Chefs break with tradition at Madrid Fusión

Cadiz chef Ángel León explains his ideas on moving away from traditional foods.
Cadiz chef Ángel León explains his ideas on moving away from traditional foods. / JOSÉ RAMÓN LADRA
  • Josh Niland and Dani García's fish, Joan Roca's conscientious menu and serving techniques mark the opening of the Reale Seguros Madrid Fusión

When the Reale Seguros Madrid Fusión opened for the first time in 2003, cooking was undergoing a revolution - technical, ideological and cultural - and it changed forever the way that we view chefs.

It was the time of spherification, the air, the liquid nitrogen. "The kitchen of the brave", as it was called in its day by the journalist Pau Arenós. Eighteen years later, the profession has matured, shed its fireworks and changed the need to impress the audience.

Conservation techniques that allow better use of the products, menus that represent environmental problems, dishes where the idea is much more important than the technique - sensible cuisine has finally arrived.

One of the most mature speeches heard in the Ifema auditorium at this year's edition of the event last week came from the young Josh Niland, and it is not just a play on words about the maturation of fish proposed by the Australian.

"My speciality is fish, the most expensive protein there is. If I pay 220 dollars for a piece I can't afford to throw away 40 per cent of it." Neither can Nature. The solution is to use as much of the fish as possible: the eyes, liver, stomach and other organs are quickly processed in an endless number of elaborations, while the flesh undergoes a process of ageing that can make it last up to a month.

Maybe that's why Dani García, who accompanied Niland during the presentation, is doing similar experiments in his restaurant Lobito de Mar - although he prefers to call it "rested fish, which sounds better".

The theme for this edition of the conference was basic cuisine, something that the chef of Nerua (the restaurant in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao) has been practising for more than a decade. Joan Roca's speech stirred the audience's conscience, and he detailed the menu with which world leaders participating in the Climate Summit were fed. Under the title 'The Earth is Running Out', he offered a series of dishes designed to highlight problems such as the scarcity of drinking water, invasive species, the warming of the seas, wasted food and the environmental cost of producing animal protein.

Roca's imagination transformed this ideology into a freeze-dried fungi broth, an Atlantic blue crab fritter and a beetroot, watermelon and red onion Gaia. "The aim was to send a message to their palates, but above all to their consciences."

On the second day, Cadiz chef Ángel León explored the role of artificial intelligence in creative cuisine. He answered the challenge of cooking for allergies and intolerances and even turned the menu order upside down. He cooked under dimmed lights and invited the audience to take off their traditional glasses and "look again at the food store infront of us". Without those traditional constrictions, the sea worm that lives in the mud of the marshes and is used as bait by fishermen becomes a delicacy.

León also presented a seafood stew with fish sausages and seaweed noodle soup, onions from the marshes and a sea honey, but the message was always the same: there is a lot of food in the seas beyond the twenty or so species that reach the fishmongers.

He also aims to raise awareness among younger generations with a project to promote the consumption of fish in schools by creating a pasta, pizzas and chicken wings that actually hide more than 75 per cent fish.

Nacho Manzano, the owner of Casa Marcial also broke molds when he suggested a change to the order in a menu. He said, "When you arrive hungry at a table you tackle the wild boar and the Gran Reserva wine better and then, when you've been in the restaurant two hours, you're ready for the salad and the Txakoli wine," he explained. The reasoning behind this is of overwhelming logic. Why haven't we thought of this before? Because we are too accustomed and no-one questions established practises.

Speaking of introducing changes in a sequence of dishes, imagine the challenge for the El Celler de Can Roca team to meet the needs of customers with allergies or intolerances. As Pitu Roca explained, 5.8% of his customers, 23% of the tables and 50% of the orders are accompanied by some change for reasons of health, religion, philosophy of life or simply fashion.

Faced with this challenge, the master of the room calls to "act with cordiality, generosity, hospitality and understanding". Putting the health of the diner in the hands of waiters and chefs is a great responsibility, but "we must enjoy the pressure, see it as a challenge. We cannot tell customers that we can't accept them because of an intolerance".

The challenge was taken up by sommelier François Chartier and technology giant Sony, who together have developed an artificial intelligence tool capable of establishing harmony between different ingredients to spur the creativity of chefs.

They gave Andoni Luis Aduriz a taste of the result. "The machine has given some good ideas, but behind it there is a great chef. He can complement anyone's talent, not replace it". Fortunately.