This was my second time at Gastronomika, the congress held every November in the Basque capital of San Sebastián – the heart of the avant-garde cuisine movement and the world’s city with the highest collection ofMichelin stars per capita.
Following each of these visits I’ve always wondered why chefs and food experts were so interested in returning every year, but the answer seems to be quite simple. The appeal of Gastronomika is very much connected to the people behind the event, which is becoming one of the most influential ever.
These people – who make up the conference’s brain and soul - include 7 Canibales (it translates as ‘7 Cannibals!’), a group consisting of food bloggers, top journalists and gourmets; the GSR group directed by Roser Torras; and finally 6 super-chefs, Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subijana, Martin Berasategui, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Hilario Arbelaitz and Karlos Arguiñano.
It is their combined energy and influence that makes this congress, now in its 13th edition, so unique.
Gastronomika focuses on innovation, on the philosophical approach to food, and on the artisans behind the fabulous products. Chefs invited to the stage are expected to have something relevant to say. And this year’s edition was no exception.
Among others, two chefs were particularly well-received by the audience:Josean Martinez Alija and Eneko Atxa. They are doing extraordinary work in research and are creating a new language in which aesthetic purity and awareness of the surroundings are the main focus. But the great stars of this year were the Latinos. On the main stage, three emergent guest nations were represented: Brazil, Peru and Mexico.
Brazil is becoming one of the most successful stories of economic recovery in the past few years. And while, unlike other nations, the Brazilian government doesn’t give financial support to their nation’s chefs, Helena Rizzo, Rodrigo Oliveira and Julien Mercier, Roberta Sudbrack, Claude and Thomas Troisgros and Alex Atala, made a great impression with their research into native ingredients and ideas about culinary tradition and evolution in Brazil.
Gastón Acurio embodied the culinary spirit of Peru, while presenting an impressive new gastro-social project that unites farmers, chefs and citizens with the purpose of a democratic gastronomy. At this stage it is only a plan, but Acurio intends to open a new location for Astrid & Gaston restaurant in Lima, with a fine-dining room, an inexpensive gastrobar, and a patio with an organic garden and market stall. The property has a 300-year-old house, which will be converted into a cultural centre for free daily cooking demonstrations, so that, everybody, regardless of income, will feel part of the restaurant.
Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, Hector Solis, and Mitsuharu Tsumura presented the Novoandina Cuisine, which has been receiving a lot of attention recently, while Teresa Izquierdo, the grand dame of Peruvian cuisine, was remembered after her recent death.
The Mexico team included two main culinary approaches: avant-garde (as expressed by Enrique Olvera, Alejandro Ruiz, Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso) and traditional (in the style of Titita Ramirez and Abigail Mendoza). This dichotomy seems to be a common element of most presentations I have witnessed, and is clearly a worldwide trend.
Chefs are evolving technically, and their concepts are becoming more complex and sophisticated, but they continue to be influenced by the past and the memories of childhood, often unconsciously combining elements of comfort, purity and simplicity into their contemporary narratives.