Cesar Montano Concedes, ASSESSING Possibility of Madrid Fusion Manila 2018

We did it!! Well … almost, so let’s keep pushing!

So last week, Mr Montano confirmed to me that Madrid Fusion Manila would no longer push through.

So of course I shared the bad news with the world.

I never expected that foodies would make such resounding noise – as if food was taken away from our table! LOL

STILL UNLIKELY

As of 8:00 pm last night, Tourism and Promotions officer Maricon Ebron said that Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 is “unlikely”.

She stated the following reasons: no venue, no date, no proper bidding for an event organizer.

She did however say that it was possible for Madrid Fusion Manila to push through but in 2019.

lThe Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) is awaiting the Spanish organizer of Madrid Fusion Manila (MFM) to propose a new date for the international gastronomy congress, after the original date was called off to give way for a public bidding, an official said Tuesday.

*

Maricon Ebron, officer-in-charge of the TPB Marketing and Promotions Sector, confirmed to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that the event is unlikely to push through this year.

She said Foro de Debate, who owns the Madrid Fusion trademark, has yet to propose a new date for the event, making it unworkable to start the bidding process immediately.

“Most probably, the event would be next year because Foro de Debate has to give us a date. At the same time, we need to check our venue,” she noted. “‘Pag wala silang maibigay sa amin, talagang maka-cancel nga ‘yon (If they could not give us a date, MFM 2018 would indeed be cancelled). It may be next year.”

Full story of PNA here: http://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1030700

Today, though, while still not confirming that the food congress will push through, Cesar Montano, TPB head, appeased angry foodies by giving an official announcement that the TPB is now ASSESSING the possibility.

But most importantly, he now RECOGNIZES the impact of the Congress. Whee! 🙂

 

I called him to ask if he has in fact changed his mind and Madrid Fusion 2018 is now confirmed to push through. He still refuses to confirm that the event is IN FACT pushing through but said that they are now looking at Marriot Manila as a venue, after he got word that it is available, and, like he said in his statement, ASSESSING the possibility.

The grapevine says they are looking at September. But that is not official. (Earlier the grapevine said June.)

Whatever the REAL reasons or the real plans, at least the foodie world can now rejoice at the ray of HOPE that MAYBE Madrid Fusion Manila 2018 MIGHT (still “under assessment”!) push through this year.

More on Sunday in Inquirer Sunday Biz 🙂

It’s final: Madrid Fusion Manila cancelled

It’s official. Madrid Fusion Manila has been cancelled, as confirmed by Tourism and Promotions Board COO Cesar Montano.

With all the speculations, I decided to just up and get a confirmation from Montano himself.

My story in today’s column in the Inquirer here:

http://business.inquirer.net/248412/madrid-fusion-manila-no

In its place will be a project called Buhay Carinderia by Linda Lopez. In an interview with Linda Lopez, she confirmed that this event will be five times the size of SMX, where Madrid Fusion Manila has been held. “If Singapore has hawkers, Manila has the carinderia,” Lopez explained. “We want to make the carinderia more innovative, dynamic and relatable.”

The Buhay Carinderia launch will be led by DOT Sec Wanda Teo on April 11.

MISSION: MANILA features Chef Tatung

Mission: Manila, a passion project of mine to promote Filipino chefs, is back, this time featuring Chef Myke Tatung Sarthou.

Chef Tatung, as he is fondly called, is chef-owner of Restaurant Agos in Mall of Asia, a bestselling cookbook author on Filipino food, and the resident chef of the morning show Umagang Kay Ganda.

I was won over by Tatung’s cooking when I ate at his first restaurant, Chef Tatung, in Quezon City. I was one of the first to write about the place, with a review in the Inquirer’s Sunday Inquirer Magazine.

Cut to ten years later and he is among the world’s greatest chefs, speaking at no less than the auditorium of Madrid Fusion!

He is also the first chef to do a four hands dinner in Madrid with renowned Spanish chef Mario Sandoval. (Sandoval did a four hands dinner in Manila at the Peninsula with Chef Myrna Segismundo at the first Madrid Fusion.)

I though, how sad that Filipinos would not be able to taste what Tatung served in Spain.

Fortunately, he agreed to do a revival of that menu.

