BCNVanguardia ‘06 took place in Alimentaria’s 2006 Restaurama section, a pavilion alongside the two very large Intervin buildings that housed hundreds of Spanish wine producers. Directed by Roser Torras, the BCNVanguardia cooking demonstrations were brilliantly focused. Each day featured star Spanish and international chefs doing friendly mano a mano riffs with designated themes within a main theme such as La Tierra (dishes from the earth, i. e., vegetables, beans, potatoes, pasta, rice, salads; El Mar, fish and shellfish; and Las Viandas, meat, game, and birds (with truffles). Each entire day was devoted to these themes in order and pairs of chefs gave their unique interpretations of how to handle their assigned ingredients.
On the first day, Raúl Aleixandre, of Ca Sento in Valencia, a maestro of rice (and shellfish) dishes was paired with Hiroyuki Kanda of Kanda restaurant in Tokyo. It was refreshing to see both chefs doing traditional rice dishes, using traditional ingredients, Aleixandre with his typical, delicious arroz meloso marinero with squid and shrimp flavored with Spanish pimentón (paprika) and Kanda with a traditional Japanese rice dish with vegetables and mushroom.
Ricardo Gil of Restaurante 33 in Tudela (Navarra) did a preparation with regional ingredients–cardoons, borage and white asparagus–from the vegetable rich region of la Ribera de Navarra (from where many of Spain’s superb jarred and tinned vegetables such as pimientos de piquillo come) and the legendary Bitor Arguinzoniz from Restaurante Etexebarri in the Basque Country showed how he has become one of the world masters of grilling, using with laser-made, micro-mesh skillets to grill vegetables over an open fire.
Charlie Trotter did a deconstruction interpretation of the ubiquitous American Caesar Salad, and Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz, near San Sebastián, produced a beautiful salad of roasted and raw vegetables, sprouts and even edible flowers with a cheese "dressing."
Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz (near San Sebastián)
Rounding out the day, to a standing room only crowd, Ferran Adrià presented a master class, A Scientific-Gastronomic Lexicon: A Synthesis of the Philosophy of El Bullí.
Ferran Adrià, El Bullì
Day Two at BCNVanguardia ‘06 was a day from heaven for fish and shellfish lovers. Sergi Arola of La Broche in Madrid (and the new Arola in Barcelona) paired with Elena Arzak of San Sebastián’s three-star Restaurante Arzak, one of the most famous restaurants in Europe, to do their takes on sardines and anchovies. Arola did a modernized dish of smoked sardines with trompeta de la muerte mushrooms and Elena Arzak did a futuristic, artistic dish called Ámbar de anchoas, using anchovies, pimientos de piquillo and Spanish extra virgin olive oil.
Turbot, known as rodaballo in Spain, may reach the apogee of its greatness–as perhaps the world’s finest fish–in several restaurants in Getaria (west of San Sebastián), a remarkable fishing village that is the hometown of Juan Sebastián Elkano, the first man to circumnavigate the globe; the designer Balenciaga; and opera singer Plácido Domingo’s mother. The most notable of these restaurants, owned by members of the same family, are Kaia and Elkano. At BCNVanguardia ‘06, the chef-owners of Elkano, Pedro and Aitor Arregui, demonstrated how to grill a whole turbot over wood charcoal, simple, but with magical results. French chef Gérard Allemandou of Restaurante la Cagouille in Paris fileted his turbot and prepared a more French haute cuisine version.
Pedro and Aitor Arregui
Aitor Aregui of Elkano fileting a grilled turbot.
In the Moluscos y Crustáceos segment, two top chefs, Quique Dacosta of El Poblet in Dènia (Alicante) and Josè Andrès of Jaleo in Washington, D.C. prepared several dishes each. Dacosta did a cherry gazpacho with shrimp and an elaborate avant-garde, Frank Gehry’s Guggeneheim Bilbao Museum-inspired dish called Guggenheim 2006 (oysters with platinum and silver, served at room temperature), a dish that actually included fine silver flakes. Josè Andrès brought over on the plane from United States a selection of American molluscs and shellfish, including softshell crabs and demonstrated a modernized version of New England Clam Chowder that featured clam foam and clam gelatin.
The third day featured some of the greatest chefs in Spain, sometimes alternating with French chefs, intrepreting Las Viandas (meat, game and bird dishes [with truffles]. Carles Gaig of Gaig, one of the star restaurants of Barcelona, paired with the great Manchegan chef, Manuel de la Osa (whom this correspondent had the pleasure the next day of introducing to breakfast at Quim de la Boquería in the fabulous Boquería market). Gaig and de la Osa presented dishes made from veal and from suckling goat. Michelin two-star chef Joan Roca of Can Roca in Girona paired with Cánido López of Segovia’s Mesón Cándido. Each did distinct versions of suckling pig, Roca with a terrine that included garlic and membrillo, López with Cándido’s famous traditional signature dish, cochinillo asada, roast suckling pig so tender that he cuts it with the edge of a plate.
Don Juli Soler, Founder-Partner, El Bullì
Three-star chef Martín Berasategui, whose eponymously named restaurant in Lasarte outside San Sebastián is one of the world’s greatest, did a terrine of veal tongue with foie gras and truffles, while his counterpart, Jean Louis Nomicos of Restaurant Lasserre in Paris, made suckling veal sweetbreads and prawns with grated orange and lemon.
Three-star chef Martín Berasategui
Jean Louis Nomicos of Restaurant Lasserre in Paris
Two-star chef Hilario Arbelaitz of Zuberoa (near San Sebastián) paired with Marco Antonio García of Restaurante Mannix in Campospero (Castilla y León), each doing a lamb dish. Arbelaitz made a confit of lamb with cumin and García demonstrating the classic roast suckling lamb of Castilla y León with crispy skin and succulent, juicy, tender meat. Finishing out this spectacular day were Fermí Puig, Executive Chef of Restaurante Drolma in Barcelona’s Hotel Majestic, and Gérard Besson of Restaurante Gérard Besson in Paris doing creative dishes featuring game birds and truffles.
I have been to few gastronomic conferences more rewarding than BCNVanguardia ‘06, which was especially attractive to me because it featured traditional preparations that highlighted the great food products of Spain, as well as the more trendy avant-guardia and alta cocina dishes. This international, but Mediterranean-focused, gastronomic conference was so good, in fact, that one hopes that BCNVanguardia will become an annual event. I am ready to go back!!