‘Product’ was the theme of the third annual Gastromasa food congress sponsored by S.Pellegrino, held this December in Istanbul, with some of the world’s best chefs taking to the stage to share their love for their favourite ingredients and in many cases to cook them in front of a delighted audience.
Joan Roca charmed the home crowd with tales of a previous Roca brothers excursion to Turkey, which had inspired numerous dishes on the menu at El Celler de Can Roca, while pastry legend Paco Torreblanca explained his professorial love of chocolate and spice. Virgilio Martinez revealed more about the research he and his team have been doing into ingredients up at the ancient Inca site at Moray, Peru and also cooked produce from nearby Cusco onstage.
With a chef’s line-up from all corners of the globe, those gathered at the one-day event in the pleasantly warm city were treated to said chefs doing some extraordinary things with both well-known ingredients and those that perhaps aren’t so familiar outside of their countries of origin.
Here are some of the highlights.
Did you know that Venezuela producers 28 different varieties of cacao? At Alto restaurant in Caracas, chef Carlos Garcia and his team love to use chocolate in savoury dishes: sardines with white chocolate is one interesting combination, while on stage Garcia demonstrated, alongside chef Andrea Dopico, how to cook another: chocolate sole with yuca and pureed corn.
Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido, in Lima, Peru, Latin America’s Best Restaurant, describes majambo as “the forgotten cousin of cacao.” Grown in the Amazon, the fruit is starting to appear more and more on menus in Peru, where it was seen once as a “symbol of poverty, but now wealth.” There are many ways to cook it says Tsumura – you can make a dip with the pulp or turn it into a paste, eat the flower and cook the membrane surrounding the seeds – usually grilled, the seeds are eaten like a nut, are mild with a hint of sweetness, and have a slightly creamy texture.
One of the ever-ebullient Mauro Colagreco’s favourite ingredients is the Jerusalem artichoke, otherwise known as the sunchoke. At Gastromasa he showed how to prepare a dish with four different textures of it: raw (as eaten in certain parts of Turkey), the flesh oven roasted and mashed, baked and deep-fried peel, and a mousse. The result, expectedly, was stunning.
David Thompson of Bangkok’s Nahm restaurant, which currently sits at number 5 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list and is a former number one, rapped enthusiastically about the cornerstones of Thai cuisine, “one of the best in the world”: rice, fish sauce, palm sugar, chilli, lime and of course, shrimp paste. He described the latter as “merry and dank” and smelling of “old man,” but once the cooking started and the auditorium at the Haliç Congress Center filled with the wonderful smells of Thai cooking, those associations seemed positively alien.
Famed Athens-based pastry chef Stelios Parliaros introduced the crowd to the delights of mastic, a gum harvested from Pistacia lentiscus trees in the Aegean. The gum has a unique flavour, probably best described as ‘refreshing’ – indeed it is believed to be one of the earliest chewing gums. On stage Parliaros produced a ‘revani,’ a type of syrupy semolina cake, topped with a cream made with liquid mastic in large enough quantities to feed the entire audience.
Almonds are emblematic of the city of Alicante in Spain, where you’ll find the two-Michelin-starred L'Escaleta restaurant, helmed by chef Kiko Moya up in the hills in the “middle of nowhere,” he says. Moya loves to make sauces from almonds and onstage he presented an appetiser of almonds in five stages, from blossom to fruit, the key being the freshness of the ingredients.
Kamilla Seidler, soon to leave the acclaimed Gustu restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia after five years, described how initially, certain well heeled guests would turn their noses up at native Bolivian ingredients, deeming them unfitting for a fine dining restaurant. That soon changed of course, when Seidler began turning out the kind of plates that saw her named as Latin America’s Best Female Chef 2016. On stage in Istanbul, she decided not to cook, but spoke about one of her favourite ingredients to work with, the humble potato, of which Bolivia has 3000 varieties. One dish on the Gustu menu uses eight of them.
For Ezra Kedem of Jerusalem’s Arcadia restaurant, the aubergine is more than just a fruit: it represents a lifetime of memories, with his first culinary desires sparked in the Jewish-Iraqi kitchens of his mother and grandmother. It’s also given him perhaps his most famous dish, the aubergine carpaccio, which he lovingly assembled on stage, the fruit dressed with pomegranate juice, tomatoes and yogurt. Crush it and its a baba ghanoush he said – “It is the salad of my mother.”