It’s happening on Tuesday. 🙂

MISSION MANILA TATUNG INVITE.jpeg

Mission: Claude Tayag at the Raffles Makati

Mission Manila presents Claude Tayag for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers
Monique Today of Raffles and Fairmont Makati with World's 50 Best No. 1 Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain
Raffles & Fairmont Makati Hotel Director of Communications Monique Toda with World’s 50 Best reigning No. 1 Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, Spain

It all began out of a desire to make World’s 50 Best No. 1 Chef Joan Roca and the other speaker-chefs at Madrid Fusion Manila experience a real Filipino dinner because there was no Filipino chef lined up in the parallel dinners to the Madrid Fusion Manila congress.

Roca flew out on the last day of the Congress and missed this but I think something bigger came of it —

Mission: Manila, long-term project to promote Philippine cuisine and Filipino chefs.

April 9, 2016. Mission: Manila was launched in cooperation with Raffles & Fairmont Makati with Claude Tayag as the first featured chef.
Mission Manila, MissionManila, Claude Tayag, Madrid Fusion, Madrid Fusion Manila, Margaux Salcedo

Claude Tayag, genius that he is, and with the generosity of Raffles & Fairmont Makati HotelAlex Ong and Rey Lee of Artisan Cellar Wines, and Olive and Aaron Limpe-Aw of Destileria Limtuaco, put together this TEN-course dinner in just 5 days! He asked me to confirm if we would push through with the dinner Sunday; I messaged back “Game!” on Monday. And the dinner was held five days later on Saturday!!

Mission Manila presents Claude Tayag for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers
El Kusinero Claude Tayag with his team and the “kusineros” of Raffles & Fairmont Makati Hotel.

I have known Claude for over ten years now and I trusted whatever menu he would have come up with but this one really blew me away. Here’s what he served:

Pakwan Two Three.
Red and yellow watermelon, kesong puti, glazed pili nuts, honey-mansi vinaigrette.
Paired with Ruggeri Prosecco Argeo
This dish had us at hello. Claude skipped the amuse bouche-ing. He went straight to this delightful salad with no greens whatsoever. He also emphasised that for this dinner, ALL his ingredients were local. As can be seen with the carabao cheese, Pili nuts and calamansi with honey vinaigrette.
Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presents Claude Tayag for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers

Sisig Terrine.
Paired with Ruggeri Prosecco Argeo
He called it “sisig” yet this was not at all like sisig as we know it. Instead, Claude took the idea of using a pig’s head, specifically the jowl, and instead made it into a refreshing appetizer paired with cucumber strings. I freaked out a little bit when I saw the slither of fat but Claude winked, emphasising that it’s not THAT kind of fat so you CAN eat it whole. This totally reminded me of the cuisine of Lyon, which also likes to utilize every part of the pig!

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Guava Gazpacho.
Chilled Pampango guava soup served with ulang (freshwater prawn).
Paired with Luis Canas Blanco Joven
This was my favourite dish of the night. I’m a huge fan of guava – totally love sinigang sa bayabas. And a whiff of the guava “cold soup” here turned heads as the waiters entered carrying our bowls. Claude made the soup much thicker than usual. As for the ulang, I really think we need to promote this more – it is such a delightful, meaty viand!

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Tuyom Rice Balls.
Guso seaweeds, cherry tomatoes, KBL dressing spiked with rum cooked Tausug-style in a sea urchin shell.
Paired with Luis Canas Blanco Joven
This was another favorite. First of all, who doesn’t love uni? Secondly, I loved how Claude presented it as a “ball” – actually, he made little cups out of indigenous rice – that you get the full benefit of a mouthful. He was inspired by how the Tausugs of Mindanao cook their uni – in the sea urchin shell itself. I think of all this dishes, this is the one that has representation from all three island groups – Luzon for the KBL sauce, a very popular Ilokano sauce with tomatoes, shrimp paste or shrimp sauce and sliced onions; Visayas through the guso seaweeds; and Mindanao with the sea urchin and the way it was prepared.

