Madrid Fusión: Gamechanger in Spanish gastronomy
Madrid Fusión celebrated its 20th anniversary. This year the foremost gastronomic event in Spain was promoted by actor Robert de Niro. Rumor has it that there was actually no budget for such a costly promotion act, but the famous actor, who himself is a real gourmet and in the restaurant business, was sold for only a tasting dinner, an offer he claims too good to be refused in a short video. So, in the first days of March, the actor and his companion arrived in Madrid to experience a “priceless menu” by five of the best chefs in the world, Argentine Mauro Colagreco and Spanish Joan Roca, Quique Dacosta, José Andrés, and Martín Berasategui, in payment for agreeing to sponsor the 2021 Madrid Fusión gastronomic congress. This “unique and unrepeatable” meal was held in the royal suite of the historic and luxurious Mandarin Oriental Ritz in the Spanish capital, where the actor seemed to be extremely satisfied and at times could not resist carving a slice for himself from the delectable Iberica ham.
Finally, when the day came, I flew only for three days to Madrid to attend the event held from March 28 to 30 in IFEMA - Feria de Madrid. The organization is a mix of a trade fair, with stalls of leading producers of food, but also has focused parts dedicated to regions of Spain, where local smaller artisanal products and specialties can be presented, but for us food writers, the target is definitely the auditorium where inspiring talks by world-famous chefs takes place. When the moment comes to celebrate the 20th anniversary, the scene is spectacular. On the stage, almost all the important chefs of Spain are together side by side and in team spirit with a singleness of purpose. What is beautiful is the spirit of solidarity displayed by these chefs who are supposed to be business rivals but they are aware that when they are all united together, it will be for their own good and Spanish gastronomy will win. Indeed, Spain has made a great leap forward in the field of gastronomy in the last 20 years. In the past, it was a destination where British and German tourists went for cheap food, sea, sun, and sand. Now it has become a destination where hundreds of euros can be paid for a single tasting menu, where reservations are filled months in advance at chef’s restaurants. Spain is now a gastronomic tourism destination, a paradise for any dedicated foodie. The endless solidarity of the gastronomy sector in Spain, from chefs to producers, from the state and big producers to regional administrations and local businesses, has a great role in this phenomenon. Here, Madrid Fusión is a very important event that has managed to attract the attention of the world, but at the same time created the opportunity for chefs and producers from all over Spain a chance to show themselves. In this sense, it is an initiative that we should definitely learn from, a role model to duplicate, maybe if we want to do good for Turkish gastronomy.
The founder and president of the event is José Carlos Capel (Madrid, 1945), a Spanish gastronome and critic, an economist by profession, and author of several books on culinary tradition, travel guides, and other publications on food and also has been dedicated to gastronomic journalism in the most widely read newspaper in Spain, El País, for more than 30 years. Despite his advanced age, he is active on stage, he presents many chefs himself and does not hesitate to personally warn René Redzepi, who held the title of the best chef in the world for successive years, when he exceeds the time given to him. When the anniversary picture is taken, the happiness of chefs hugging each other around Capel is contagious. Diego Guerrero, one of Spain’s most famous chefs, takes the floor when the 20 years cake comes to the stage and confesses the impact the event had on his own personal carrier in a truly emotional way. “I wouldn’t be me without Madrid Fusion!”
I also notice senior people who sometimes appear on the stage to present a chef and sometimes make a short or two-sentence comment. When I ask Spanish writer friends, I understand that they are all people who have worked in the sector as teachers or writers, and researchers, or members of Real Academia de Gastronomía, aka the Royal Academy of Gastronomy, a Spanish institution that was founded as a non-profit cultural association in 1980 with the objective of research, improvement, dissemination, promotion, and protection of the culinary art and gastronomic activities typical of Spain.
This respect for seniors of gastronomy in Spain is an indication that the starting point of these creative chefs is actually these researchers and writers. The same point caught my attention at the Food and Science World Congress in Barcelona. The importance given to research and literature is another exemplary feature. In addition, the contribution of large manufacturers to the sector must not go underestimated. Years ago, when the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao called for its 25th-anniversary events, they organized separate trips to the wine regions and to the region where the famous Iberian ham is produced, trying to promote not just the museum restaurant Nerua, but giving the visitors a true insight to gastronomy in Spain. Another act of solidarity that was that made the whole press trip an unforgettable experience. I can’t forget a word that the famous Basque female chef Elena Arzak said to me years ago. “We may be rivals in our country, but if we do not unite and cooperate, none of us can really exist and compete in the world!”