I had the great pleasure of attending Estrella Damm’s Gastronomy Congress called “El Arte de las Tapas,” a few weeks ago, which featured five amazing chefs from Spain and the UK with talks and some incredible live demonstrations.
- Jose Pizarro, owner of Jose and Pizarro, kicked off the event. Hailing from Catalonia, Spain, he has opened two tapas restaurants (“taperias”) in Bermondsey, London.
“Food is love. Food is passion,” and sure enough, that is how he succeeded in London. Pizarro personally travels and deals with each and every supplier, checking the entire process of production: “From when it’s a baby piglet, until it’s a fully-grown pig, and then sitting on my plate, I want to see the entire process, and see how these pigs are treated.”
More and more restauranteurs are becoming like Pizarro and are getting their hands wet in the business rather than managing from a macro-level.
- Tom Kerridge is the owner of The Hand and Flowers, a two Michelin star restaurant and gastropub in Marlow, England. He strongly believes that pubs in England need to change and focus on providing better food. The previous tradition where people would meet up for a pint or other drinks after work, has taken a nose-dive to places like pizza chains, cafes, and restaurants in general. Food has surged in importance, and he thinks pubs will adapt to this change, or die.
Apart from being a great chef, he humbly finds that “Business is nothing without staff,” and staff training and empowering staff is what allowed his restaurant to bloom, and take year in advance bookings—props to modesty, Kerridge!
- Ferran Adrià is the God of Restaurants and most awarded chef ever, of the elBulli Foundation. Being the amazing chef and character he is, there are many things I learnt from him during his presentation, like how beer is from Sumerians in Mesopotamia, paella technically comes from China, and foie gras is Egyptian, but the French made it fancy. But most importantly, Adria thinks that the general restaurant level is increasing exponentially. “Why? Cause there’s the best generation of chefs in history. Maybe in whole world there’s 10,000 cooks like Jose. Professional, passionate.” And this is because young people don’t want to make good restaurants anymore, they want to make great restaurants.
- Fran Agudo, another Spaniard, and Head Chef at Michelin starred Tickets in Barcelona, made sure to always wipe the sides of the plates a gazillion times (after pouring in the amazing awesomeness of his creations into the plate) when he was doing his demonstration, taking us, ladies and gents, to presentation. The presentation he could achieve with the multiple dishes he demonstrated was stunning, but he took extra care in using wiping his workspace and plates so they were clean and didn’t have a drop of sauce on the white part. He used baby tongs to place everything just where it needed to go. Beautiful, stunning, thank you OCD.
- David Gil, Creative Pastry Chef for Albert Adrià’s (Ferran’s younger brother) restaurants, is only a year older than me, and almost taught me how useless I am in life. But, in all seriousness, they have revolutionized desserts like nobody’s business. “Why are savory dishes split into sections for tasting menus, and not desserts?” Albert Adrià decided to throw out their old dessert menu, and with Gil in charge, come up with an entirely new concept for their dessert menu, which is pretty fascinating. The concept at Tickets, the restaurant where Gil works, uses elements of “surprise;” Gil and Agudo constantly talked about playing games with the client, where they make them believe the dish is something, but it’s really something else. Their dessert menu starts with “trees” the step between the savory and sweets, then fruits, classics, chocolates, and candies. To parallel mains in a savory tasting menu, they use seasonal fresh fruits.
One thing I learnt from this convention and the videos that many of the chefs presented, is that males heavily dominate restaurant businesses and the culinary world. Whether this is because males like food more (highly doubt it), or because of ingrained sexist attitudes, I hope this can change in the future.
But for now, it was a marvelous experience to see true masters of their craft.