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Fish-charon.
Crispy tilapia skin with Pampango burong hipon and fresh mustard leaves.
Paired with Langmell Spring Fever Chardonnay
This was Claude’s tribute to his home province of Pampanga. He explained that because Pampanga has no surrounding waters, they would usually use freshwater fish in their dishes. Hence, the ulang and the tilapia. And in Pampanga, they like to use mustasa or mustard leaves and wrap the fermented rice in it with the fish. Here he made the tilapia skin extra crunchy, like another specialty of the region: chicharon.

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Tres Dilis-cias. 
Fresh anchovy fillets three-ways: kinilaw, fried adobado, salted sun-dried with alto seaweed.
Paired with Selbach Oster Kabinett Bernkasteler Kurtfurstlay Riesling
Claude’s humor really cracks me up – it actually carbon dates him because the play-on-words humor is so seventies LOL. First “Pakwan two three” and now “Dilis-cias” -bwahaha! Anyway, this dish I think we could have had while enjoying generous pours of cocktails with Manille liqueur generously sponsored by Destileria Lituaco. These yummy bite-sized slivers of fish would have been perfect for that!

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Talangka Bringhe. 
Pampango fiesta rice medallions, taba ng talangka, crisp fried crablets.
Paired with Langmell Spring Fever Chardonnay
This was another winner. When I bit into it (without reading the menu), at first I was surprised by the kick of umami. Lo and behold, upon checking, there was a spread of crab fat on top of the bring he!

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Pork Choplet Adobo Confit.
Paired with Langmell Steadfast Shiraz
Sure there were pork chops and these were yummy but the highlight of this dish for me was the dinardaraan/dinuguan that it was paired with. We are the only country that makes a thick stew out of pig’s blood. In Europe they have blood sausage which is a delicacy that people love even in gourmet capitals such as Lyon. But here we make a stew out of the blood. Claude specifically used the version of the Ilokanos where the meat that is used is made crispy. It was a great way to appreciate dinuguan without shocking foreign guests.

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Pata-Patita Mole.
Traditional Pampango tomato-based pig trotters stew with Guagua smoked lingginita at ginseng patani.
Paired with Langmell Steadfast Shiraz
Another hearty dish and tribute to Pampanga. Aside from the pig trotters, Claude used longganisa from Guagua, which are small in size so he calls them “longganitas”. He explained that some appreciate it like a sandwich so he also served pandesal with it.
Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Sorpresa de Yema.
Paired with Selbach Oster Kabinett Bernkasteler Kurfurstlay Riesling
The menu sub-heading was: “Almusal na Tocilog na pang matamis?”
So we thought he was serving Tocino del Cielo or heavenly custard. But no! Presenting the quintessential Filipino breakfast, Claude literally served a slither of tocino, dried it, then coated it in a Nana Meng Tsokolate dip. And placed it atop a hardened yolk that was resting on top of a meringue. How creative!

Mission Manila by Margaux Salcedo presented Claude Tayag at the Raffles and Fairmont Makati for a Madrid Fusion inspired dinner for Kidapawan farmers.

Seating for this dinner was limited to just 16 because Claude wanted it to be really intimate, allowing him to give a talk on the anthropological background of each dish that he served. It almost felt like a Madrid Fusion talk as each of the ten courses was bussed out. It was truly an evening where the education on Filipino food matched the deliciousness of each dish.

Mission accomplished!

Mission Manila, MissionManila, Claude Tayag, Madrid Fusion, Madrid Fusion Manila, Raffles Fairmont Makati
Many thanks to those who made the mission possible: Raffles & Fairmont Makati’s David Batchelor (seated, right) and Monique Toda (seated, third from left); Artisan Wine Cellar’s Alex Ong and Rey Lee (seated, first and second from left); and Destileria Lituaco’s Olive Limpe Aw and son Aaron (seated, second from right).

Watch out for the next Mission: Manila … Follow @margauxsalcedo on Instagram and Facebook for updates.

Joan Roca, David Thompson, Narisawa, Virgilio Martinez Coming to Manila for Madrid Fusion 2016

The World’s No. 1 Chef, Latin America’s No. 1 and two Asia’s No. 1 ALL coming to Manila for Madrid Fusion Manila 2016!!!

Madrid Fusion Manila 2016 is all set with this Memorandum of Understanding signed just this morning between the Philippine Department of Tourism (in photo is Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr.) and the ICEX España Exportacion e Inversiones (public export promotion agency belonging to the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of the Kingdom of Spain).

