map!
5/F Clipp Center, 11th Avenue corner 39th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Reservations required. Call +63917-5461673. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible by elevator.
Gallery Vask hosted a dinner collaboration between Chef Elena Arzak and Chef Chele Gonzalez last Friday, April 24; and is hosting a dinner featuring Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz tonight.
The Kulinarya menu by Chef Chele Gonzalez will be available until May 9.
Follow the author @margauxsalcedo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, margauxsalcedo.com.
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