The best of Gastronomika 2019

The 10th edition of the congress in the Basque Country has ended. Here are the top moments, ideas and speakers

14-10-2019
Some of the speakers at Gastronomika, the cooking

Some of the speakers at Gastronomika, the cooking congress in San Sebastian. In the photo, left to right, standing, there’s Joan RocaRoser TorrasJosean Alija, Eneko AtxaElena ArzakAndoniMartin BerasateguiHilario Arbelaitz and Pedro Subijana. Sitting, Juan Mari Arzak and Carme Ruscalleda

Luca Iaccarino collaborated to the editing of this article

The 10th edition of Gastronomika ended a couple of days ago. In 2009 the congress took the helm from Lo Mejor de La Gastronomia, the first roof in the world to give shelter to chefs and ideas on cooking, back in 1999. Judging by the audience this year at the Kursaal, the room being often crowded, the format is not affected by the tiredness that many have been showing for a long time.

Of course, you must have some ideas, and this year the theme chosen by the curators of GastronomikaRoser Torres and Xavier Agullo, was a success: they celebrated Juan Sebastian Elcano, the Basque who five centuries ago was the first to circumnavigate the world. The story started from Getaria, the village which, since then, has been devoted to parrilla (see below) and touched many countries where the explorer arrived in his roaming. The talks covered candomblé influences, Indonesian techniques, zero waste Filipino-style, animals roasted in one-piece, Chilean alchemies… With many speakers less known to the larger public, which is always enjoyable.

Then there was the usual committee of Basque chefs, a smiling group that always shows a unique unison (by the way, there was no sign of Italy in San Sebastian). Of course, Spain is awaiting a very hot phase: political elections are scheduled on the 10th November, and before then there’s the sentence for the people responsible for the independence revolts in Catalunya, a severe sentence could lead to the region exploding once again. But at the Kursaal they talked about cooking, even pop cuisine («Viva la Hosteleria», Joan Roca cheered at one point from the stage). Here’s a summary of the most significant moments.

DANI GARCIA. The speech of Dani Garciasoon to close his restaurant, despite the 3 Michelin stars received on the 21st November 2018, was much awaited. «There’s no such thing as a life without goals», he pointed out, «Hence the 22nd October 2019 [in fact it will be on the 16th of November] will be our last day of service». This was followed by a melodramatic video with the chefs and his collaborators in tears. Then, the coup de theatre: «Once you get into the wheel of the Michelin guide, the pressure keeps on growing; fine dining speaks to few people. Fine dining is just a grain of sand in the kitchen: next year – he announces without giving details – we’re opening 8/10 restaurants seating 300/400 people each, so as to have many clients (and develop a big business, one can expect). This is surely my last speech at a fine dining congress, and I wanted to give it at Gastronomika because it gave me everything». Cheers from the crowds. The curtain falls. And off towards thousands of guests.

Dani Garcia

Dani Garcia

Carme Ruscalleda

Carme Ruscalleda

Joan Roca

Joan Roca

Leonor Espinosa

Leonor Espinosa

SEA AND FIRE. They presented the Asociacion Culinaria Maritima de Getaria, which safeguards the “culinary” landscape of this guipuzcoana portion of the Atlantic coast, which for 500 years has been devoted to two divinities: sea and fire. Which in culinary terms means fish andparrilla (grill), «a necessity that turned into a lifestyle, generation after generation», in the name of Juan Sebastian Elcano. «When I was a child», Joan Roca homages the seaman in his speech, «I went on board his ship. He was a childhood hero for me». In Getaria there are not just Elkano and Aitor Arregi (famous as the author of the best grilled turbot on the planet) but other great masters of fire, all united on the stage of Gastronomika: Mexican Enrique Fleischmann (Txoko Getaria), Igor Arregi (Kaia-Kaipe), Markel Iribar (Balearri) and Gorka Lazkano (Astillero). Here’s a real team.