Sec. Mon Jimenez and Minister Jaime Garcia-Legaz of Spain sign the Memorandum of Understanding for Madrid Fusion Manila 2016
Sec. Mon Jimenez and Minister Jaime Garcia-Legaz of Spain sign the Memorandum of Understanding for Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

Madrid Fusion Manila is scheduled on April 24-26 with the theme The Manila Galleon: East Meets West.

And here’s the line up of celebrity chefs – and I mean WOW – can’t believe they are all coming to Manila!!

The following have been confirmed by the Tourism Dept as either as speaker or presenter for Madrid Fusion Manila 2016:

At the signing today, the DOT also presented this list of speakers:

Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

This list is just BEYOND. My jaw dropped. Props to DOT for taking it to the next level. Can’t wait!!!

Chef Elena Arzak in Phils for Madrid Fusion Manila

Chef Elena Arzak is now in the Philippines for Madrid Fusion Manila.

A breakfast for the Spanish business community to welcome Chef Elena was held at The Peninsula’s Old Manila this morning.

Chef Elena gamely took to the podium and answered playful questions from the audience.

No, she has not tasted balut, she said with a smile, but she has tasted adobo.

“I find it interesting that we have dishes with similar names but they are totally different from what we have in Spain. For instance, I tried turron here. We also have turron in Spain but the turron here is not at all like how we know it!” she said, amused.

“We need to come up with a whole new dictionary for Filipino food!” (By the way, Felice Sta Maria is already working on that.

Chef Elena has also tried adobo and kinilaw and is fascinated at how there are different interpretations of the dish per region.

“In that sense the Philippines is just like Spain where we have different versions of a dish in different regions.”

Chef Elena will give a talk at Madrid Fusion Manila on Friday and will also be at Gallery Vask for a collaboration dinner with Chef Chele Gonzalez, a “graduate” of Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian.

Elena Arzak, World’s Best Female Chef, To Do Collab Dinner at Vask

arzak vask

Elena Arzak Gallery Vask Chele GonzalezIt’s confirmed: Chef Elena Arzak, in collaboration with Chef Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez, is designing a menu at the Arzak laboratory using Philippine ingredients to be presented at Gallery Vask on the first evening of Madrid Fusion Manila, April 24.

Restaurant Arzak is one of the most respected and highly acclaimed restaurants in the world. It has maintained, to this day, the three Michelin stars it earned in 1989. Other restaurants lose a star or two along the way but Arzak has maintained its 3-Michelin Star status for 25 years. It has also consistently kept its place in the Top 10 of the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2006.

arzak vask
Throwback: Vask’s Chele Gonzalez with Elena Arzak

Chef Elena runs Arzak with her father, Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is considered the father of modern Basque cuisine. He is credited for spearheading the Nueva Cocina Vaska (New Basque Cuisine) movement that laid the foundation for a larger Spanish culinary revolution. Many chefs have been inspired by this movement started by Arzak, the greatest example being El Bulli’s Ferran Adria. Chef Juan Mari was honored with the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Arzak

The restaurant is known for its avante garde, sometimes whimsical, dishes. It serves beer pudding literally on top of a crushed can of beer. Sardines are delicately placed inside a potato sphere. And for a trip to the sea with San Sebastian’s red mullet, the fish is served on top of a tablet that has a video clip of waves.

In an interview with Inquirer Sunday Biz at the Restaurant Arzak chef’s table last January, Chef Elena explained that every dish served at the restaurant begins not in the kitchen but in the laboratory, where the item goes through a process of tasting and testing until it merits Juan Mari’s and her approval. This process could take as short as six days but could also take as long as six months.

Which makes the April 24 dinner priceless.

Chef Chele, who worked in Arzak for a year and a half, has been applying the Arzak culinary philosophy of promoting local ingredients in an avante garde fashion to his creations at Gallery Vask. He started a degustation series he calls Kulinarya using ingredients he personally sourced from all over the country, going as far as visiting indigenous tribes in Kalinga and Bukidnon. For his Kulinarya menu, he has an appetizer of eggplants he found in Bukidnon; kinilaw of “uni” that he found in Sorsogon; and cochinillo slices with kalibangbang leaves from Pampanga.

