Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
I attend many trade food shows during the year. The largest ones are the Restaurant and Foodservice Show and the Summer Fancy Food Show (SFFS) – both take place at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.
Both are “product oriented”, where thousands of producers present the results of their labors to the restaurant and food trade as well as the food press. At the last SFFS there were over 100 olive oil producers and importers from every area where olives grow, about 130 cheese producers and importers, 35 ham and charcuterie producers, cultured fish and seafood farmers, wine producers, coffee and chocolate producers, dry fruit and nut producers, pasta and rice producers, pastry and sweets producers… every kind of producer that makes enough product to be sold to the very large US food industry is present. By now, both shows have become large enough to individually occupy practically the entire Javits.
However, both shows are, as I mentioned generally “product oriented.” That means that, if you are a food journalist, you have a chance to taste only basic ingredients and judge the quality or lack of, of these products. And it is not only individual producers and importers that showcase products. Numerous countries set up country booths, showcasing 10 to 100 participants from each participating country.
20 years ago, Gastronomika, the annual show of the Spanish restaurant industry, became the most prestigious Spanish gastronomy event and started disseminating the cultural and culinary traditions of Spain and the Basque region to the rest of the world.
Gastronomika is a very different trade show than any of the others. Here, top restaurant chefs, most with Michelin-starred kitchens, exhibit new gastronomic creations each year, as well as discussing culinary subjects, of interest to the Spanish restaurant industry. The exhibiting chefs all come from this single country but there are, of course, food journalists from around the world as well as a number of chefs from other countries interested in what the Spanish chefs do and have to say. And what is exhibited is mostly finished dishes i.e. showcasing how the best ingredients are utilized in a top kitchen.
There were a number of regional booths, each featuring top quality regional ingredients such as olives, jamón, cheese and paprika, wines and other viticultural products from Extremadura, Castilla y León or from Cantabria for example, and there were also a few booths from large Spanish producers, such as the Tores Family, showcasing their wines. Balfegó, a premier producer of cultured fresh tuna, had a sushi bar set up serving sushi and sashimi. And Makro showcased fresh fish, seafood and meat. There were a few culinary manufacturing specialists as well, showcasing chef’s knives for example and cooking utensils for a professional kitchen.
There were numerous cooking demonstrations and lectures every day at a large auditorium where chefs had ½ hour to demonstrate how the dishes they were exhibiting were created, and sample plates were passed to the audience. Very well known culinary names, such as Carme Ruscallada, Dani Garcia, Elena and Juan Mari Arzak, Martin Barasategui, Joan Roca, Germán Martitegui, Andoni Aduriz, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Oliver Peña, and many, many others graced the stage during the 3 day event.
Additionally, in the evenings there were dinners at locations outside of the conference center featuring chef creations such as the meal we had at the grand dame hotel Maria Cristina.
The next evening, Restaurante Ni Neu hosted 11 chefs from Cantabria for a walk around buffet featuring such delicacies as “free-range chicken carbonara, stuffed in truffled macaroni” - a delightful specialty of Alex Ortíz of Pan de Cuco; also “blue lobster textures in salad” of Nacho Solana; and Cantabrian deep-fried squid of Miguel Ángel Rodriguez from Santander; as well as a very tasty tidbit “pigeon breast and oysters”, by David Pérez, and numerous other dishes.
For the very first evening, 25 starred chefs created dishes at the Basque Culinary Center to please and surprise the Gastronomika participants, taking them in an unforgettable sensory journey. We were seated in 3 different rooms of the center, each room serving different dishes so I did not have a chance to taste every individual creation but, what was served to our table, was indeed exceptional and very unusual starting with a very memorable appetizer which was a sardine can with a bed of ice that contained 2 thin milk chocolate shells stuffed with pâté de foie gras, topped with mint and wassabi pearls and decorated with a nasturtium flower. Another memorable tidbit was a lobster tail split into two long pieces, painted over with an extremely smoky paprika sauce. Absolutely delectable!
Gastronomic creations vary in Spain by region. The cooking methods and ingredients in use have their roots in ancient Greece, Rome and Carthage, and have been heavily influenced by the Moorish culture of North Africa and the Jewish Diaspora.
Southern Spain offers visitors delightful fish and seafood dishes and cold soups such as Gazpacho and Ajo Blanco; Valencia is the home of paella “Valenciana” that combines typically Mediterranean fish, seafood, chicken, sausages, fresh vegetables, rice and, sometimes, fruit. Some of the best cheeses and beef come from the Spanish North, such as Roncal from Navarra, Manchego from La Mancha, Idiazábal -- a pressed hard cheese made from unpasteurized sheep milk in Navarra and the Basque region, and tender beef from Galicia. Cantabria offers diversity in a cuisine that blends “sea and mountain”, with top-quality ingredients that might include beef, pork, anchovies and cheeses. Jamón, from Iberico black-footed pigs, is famously produced in regions and towns from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Coast. And Catalonia and Rioja are the source of some of the most spectacular wines produced in Spain.
Gastronomika presented us a chance to taste all these specialties… and a great time was had by all!
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