CLIMATE CHANGE. «Will we be able to do what we do every day, in the future?». This was the question that Josean Alija, chef at Nerua in Bilbao asked at the beginning of an interesting ponencia, a provocation that slipped in an inconvenient guest at the Kursaal: climate change. Which pours out its tantrums more and more on restaurants’ supplies: «This year», the chef from Bilbao explained, «water temperatures have been as hot as ever: so we couldn’t get chipirones, calamari. And, for the first time, we couldn’t make bread with txakinarto corn because it rained very little». The watchword will become adaptación, “adaptation”: a cook’s capacity to adapt to climate change.

CONFLUENCIA. Elena Arzak, from restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian, a regular speaker for two decades on this stage, spoke of cooking as a confluencia: «All of our work starts from a connection: between people, cultures, generations». More interestingly, the voice offstage: «In the digital era, too many chefs loose their way with all the tweets. Cooking, however, is like the village square: it guides us back to where the kitchen is».

VOCABULARY. Quiche de agua, macambo, mojojoy, mambe, borojò, ponche, diablito, santamaria de anis, arazà, queso caqueteño, pirarucu, cacay, yua agria, aji lulito, cacay, galerazamba... Listening to the expertise of Leonor Espinosa, from restaurant Leo in Bogota, one of the most brilliant makers of the Columbian renaissance, was marvellous. At the end of the ponencia, a thought: we need a dictionary that encloses all the edible species in the world, a vocabulary that over the last decade has at least doubled in terms of items.

RUSCALLEDA 1. The congress’s opening ceremony had shown the scientific committee at their best – from Berasategui to Juan Marì Arzak, from Josean Alija to Eneko Atxa – paying their tribute to Carme Ruscalleda, energetic and casually dressed at 67. Double surprise: after a chat with Pedro Subijana the son and husband of the chef make a surprise appearance. The son describes his mother as an «Eccentric, self-critical, not hard, very hard, feminist». She tears up.

Eneko Atxa, Josean Alija, Elena Arzak

Eneko Atxa, Josean Alija, Elena Arzak

The Kursaal, the historic location of the congress 

The Kursaal, the historic location of the congress 

Torrija caramellata in the ancient way, with café con leche ice cream from Pablo Loureiro, Casa Urola

Torrija caramellata in the ancient way, with café con leche ice cream from Pablo LoureiroCasa Urola

RUSCALLEDA 2. In the evening, we all went to the Basque Culinary Center for the tribute dinner to the female chef worth 7 Michelin stars. Jordi Cruz, Angel León, Elena Arzak, Pedro Subijana, Joan Roca, Eneko Atxa and Martin Berasategui worked in turns. The dish of the night was the sea bacon (made from scraps of fish) from Angel León. The chef del mar later opened his talk with a revelation: ocean sugar (we have fun times ahead). At the end of the dinner, the director of the BCC Joxe Mari Aizega was rejoicing: «It was the most incredible dinner I’ve ever been to».

DINING ROOM. Josep Roca awarded Denis Courtiade, director at the Plaza Athénée in Paris, with the golden gueridòn for best maître. The reason given by the dining room master of Celler de Can Roca was: «Denis managed to transform luxury into comfort, an example that our world needs very much»

INDONESIA. Of all the international talks, the one from Canadian Kevin Cherkas, for 7 years now in Bali, left an impression. «I work in the most magical of the 13,807 islands of Indonesia», he explained convincingly to the crowds in the Auditorium. «At first», the chef from Cuca recalls, «I cooked western food for Asian palates. They hated it, it was a disaster. So I decided to change, to take the challenge of Indonesian food. But adding a deeper thought that would give a significant soul «to ingredients that everyone in the world considers as boring and cheap». Discussions on chilli pepper, papaya and a spice called kluwekfollow, 3 ingredients he has turned upside down and made sexy.

WEATHER. Aside from climate change, in the last 7 editions of Gastronomika, we rarely found such a lovely weather: sun, 23°C, Atlantic breeze. What better conditions to enjoy some pintxos (the local tapas)? Our Nobel prize among the bars on Fermin Calbeton Kalea goes to the double foie gras from Bar Sport (two layers, 3.70 euros) and to Torrija caramellata from Casa Urola, a French toast with no egg, with café con leche ice cream.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso 


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