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Madrid Fusion impacts PH country brand

Madrid Fusion is an annual event that brings together the world’s best culinary minds. It is where the latest food trends are contemplated, the newest food philosophies are discussed, and where the best practices in restaurant management are shared. It is also the forum where undiscovered ethnic cuisines are reintroduced to the global culinary community. Bar none, it is the world’s most important gastronomic event. Founded in 2003 by Jose Carlos Capel, Madrid Fusion is where the future of gastronomy is charted.

In 2012, I recall Department of Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez telling me how his department was busy preparing to pitch Manila as the first venue for Madrid Fusion outside Spain. We were in stiff competition with Singapore who was also making a bid for the event. In the end, blood and historical ties proved thicker than cash and flash as the Spaniards chose the Philippines in an overwhelming vote. We were granted the rights to host the event for five consecutive years beginning 2015. Come April 7 thru 9, Manila will host the event for the second time at the SMX Convention Center in a much grander fashion than it did last year.

Many wonder why hosting Madrid Fusion is relevant to the nation what with only a fraction of the citizenry involved in the food industry. Truth is, Madrid Fusion is much more than just food. It’s about culture. Hosting a global event like this sends the signal that the Filipino way of life – our values, arts, sciences and of course, gastronomy – has a sway on global trends. It gives the country gravitas in the global scene.

The event has also augured well for the development of our local cuisine. It has pushed local restaurateurs to look deeper into the nooks and crannies of our regional dishes and evaluate them with fresh eyes. Never in our history has Filipino food developed so rapidly as it has in the last two years. Today, the Filipino has re-discovered and has fallen in love with his own cuisine all over again. No longer is Filipino cuisine considered “pedestrian” but one that is both exotic and sophisticated in equal measure. These days, it is no longer uncommon to see long forgotten dishes like Tinuktok, Igado, Bringhe, Tinumok and Penuneng on the menus of fine dining restaurants, here and abroad.

Along with pride in our gastronomy comes pride in our culture and a stronger sense of self. Through food, our national identity is strengthened… our sense of patriotism intensified. Such are the upshots of hosting Madrid Fusion in Manila.

THE FORMAT

Madrid Fusion Manila follows the same format as its counterpart in Spain where several learning tracks go on simultaneously throughout the three-day affair. The first track is a “food congress” where notable speakers make their presentation in a theater format. Most presentations are delivered with elaborate videos, cooking demonstration, and spirited talks. The congress is fast paced, each speaker given just 30 minutes to deliver their message. There are usually 10 to 14 presentations a day. The congress offers vast learning opportunities on gastronomy.

This April, the event will explore the Galleon Trade and how the food culture of the east, through the Philippines, influenced the west, and vice versa. Speaking on behalf of the west are “rock stars” in the food scene – among them are Joan Roca of Spain, Enrique Olvera of Mexico, Virgilio Martinez of Peru, and Leah Cohen from the US, among others. Speaking for the east are our very own Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan of Purple Yam fame, Kevin Cherkas from Indonesia, Jungsik Yim from South Korea, and Nurdin Topham from Hongkong. For the complete list of speakers, you can log on to: www.madridfusionmanila.com

The second track is a food exposition. Here, countries and private corporations put their products on display in the hopes of forging alliances with local distributors and institutional customers. One can roam the exposition hall whilst gathering new ideas, scoping new business opportunities and sampling the food and beverages on offer.

On the side are special events where food manufacturers host product launches and private tastings. These affairs are usually by invitation or accessible by prior booking.

The event extends outside the venue as well. A special track called “Flavors of the Philippines” allows participants to enjoy the best of Philippine cuisine among a list of accredited restaurants. A special menu is prepared for participants of the Madrid Fusion Manila along with special prices. This is the organizers, way of bringing forward the best of Filipino cuisines among the participants, mostly composed of influencers in the global culinary scene.

A GLIMPSE OF MADRID FUSION

I attended the Spanish version of Madrid Fusion last month and found one talk, in particular, most interesting. It was delivered by Joan Roca, the eldest among the trio of Roca brothers who own the three Michelin starred El Cellar de Can Roca in Gerona, Spain. Since 2012, the restaurant has been ranked either number one or two in the world by the esteemed Restaurant Magazine. It is currently in pole position.

Joan’s talk revolved around the post-avant-garde movement. According to the master chef, “modernist cooking, with its use of molecular gastronomy and scientific apparatus,” is now a thing of the past. One that is common can no longer be considered avant-garde, Joan stressed. Hence, he contemplated the next wave of gastronomy over his 30-minute discourse.

Joan has been in dialogue with food producers, sociologists and even multilateral agencies like the United Nations, all to find the relevance of gastronomy in tomorrow’s world. From his research, he arrived at five conclusions: 1) That “avant-garde cuisine” is not a function of technology-assisted cooking but a function of boldness mixed with knowledge; 2) That recipes, per se, are just as important as a dish’ context ; 3) That subtle back flavors in a dish are now as vital as its overt flavors; 4) That new methods of cooking must be relevant to our way of life. To this, he introduced the concept cooking using blue tooth technology; 5) That research and development in the kitchen must have a humanistic mission. For instance, if a chef develops a new method of preserving food, he has the moral responsibility to share this method with communities struck by hunger.

His conclusions come down to a new movement which he calls “Vanguardistic Cuisine” (Cocina de Vanguardia). Examples of these are using self-grown herbs and vegetables in restaurants; Hiring disadvantaged workers; Distilling herbs and spices to extract their essential oils so that a single drop can go a longer way.

It all boils down to being more sustainable, more human and more nurturing, Joan stresses. Such is the new wave of cutting-edge cookery, such is the essence of Vanguardistic Cuisine.

As mentioned earlier, Joan will be one of the speakers in Madrid Fusion Manila’s congress. The event promises talks, both ethereal and practical.

I have always lamented how Filipino cuisine (and culture) has not been as defined nor has it gained the same prominence as, say, Thai or Malaysian cuisine. Madrid Fusion Manila is a step towards the right direction in changing that. Through our food, Madrid Fusion provides the platform to show the world who we are and how life goes in our islands. It cements our country brand as a fun, colorful and multi-faceted nation. It affirms our position as an up and coming nation, ready to take its place among the progressive economies of the world.

In my next column, watch out for the inside scoop on how the Philippine delegation performed in Madrid Fusion, Spain last month.

Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.