Last week was the time for the San Sebastián Gastronomika event, which took place on Sept. 5 and 9. It was free and online; it would be a crime not to register. I signed in, hoping to see what is new in the gastronomic scene in Spain and watch the demos of my favorite chefs. The tasting part would not be possible but thinking about the flavors and even getting that sense of feeling that is inspiring is always within reach left to our capacity of imaginativeness.
Most chefs have previously been in Turkey, participating in the Gastromasa event organized by Gökmen Sözen, and many have been visiting their Turkish colleagues as guest chefs, mostly Maksut Aşkar at Neolokal. Watching Gastronomika online was like a one-way Zoom party as if catching up with friends, hearing them, but your microphone on mute mode.
Browsing through videos and trying to dedicate time to watch all of it in between all the work that is to be done, I stumbled upon one thing that seemed to be less significant when compared with star chef talks, but it turned out to be the most inspiring part for me. Gastronomika was launching a new competing ground, involving both the producers and chefs, the first National Chickpea Competition.
I was green with envy, a bit over-excited, admiring the idea of launching such a concept, feeling pity for my own country, almost trying to shout through my mute microphone: Hey there, Anatolia is the birthplace of chickpeas, we use them in a zillion ways from soups to stews, from mezes to salads, from pickles to desserts and we even turn them into leblebi, the healthiest nibbling snack ever!
I sadly knew that my voice would not be heard, especially by the authorities in my own country, where almost everybody talks about the virtues of gastronomy tourism and how Turkey would be an ideal gastronomy destination. The reality is that we do not even attempt to know and register our products, apart from an arguable geographical appellation list. Such initiatives recognizing qualities of local products and searching to bring out their potential are practically non-existent in this country. That is my verdict, but still bearing hopes to be wrong, I checked the official geographical appellation list only to find out that there was not one single chickpea variety listed.
Going back to the Chickpea Competition, which was titled “Tierra de Sabor,” was described as a competition that sought to highlight the gastronomic potential of this versatile Castilian product. The winner was the Argentinean chef German Carrizo from restaurant Fierro in Valencia, who shined through seven rivaling colleagues from restaurants all over Spain. All competitors had to cook a dish on their menus made from Fuentesaúco chickpeas, which bear Protected Geographical Indication recognized by the EU, or Pedrosillano chickpeas, which are protected by a Guarantee mark. The dishes could be presented either hot or cold. In the case of Carrizo, it was cold, a brilliant dish featuring the chickpea as a rissole with the flavors of the sea. The competition was meant to highlight the culinary virtues and the potential of the legume, and it delivered this goal. The chefs claimed that the chickpea was destined to write a new chapter of flavor and aromas in their gastronomy.
Such events, like San Sebastián Gastronomika, are usually seen as events to promote gastronomy tourism. But they are more for inspiration and stirring interest in creativity and also to bring out the virtues of regional products. The chickpea competition was a well-thought step in celebrating a local produce. I truly hope that it becomes an inspiration to Turkish authorities in charge. A tiny chickpea can bear more value than it seems. Ottoman sultans valued it as gold, hiding a real gold chickpea in the buttery rice pilaf studded with glossy golden chickpeas. We must treasure our own chickpea, that is for sure, a lesson learned from Spain.
Award of the Year:
Apart from the first national Chickpea competition, the most meaningful was the Tribute Award. Congrats to San Sebastián Gastronomika to have honored a dedicated warrior of good causes. José Andrés received the Gastronomika 2020 Tribute Award sponsored by Makro. When Benjamín Lana, president of the Vocento Gastronomy Division, introduced José Andrés, he underlined his Spanish spirit, saying, “He’s one of us.” The San Sebastian Gastronomika - Euskadi Basque Country 2020 Tribute Award was then symbolically and virtually presented with a big heart to the chef, who lives in Washington, on account of his humanitarian work and his permanent commitment to solidarity and was deemed as deserving this year by the fact that his organization (World Central Kitchen) had come to Spain to provide help in the COVID-19 crisis.
The award was presented by addressing the chef in his honor with the lines that read, “The award winner’s ‘ability to get others to do things,’ a feature of his leadership that has enabled him to be able to reach every corner of the world with his World Central Kitchen organization.”
On receiving the award, José Andrés sent a thank you note that read: “I accept this tribute on behalf of all the chefs at World Central Kitchen. Our profession has been where it was needed, alongside many other NGOs. Our capacity to unite people and our responsiveness are what makes us one big family. Together we can put an end to hunger in the world.”