Arzak Chele
Throwback: Vask’s Chef Chele Gonzalez working the Arzak kitchen with owner Chef Juan Mari Arzak, Lifetime Achievement Awardee of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards and pioneer of Spanish modern gastronomy

Arzak Laboratory

But for this dinner, it is the Arzak team in San Sebastian led by Chef Juan Mari and Chef Elena themselves who will be playing with Philippine ingredients. These ingredients will be brought this March to the Arzak lab in San Sebastian. The creations—or shall we say inventions—produced from the lab will be presented by Chef Elena and Chef Chele at the April 24 dinner at Gallery Vask.

The dinner will be priced at P9,500 a head with wine pairing. This is a bargain considering the tasting menu at Restaurant Arzak is already priced at 179 Euro without wine. Consider it a trip to Arzak without the plane ticket! Plus, your meal may be tax deductible as proceeds for the dinner will go to Fundacion Santiago, a private Filipino charity established in 1993 aimed at using the benefits of tourism for poverty alleviation.

Gallery Vask can only accommodate 40, so book a table now!

Arzak, Mugaritz Back to Back at Gallery Vask

If you’ll miss this dinner, not to worry. Vask is set to hold three special dinners on the three evenings of Madrid Fusion Manila (April 24, 25, 26). The 25th is Chef Chele’s night while on the 26th, Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, currently No. 6 on the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is also set to cook at Vask.

Gonzalez keenly points out, “I believe this is the first time in Asia that two chefs in the Top 10 of the World’s 50 best will cooking in an event. Madrid Fusion Manila, I believe, is a great opportunity to (make Manila) become a culinary destination.”

Mugaritz is a two-star Michelin restaurant in Spain but currently the No. 6 Best Restaurant in the World as ranked by the World’s 50 Best.

Aduriz is regarded as a genius, renowned for his culinary innovations. He was influenced by Chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli, which held the No. 1 rank for many years. Aduriz says that El Bulli, where he used to work, changed his life. (When El Bulli closed, Adria was quoted by The Guardian as saying that now the best chef in the world, aside from his brother Albert, is Andoni Luis Aduriz.)

Aduriz is passing on the inspiration to chefs who had in turn worked with him at Mugaritz. There was a Mugaritz tribute at Madrid Fusion where chefs who had worked at Mugaritz but now spreading their wings abroad were called on to the stage. Among these chefs was Vask’s Chele Gonzalez, of whom Aduriz is very proud. In an interview in Madrid, Aduriz described Gonzalez as an ambassador of Mugaritz and said that he was looking forward to exploring the Philippines with Chele.

The Mugaritz dinner will also be priced at P9,500 a head. Proceeds will go to the same charity that the Arzak dinner will help.

Chef Ivan Brehm of Singapore’s Bacchanalia, also a Mugaritz ‘grad’, will be doing a collaboration with Chef Jordy Navarra at The Black Sheep.

It’s going to be a hot culinary scene this April indeed on the week of Madrid Fusion Manila.

Gallery Vask
5/F Clipp Center, 11th Avenue corner 39th Street,
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. +63 917 546 1673. Reservations required.

Spain’s celebrated pastry chef Paco Torreblanca wants to discover Philippine cuisine

Eight of Spain’s best chefs are coming to Manila April 24 to 26 for Madrid Fusion Manila – or, as Elena Arzak calls it – Manila Fusion.

But only one of them really specializes in desserts: Paco Torreblanca. Check out his creations as seen in his website (torreblanca.net):

Paco Torreblanca paco art 2 paco art 3Here is a description of Chef Paco Torreblanca by starchefs.com:

“Paco Torreblanca is widely regarded as one of the most innovative pastry chefs in the world. As a young chef Torreblanca, a native of Spain, headed to France to work in a Parisian patisserie. He remained in France for nine years. The experience taught him the value of precise and detailed execution in the pastry kitchen. This foundation, along with a strong work ethic, fueled his hunger to learn and experiment.

“In 1978, Torreblanca returned home to open his own pasteleria in Elda, Alicante. Using his imagination and focusing on the purity of flavors, Torreblanca has revolutionized pastry. Outside of his home base at Pasteleria Totel, Torreblanca offers his expertise as a consultant, giving classes, workshops, and presentations throughout the world. He is the author of six books, two of which, Paco Torreblanca and Paco Torreblanca 2, were awarded “Best Pastry Book of the World” by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2003 and 2006.

