January 27, 2010
Last night Paco Roncero cooked dinner at the Casino; we gathered beneath all those romping putti to pick at an elegant, minimal meal. A smidgen of raw pigeon was encircled by little dark balls. Some were made of truffles, the other were, according to Grant Achatz, who was sitting next to me, raw apple rolled in dehydrated blueberries. I liked that very much, but it left me hungry.
At one point Ferran came over to talk about why he's decided to close his restaurant. He said he hadn't made a new dish in two years, and it drove him crazy. He wants to foster creativity, and he's considering how to do it. He's been working 15 hour days; he needs time to recharge. At least I think that's what he said; the truth is that I have the hardest time understanding the words that come out of his mouth, no matter which language he is using. And yet he talks so passionately, so forcefully, I feel as if I'm absorbing the meaning through my skin.
Evenings in Madrid do not end early. Afterward a group of us went off to the Urban Hotel, where a baby-faced bartender named Junior invents wild and wonderful cocktails. And then on to Casa Lucio for the famous huevos estrellados (eggs with potatoes), jamon iberico, cheese and anchovies washed down with copious amounts of red wine. Around 2 a.m. I looked around the table and realized what a startlingly international group we were. An Australian journalist who speaks 4 languages; a Belgian photographer who speaks as many. A sommelier from Delhi, and an American who spends half his time in Spain.
The people who come to Fusion are a wildly mixed group of chefs, writers and food producers from just about everywhere. They gave Alain Ducasse (whose session was called, "Dialogue with a Genius"), a huge ovation. But the most fascinating encounter has been Andoni Luis Aduriz, who described his adventures with nixtamalization. (It's a process the indiginous people of Mexico have been using for thousands of years; soaking corn in limechalk water makes it much more nutritious.) Andoni calls it the "second skin," and I loved watching him cook. He soaked peeled salsify in lime water to give it that crisp coat, then roasted it, split it open and served it on a bed of quinoa mixed wtih roe and topped with goosefoot. The salsify was soft and creamy inside its second skin, and the grain bed looked like a perfect contrast.
Next he nixtamiled beets, cooking each little round until it had the wrinkled appearance of a prune. He served these little surprise packages with plum juice and sancho pepper. But the tour de force was Jerusalem artichoke; nixtamilized it took on the precise character lump crabmeat. When he mixed the little white shards with crabmeat there was absolutely no way to tell which was which. I desperately wanted to taste it.
Andoni's final dish was an homage to a Japanese chef. He peeled tiny bananas and plunked theminto a lime water bath to give them a crusty second skin. He baked them and then topped each one with deep orange oblongs of sea urchin. uni. Trying to imagine the flavor in my mouth, I come up blank. I may have to make the dish myself because, unfortunately, I won't get to Mugaritz on this trip.
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