Last week, Spain announced that Madrid would be its candidate to host the Olympic Games in 2012. At the same time, the city was demonstrating that it has already become an international center of gastronomy, with champion chefs from around the world attending a three-day conference of lectures, demonstrations and competitions.
The first Madrid Fusion, held Jan. 21—23, spotlighted Spain's emerging importance in the ranks of European food and wine. Most of the country's top chefs attended, led by Juan Mari Arzak of longtime Michelin three-star Arzak Restaurant in San Sebastián, and Ferran Adrià, the creative force behind three-star El Bulli in Catalonia. They were joined by many international stars, including Paul Bocuse, Pierre Troisgros and Michel Guérard from France; Charlie Trotter from the United States; and Tetsuya Wakuda from Australia.
The conference drew some 500 participants, mostly young chefs from Spain. They paid a significant chunk from their salaries to attend, and their intense engagement testified to the country's hunger for new tastes and new ideas. A full complement of international journalists reflected Spain's growing importance in the culinary world.
"Ten years ago, when Spaniards wanted to go to a great restaurant, they went to France," reflected Pedro Subijana, chef of Michelin two-star Akelare, near San Sebastián. "Now the French -- and the Italians and the Americans -- are coming to Spain. It's a great change, and a great challenge."
Trotter, for one, was impressed. After a multicourse meal at La Broche, a Michelin two-star in Madrid, he invited the restaurant's chef, Sergi Arola, to assist him in his demonstration. "Sergi cooked us a mind-blowing dinner last night," Trotter told the crowd. "I'm ready to retire. Or at least, I'm coming back soon."
The event's organizers, already planning a second edition, joined the young chefs in their applause.