“Torreblanca is a member of the international association Relais Dessert, and has received numerous accolades during his career of over 30 years. Most recently, he was named “The Best Pastry Chef for Restaurant Desserts in Spain” in 2004 and was awarded a special award from the Academy of Gastronomy in 2006.” (starchefs.com)

The Madrid Fusion Manila website adds this:

The considered agitator behind patisserie in haute cuisine was born in 1951 in Villena, Alicante. At 12, Paco Torreblanca traveled to Paris and trained with a family friend for 13 years. There he worked in a Parisian patisserie and learned the value of precise and detailed execution in the pastry kitchen.

In 1978, Paco returned home, and with his wife, opened his own patisserie, el Pasteleria Totel in Elda. With the desire to design the flavor of chocolate, he experimented by blending cocoa with different spices from all over the world. By using extra virgin olive oil to replace cocoa butter, Paco created chocolates with astonishing smoothness. Another innovation of his is the use of sugar reduction in his creations.

In 2006, he established his first store outside Elda, in partnership with Seri Arola for the Paninoteca D’E restaurant. Then several others opened two years after the partnership ended. He also set up a school at Totel, where every year, ten of his students are given the chance to work with him.

Paco also shares his passion with his sons. One of them even beat him in winning the Spanish and European Championships at an earlier age than he had.

I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Torreblanca at Madrid Fusion 2015 and he said that he is excited to come to the Philippines to participate in Madrid Fusion Manila. At the same time, he is eager to discover Filipino ingredients that he hopes to use in his future creations. It will be his first time in Manila.

We are excited to have you over as well, Chef!

For tickets to Madrid Fusion Manila, visit madridfusionmanila.com.

Elena Arzak: Madrid Fusion Manila is an important event in Asia

Elena Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo. Madrid Fusion Manila.

Restaurant Arzak.
San Sebastian, Spain.

The World’s Best Female Chef* Elena Arzak has personally confirmed that she will be coming to Manila this April for Madrid Fusion Manila.

*Elena Arzak, in tandem with her father Juan Mari Arzak, pioneer of Modern Basque Cuisine, is the head chef at Arzak, a fourth generation restaurant housed in an 1897 home in San Sebastian, Spain. (See why Arzak is worth traveling to Spain for here.) She has many accolades to her name including the National Gastronomy Award for Best Chef in 2010 and the title of Best Female Chef award, voted for by a prestigious global jury of chefs and food critics, at the World’s Best Restaurant Awards in 2012.

At an exclusive interview with yours truly for First Class in Inquirer Sunday Biz and margauxlicious.com, Chef Elena Arzak said that participating in Madrid Fusion Manila is like a dream:

“I’ve been invited to participate in Manila Fusion and for me it’s like a dream. I am so happy to go. Finally I am going to Filipinas and the event is going to be a very important event in Asia.”

The multi-awarded chef said that she has been wanting to come to the Philippines for ten years.

“Finally after ten years, I am going to the Philippines. Thank you (Madrid Fusion Manila) for my invitation.”

She also said that she is so happy that she will finally try Filipino food and meet Filipino chefs whom she described as “so good”.

Chef Elena Arzak is set to give a talk at Madrid Fusion Manila, from April 24 to 26 at SMX. It is yet to be known if she will be cooking at a chosen host restaurant.

Check out the Madrid Fusion section of margauxlicious.com for updates on Madrid Fusion Manila.

See why Arzak has been a three-star Michelin restaurant since the 1980s here.

Why Restaurant Arzak is worth a plane ride, a train ride & a six-hour drive to San Sebastian

Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak
Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak
Arzak: the ultimate dining experience. Shown here: the father-daughter tandem of Modern Basque Cuisine pioneer Juan Mari Arzak & World’s Best Female Chef Elena Arzak.

There are many chefs the world over who now do “modern cuisine”.

A couple of years ago, I was blown away by the creations of Heston Blumenthal at Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Hyde Park in London. As an appetizer he served something that looked like an orange but was in fact foie gras. It was a bewildering yet delightful illusion!

