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Madrid Fusion Manila is no more

With all the confusion and speculation on whether or not Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 will push through, I had lunch with actor Cesar Montano to get a categorical answer.

You read that right—not Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, but Tourism and Promotions Board head Cesar Montano because the gargantuan task of handling this gargantuan gastronomic event has fallen on his lap.

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So is it pushing through?

RIP, Madrid Fusion Manila

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According to Montano himself, the answer is a no. Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 is no longer pushing through.

For a while, people thought this could not be the case because the government is bound by a contract. Recall that then former President Benigno Aquino III looked on as then Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. signed the memorandum of agreement with the Spanish organizers of Madrid Fusion, Foro de Debate, S.L. and Arum Estrategias Internacionalizacion (Arum). Spain’s Secretary of State for Trade and president of Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior (ICEX) Jaime Garcia Legaz was likewise present at the signing in 2014 in Spain. The contract that was secured was for a period of five years. So we thought, no breakups, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, till 2019.

The present administration, it seemed, did not really appreciate the project. The reason, Montano says: Many are of the impression the government is spending so much money promoting other cultures.

True? On one hand, they are missing the point and beauty of Madrid Fusion’s being held in Manila. On the other hand, this is a valid sentiment that has resonated and in fact echoed in the past three events.

The importance of Madrid Fusion Manila

As high brow and condescending as it might appear to be, Madrid Fusion Manila played a great role in three things: (1) Putting the Philippines on the world map of culinary players; (2) putting a handful—it may just be one hand but it’s full—of Filipino chefs on the map; and (3) inspiring aspiring chefs by having their idols talk here.

Madrid Fusion Manila made so much noise that it was impossible for the world to ignore. Suddenly, heads turned to Manila, wondering why Spain chose Manila over Asian culinary giants.

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As for chefs, the world came to recognize two of Madrid Fusion Manila’s movers in 2015: chef Chele Gonzalez of Vask and Margarita Fores, who basks in full glory as “Asia’s Best Female Chef” of 2016. The Madrid Fusion Manila collaborative dinners initiated by Chele with Spain’s most revered chefs such as Elena Arzak and Luis Andoni Aduriz made him catch the eye of the international press and jurors who voted for his establishment to become part of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 and 2017. Since then, he has been going around Asia doing collaborative dinners with regaled chefs such as Julien Royer of Odette in Singapore. In his own way, he also promotes Filipino food, using ingredients like batwan.

Finally, aspiring young chefs and hoteliers get so excited when they see big names come to Manila.

Not to mention the opportunities for business that the trade section of the event presents. The Kitchen Bookstore, the online bookstore of Rajiv Daswani, was able to have an instant book signing with Jordi Roca at the Madrid Fusion event that would otherwise have cost an arm and a leg. Slow Food Philippines and the Department of Agriculture are able to present indigenous Filipino ingredients to international purveyors, traders and connoisseurs. We in the Philippines are also exposed to the fine delicacies of Spain while learning about our joint heritage through jamon, brandies, paella, etc.

Some insiders have gasped at the budget of Madrid Fusion. A big budget is a good thing if handled well; it is not a waste of money at all because the investment will return.

If we can build, build, build infrastructure, we should be able to build, build, build on our culinary strengths as well.

Buhay Carinderia

In its place, there will be a project called Buhay Carinderia. Montano is excited about this collaboration with Linda Legaspi of Marylindbert International. It is an advocacy program redefining the karinderya (eatery) as something “innovative, dynamic and relatable.” Legaspi started the Karinderya Fiesta in 2011 and has been holding such events since.

But this time, with the help of the government, the Buhay Carinderia will be four to five times bigger than an event in SMX (the home of Madrid Fusion Manila), she says. The big launch is on April 11.

Hope

As someone who saw Madrid Fusion Manila firsthand—the excitement for it, the hard work—I honestly can’t help but feel it would be a great waste to throw it all away.

If it comes off as if the Philippines is getting the shorter end of the stick, then the solution is not to shut down the project but to reassess it and tweak it to make it what it should be: An event that truly promotes Filipino culture, food, produce and products, and chefs to the world.

In any case, I look forward to what Buhay Carinderia has in store. It sounds promising.

As for Madrid Fusion Manila, in the spirit of Easter … let’s still hope. Let’s hope that projects like Madrid Fusion Manila that have been crucified and declared dead are able to come alive again. Who knows, like Christ, there might be an amazing, miraculous resurrection.

While we wait for that miracle to happen, let’s celebrate the resurrection that truly counts—that of Jesus Christ.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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