Why The Heck Should Anyone Care About Madrid Fusion Manila?
I remember my first Madrid Fusion experience quite clearly. Just a few months after getting the news that, by some miracle (named Margarita Forés, apparently!) it was hitting our shores—I was going to get to experience the real thing in Spain. Of course, on the day I'm supposed to leave—a Sunday—a big fire blocks all roads to the airport and I barely made my flight: an ominous prelude to a wild and wooly five days in the Spanish capital. I got home to Manila feeling completely destroyed physically, but full of giddy thoughts and feelings and ideas. I felt like a teenage girl who just got to watch The Bieb (back when he was big). Well ok...not really. But you get what I mean.
To someone who is as passionate about cuisine as I am, seeing Madrid Fusion unfold was the treat of a lifetime. Some of the greatest chefs in the world took to the stage during the plenary sessions, sharing ideas and stories and methods for all to soak in. Our humble Filipino booth served local nibbles to Madrileños (for the record, our chicharon destroys theirs!). Upstairs during the media lunches, chefs from all over Spain made dozens of tiny plates of food for all to partake in, in between samples of jamon, anchoas, and queso. The piece de resistance: our very own Gaita Forés and Myrna Seguismundo—two of our most celebrated veteran chefs—presenting in front of an appreciative audience. It's the ultimate food geek-out. Think Comicon for the F&B world, and in the beautiful, culture rich city of Madrid to boot!
The spirit of Madrid Fusion has always been that of exchange. Sure, it’s exchanging about food, but really, isn’t food also a part of culture and heritage?
This year marks our third year of hosting the Manila leg of Madrid Fusion. And to be honest, it's a little quieter than usual, at least from where I'm perched. Spearheaded by our Department of Tourism (with a little bit of help from the Department of Agriculture), it comes in the heels of the Leviathan-like shadow of Miss Universe, something certainly more ingrained in the public eye, Boyz II Men notwithstanding. Beautiful women may just trump a beautifully balanced dish, as far as some are concerned.
Which brings me to my point: there are whispers abound that MFM is losing steam—that interests lie elsewhere. I fervently hope that is not true. The spirit of Madrid Fusion has always been that of exchange. Sure, it’s exchanging about food, but really, isn’t food also a part of culture and heritage? Ill teach you about my family’s sinigang, my neighborhood’s tamales, my province’s dried fish—you tell me about your centuries-old stews or your modern techniques and how maybe at some point in history we actually connected through our foodways.
For those really serious about cooking, or, rather, for those relying on F&B for livelihood, that learning process can be such a turn-on: exciting, enticing, inspiring. In a country where all we talk about is food—maybe to avoid that storm that is everything else we’re mired in these days—this is the direction that at least the industry should be taking. After all, we always speak of how the food scene is so alive and kicking, filled with restaurant openings, and a vast army of culinary school grads and restaurant journeymen itching to make their mark...and make a living out of it too.
I always thought it essential to inspire them, because it’s in floating on that cloud of inspiration that excellence may be attained. Simply put, if the cooks geek out on all this exchange, we all eat better. Our restaurant scene achieves, people come to eat, and everyone is happy.
There are still obstacles, of course. The difficulties on the road to paradise, so to speak. Price has always been a point of contention: going to MFM ain’t cheap. It will effectively kill all plans of walwalan with the dabarkads, Fraps, and such frivolities like living.
It’s understandable. When else will you find the likes of Yoshihiro Narisawa, Elena Arzak, Andoni Anduriz or even younger ones like this year’s guests the Pinay Parisienne sister chef duo of Katia and Tatiana Levha milling about and passing on knowledge to you? For cooks, certainly they have more impact than Chris Martin or Kanye. One cannot help but think that if there were a way to price it so that even the budding student, barely past learning about a mirepoix, can get through the door, it would make more of an impact, especially if done annually. But, as it clearly is a big production with costs to boot, from this I digress. It’s free to dream about it, of course!
Madrid Fusion was never about pigging out on copious amounts of food, which, incidentally, was always the perception of it especially in the first year.
The bottom line for me is this: If we really want to be the destination we all dream of—a dynamic city, full of energy and vibrancy—the kind that international travellers will want to visit all the time, it is without question that our hospitality industry must be in top form, cooking to the best of their abilities, even if all they’re making something humble. Striving to simply be good cooks—with pro standards—that’s the goal.
Madrid Fusion was never about pigging out on copious amounts of food, which, incidentally, was always the perception of it especially in the first year. Neither is it about shining spotlights on rock star chefs, although it can be hard to not do that for us fan boys and girls. It’s akin to sitting in a room and having a nice, meaty conversation—an art that is lost to a lot of us in this day and age of logging in, swiping left, or pressing send. It inspires the kind of conversation where you go home thinking you’re all the better for it. It’s about planting seeds of hope and inspiration in those still being shaped. It’s about fostering camaraderie in our local food scene, plus a chance for our chefs to band together and present us to the world through our food. This is what we eat, and this is who we are: You are in our house now, and we welcome you.
So here we go, folks. Round three in just a few days. Although it may seem quiet now, in various kitchens around the city, our talented chefs are all working on presentations, prepping dishes for banquets, all the while running their respective establishments as well. Let’s wish them Godspeed, and hope the seeds they plant will grow much fruit. Ready or not, MFM 2017 arrives in 3..2.. .