Here in Southeast Asia, Iggy’s in Singapore has become renowned for his “modern European cuisine”. It was here, around eight years ago, that I first experienced the incorporation of Pop Rocks on an elegantly plated dessert. The waitress even made us guess what it was and it was Chef Rolando Laudico, the chef in our party of four, who correctly guessed that it was that favorite childhood candy that was crackling in our mouths. Back when Andre Chiang was still at Jaan at the Swissotel, I had the privilege of tasting his “modern French” creations. And recently, Ivan Brehm, who had worked with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, has been making waves at Bacchanalia.

In the Philippines, Chef Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez takes the lead in offering modern Basque cuisine at Gallery Vask although you will also see modern techniques employed at the more casual Rambla in Rockwell and the uber fine dining Tasting Room at City of Dreams.

But nothing quite prepares you for Arzak, a home that has been around since 1897 and where modern gastronomy had its beginnings – in the mid ’70s!

There is – oddly – no train that goes direct from Lyon (where we were for the World Pastry Cup and the Bocuse d’Or) to San Sebastian. Instead, the trains go via Paris and Barcelona, which are actually longer routes! So we chose to see Barcelona instead of going back to Paris and then got a car to drive to San Sebastian.

It was an easy but very long six hour drive (mas malapit pa ang Baguio-Manila!). On top of that, the winds were very strong – we had to drive slower because our car was being blown by the wind! We did not realize until our concierge verified it that there was in fact a storm. All we knew was that from the B10 to A2 to AP7 highway, it felt like a never ending road.

But Arzak was absolutely worth the long drive. You understand, after dining here, why it is considered one of the world’s greatest dining destinations.

Pintxos

Restaurant ArzakYou are greeted with a can of beer. Andy Warhol would have fallen in love with this. “This is black pudding and beer,” the server explained. “Did you crush this can yourself?” I teased her. “Yes, we play football every morning,” she joked back.

You don’t eat the can of Kellerbier, of course, but can pop the entire pudding on the chard leaf in your mouth. Then boom! Umami with a little dot of spiciness in the end. “How?!” you ask. This is a question that you keep asking all throughout the meal.

At this restaurant, there is no one tiny amuse bouche as is the custom in other fine dining places. Instead, they introduce you to Basque culture by loading you up with at least five of these introductory pintxos that tell you what the restaurant is all about.

Arzak Arzak Following the black pudding and beer, we were served: 1) Kabraroka pudding wrapped in kataifi. This is a pudding made of scorpion fish, an otherwise overlooked fish because it is described as “ugly” but made famous by Restaurant Arzak (check out this site).  2) Sweet chilly pepper and sardine sphere. The sphere felt like a round Filipino barquillo so it was interesting to note that this was made out of potatoes. And then inside, a burst of the flavors of sardines. These fish appetizers immediately tell you about the philosophy of Arzak of finding local produce and making these come alive in their restaurant through their incredible techniques.

ArzakGyoza of prawns and moringa. Restaurant Arzak, San Sebastian. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com. It did not end there. We were also served: gyoza of prawns and moringa. This was an astonishing creation. It takes the concept of the Japanese gyoza but instead of the steamed dough, the cover on this one is crackling. But inside, the meat is sweet. And finally, a lentil cookie with ssam-jang, a spicy Korean paste. These creations show you that Arzak is committed to discovering the unique ingredients each country has to offer, allowing guests flavors that they may never have experienced before.

“It felt like a trip around the world,” I said to the legendary Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is, to this day, in spite of his lengthy list of accolades, still present every day in the Arzak kitchen. “Yes, we get ingredients from around the world,” he said (through a translator), “but the end product is from Kilometer 0. It is absolutely Basque.”

Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche, Restaurant Arzak, San SebastianAfter eating all that, our tummies were good to go. But the menu said we were just getting started!!!

Coastal Creations

The official starter that we had was entitled “Cromlech” because it is made to look like a prehistoric megalithic structure. But in fact it was made of manioc (or what we call cassava!) and huitlacoche (which is disgustingly described on the internet as ‘corn smut’ but in Mexico is a prized kind of mushroom that is considered part of their culinary heritage, used in cooking since pre-Hispanic times). You are instructed to turn these cones upside down and eat it “like ice cream”. It looks odd but inside there are caramelized onions and my sister Goldee immediately detected foie gras. It is crazy good!

