Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Dinning with Spanish Culinary Royalty
Once again I had the honor to be invited to attend Gastronomika, the international Restaurant and Spanish Food conference taking place in San Sebastián, the dynamic Basque city on the Atlantic coast of Spain.
Gastronomika is an annual event attended by chefs of notable restaurants; not only the famous Michelin-starred Spanish chefs that were there in full force, but also other chefs from Spain and the rest of Europe and, in this edition, also from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Morocco, Indonesia, the Philippines and as far away as Japan and China. Invited were also prominent food journalists from around the world. I was one of two U.S. based food writers to be included.
Carme Ruscalleda, the Catalan chef with the most Michelin stars in the world who closed her Sant Pau restaurant last year, was honored during the opening day of the conference with an award sculpted by Ramón Roteta (chef and sculptor of the award). The avant-garde of Spanish cuisine was there attending the opening ceremony; such notable starred chefs as Pedro Subijana, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Dani García, Josean Alija, Hilario Arbelaitz, Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, Eneko Atxa, Martín Berasategui, Roser Torras and Joan Roca as well as Raül Balam (Carme’s son), Fina Puigdevall, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch, to name but a few.
The next day, seven 3-Michelin-stared chefs prepared a unique dinner at the Basque Culinary Center in homage to Carme.
Jordi Cruz (ABaC, Barcelona), Ángel León (Aponiente, El Puerto de Santa María), Elena Arzak (Arzak, San Sebastián), Pedro Subijana (Akelarre, San Sebastián), Joan Roca (El Celler de Can Roca, Girona), Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi, Larrabetzu) and Martín Berasategui (Martin Berasategui, Lasarte), together with a kitchen team of about 90 individuals, designed a special menu. They cooked for the beloved Catalan chef and us, 9 dishes, and offered “much love”. To me this tour de force was an incredible meal created by Spanish Culinary Royalty!
During a walk-around reception there were ample appetizers of Sorlut oysters, Idiazábal cheese, Imperial Royal caviar and Jamón Iberico de bellota.
When we moved to the dining room, the courses started with Ángel León’s marine bacon with a light garlic foam. Joan Roca, of El Celler de Can Roca presented a truffled meringue with comfit of quail yolks, and Jordi Cruz a squid niguiri wrapped in cooked tuna skins with wild salmon and cured egg yolk, trout roe, soy butter and nori seaweed textures. Eneko Atxa opted for prawns, vegetable gel with ripe tomato and Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, gave us a “fish of the day” with shio koji and sea grape (pictured above). Pedro Subijana topped off the main part of the menu with a “umami” sea bass
before Martín Berasategui finished the dinner with a very refreshing lemon dessert (actually a white chocolate shell colored and designed to look like a lemon and filled with lemon ice cream) with basil juice, green beans and almonds and accompanied by petit fours of strawberry gumdrops "Heart Berry" and crunchy hazelnut toffee.
During the meal the wine pairing was red and white wines from wineries of the Tenerife D.O., with the 2010 Esencia malvasia of Cumbres de Abona winery being truly exceptional; there were also beers from San Miguel that included 3 excellent stouts, and water from Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino.
During the days that the conference took place, the auditorium of the Kursaal – the name of San Sebastián’s conference venue – was given over to chefs that wanted to inform the participants about new dishes in their kitchens as well as those that wanted to talk about subjects of interest to the Spanish culinary community. When new dishes were presented, sample small plates were sent to the press section of the auditorium so we could taste the results... and some were just spectacular.
This year, in addition to the Spanish exhibitors that service the restaurant industry, from wholesale food purveyors to kitchen grills and refrigerators; from knife manufacturers to uniform tailors,
there were numerous Spanish regional booths showcasing local specialties of each area such as cheeses, honey, preserves, jamón, pickled vegetables and fruit, canned fish, smoky Spanish paprika and numerous other regional products. Of interest also were a few international country booths showcasing foods and wines from other countries such as Hungary, for example, that had a booth offering a variety of food products – including a spectacular Tokaj and pâté de foie gras and very interesting cheeses.
Another group of exceptional international exhibitors -- that were not there in the past -- were purveyors of cultured caviar from Russia, Azerbaijan and Italy’s Lake Garda. I have to admit that I took advantage and had as much caviar as offered, including a variety that I had never seen before, a white caviar (ossetra sized) from albino sturgeons cultured in Azerbaijan!
Some regions were more active than others… Malaga being the most active with a booth plus numerous lectures and demonstrations in Room 10 of the Kursaal.
As usual Gastronomika was an epicurean heaven. In additional to informing about new products and dishes, it provided sustenance to feed the eyes, the palate and the soul. In future issues I will give more details on the luxury products I tasted during Gastronomika 2019 such as cultured caviar, jamón de bellota etc.
Also see Lunch at Hotel Maria Cristina
Many thanks to the Tourist Office of Spain in New York www.tourspain.es
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