Photo by John Sconzo
I returned to Madrid for Madrid Fusion 2009 this year, after a year's absence (I had a few things going on last year...). Since 2004 I've been traveling to Spain to participate in these gastronomic congresses. The idea of a diverse group of the world's tops chefs coming together to show their latest discoveries and explain their philosophies is a romantic one, and something that excites everyone interested in cooking. The opportunity to bridge the boundaries of geographic distance, knowledge, and creativity makes these events highly anticipated -- at least it used to.
Maybe I am biased. After all I am in the position of both being quite young and cooking within the framework of modern gastronomy. Both of these qualify me for what I call the "Wide Eyes" syndrome of the Show and Tell. The desire to see the next great innovation was what motivated me to start attending these types of events in the first place.
Later, when I was invited to be one of the exhibitors, the game changed. I still traveled to Spain several times a year to attend the many culinary congresses taking place. I went so that I could watch the leaders of cooking wow the audiences with tricks, causing them to rise to their feet with applause after witnessing the transformation of a daikon radish into a wine cork, complete with an iron-branded label. Or taste a wafer that captures the essence of baby Christ as he lay in the manger. The idea was to solidify the essence of the holiday season in the minds of the diner while consuming a dish composed of quintessential ingredients of the holiday table. While eating the starch-based wafer laced with essences and perfumes, I wondered if this is what an infant laying in hay would taste like...if so, I will gladly pass.
As my career progressed, the pressure of providing these culinary fireworks increased.
But I understood the goal and the thought process behind it. And as my career progressed, the pressure of providing these culinary fireworks increased. The emails would come in 6-9 months before I was to appear on stage in front of hundreds of attentive foodies, journalists, and chefs: "Please send the theme and recipes of your demonstration no later than this date, etc..."
Of course, I didn't have the immediate solution to the inherent problem: What do I have that is worthy to show? I had the obvious reaction. I would ignore it the first month. The subsequent months would be conversations with sous chefs and trusted friends, "What can we show that nobody has ever seen before?" This would go on for months, until the emails from the organizers demanding material would overcome me and in a fit of frustration I would submit a vague sample.
In the back of my mind I hoped to come up with something brilliant within the next week, so I could change my topic. For the most part it worked. Well, in the eyes of the viewer that is. I continued to beat myself up right to the point of reluctantly pressing enter, sending the "idea" flying through cyberspace and into the hands of the enemy. The response to my first presentation in 2004 was favorable. Certainly we brought forth some ideas that had not been explored by most and perhaps people were inspired. I dodged a bullet somehow, and it earned me some credibility.
My expectations from both the attendee and demonstrator perspective have changed since then. Now instead of hoping to be levitated out of my seat and fed bites of food shot out of a food cannon from a chef playing the piano and a movie to compliment the food's flavor, I simply want to learn, explain and collaborate. I must be getting old...
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