This was followed by three seafood dishes: lobster, scallops and red mullet. Remember that San Sebastian is a coastal city and therefore abundant in seafood.

Restaurant Arzak. Lobster Sea and Garden. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comThe lobster was an example of gorgeous plating. For some reason it reminded me of impressionist art, with Van Gogh’s Starry Night coming to mind. Probably because of the green crispy crepe that looks like a starfish. But its purpose was to add not just color but dimension to not only to the texture but also to the flavors of the dish, as it had hints of turmeric. Meanwhile that lovely orange dash of color is a zucchini flower and they all lie on tomato water that totally compliments the juiciness of the lobster.

Arzak, Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak

From impressionism they move on to realism with the scallops, which arrives on the table enclosed in two long bamboo leaves. Can you imagine that – we have so many bamboos in the Philippines yet we usually just use banana leaves in the presentation of our food. But the first thing that struck me here was the fragrant whiff of earthiness which I guess was from the leaves. “You don’t eat that,” the server said, laughing, as she opened the leaves to reveal the scallops.

And from realism they end the seafood series with pop art. This one was absolutely avante garde. I was startled when a kind of ipad/tablet was placed before me instead of a plate. It had a video of waves. And then the dish arrived on an elevated glass plate: the red mullet – so it appeared as if the mullet was still swimming in the sea! (Well, minus its head, haha!) Around it were “leaves” – they looked like leaves but they were actually not leaves but made with anis, pepper, beetroot and other spices. What was really fascinating was how the taste of the fish would change with each bite of a different “leaf”. It’s absolutely trippy! Yet in spite of all illusions, the dish was still centered on something very popular in Basque cuisine: the red mullet. It was also accented on the side with a Basque favorite, the “crispy tail” – piniritong buntot sa atin.

Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comRestaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com Utopia

The chefs are kind enough to welcome guests into the kitchen after their meals. We saw several groups come in. While speaking to the legendary Juan Mari Arzak, he said that even in cooking, they strive for utopia – that imagined place where everything is perfect. Well, that’s what I felt when they brought out this truffle dish.

You see, truffles are a tricky thing. Unless you get the entire block, you hardly really smell that distinct truffle aroma. A chef once told me he cheated by adding the synthetic truffle oil to the real thing (que horror!). Chef William Mahi (who, by the way, is Basque) over at Tasting Room at the City of Dreams Manila, does an excellent job with shaved Perigord winter truffles with his 52-degree egg starter but the egg is the star of that show. Here, the truffles rightfully play the lead role, with the potatoes and the egg singing glorious back up. Like Destiny’s Child and the truffles here are Beyonce, hehe – and she will make you sing!

Restaurant ArzakFor the final dish, we had deer. This comes wrapped in lettuce leaves and the use of lemongrass brought me to Southeast Asia. It shows you how well-traveled their chefs are.

Arzak 10Finally, dessert. And they continued their A-game. “It’s a giant truffle,” the waitress joked as she presented a block of chocolate. But it’s not chocolate, explains Elena Arzak, who runs the restaurant in tandem with her father. “This is carob,” she explained. “It is like chocolate but it is not chocolate. During the war, it was used as a substitute for chocolate but now people are also exploring its health benefits.”

Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com  Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comI had heard many times in the past about Restaurant Arzak. You can’t avoid hearing about it as it has consistently been at the top of the list of the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant awards and has been a three-starred Michelin restaurant since we were in diapers. You also hear about Arzak from chefs like Chele Gonzalez of Vask, who had worked at Arzak, and has brought the Arzak philosophy of modern Basque cuisine to the Philippines. So you feel like you have an idea of what Arzak is all about.

But you don’t. Not until you have dined there.

Arzak is like love. You may have an idea of it from what has been written but it is something you must experience to fully grasp and understand.

And it is, truly, a one-of-a-kind experience. Absolutely magical and definitely worth the trip. Even in the middle of a storm!

Margaux Salcedo, Goldee Salcedo, Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak
Chef’s Table at Arzak

PS. GOOD NEWS:

Chef Elena Arzak is coming to Madrid Fusion Manila this April! Come back to the Madrid Fusion section of this blog for updates on Madrid Fusion Manila! I will keep you posted 🙂