Last April, the Philippines successfully hosted the second edition of Madrid Fusión Manila, which was held from 7-9 April 2016 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. Attended not only by the perfumed set who can afford the ticket, both the Gastronomy Congress and the Trade Expo attracted a bevy of young culinary arts students, experts in history and culture, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, growers and food producers, writers, diplomats and purveyors of good taste not only from the Philippines but also from abroad. There were more attendees and participants this year as compared to the first edition.
What makes Madrid Fusión Manila so important for the author of this article to suggest that even the Philippine national hero himself would’ve enjoyed it? Simple: it placed premium on the Filipino’s talent. And because the event is a profound expression of Philippine-Spanish friendship, all the more would the “First Filipino” have relished the success of what is wrongly perceived as solely a high-brow food event.
Being part of last year and this year’s team of communicators for the event, this writer can’t help but underscore the historical-cultural relevance of Madrid Fusión Manila. True, it is a product of the post-modern gastronomy of Spaniards (simplistically generalized as “molecular”) but with its edition in Manila, it also takes on the role of being a platform for goodwill and celebration for the two cultures, and for this year, three: Mexico’s. With a theme that commemorates the 450th anniversary of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, this year’s Madrid Fusión Manila reminded the participants and those who followed the event that much of today’s modern cuisines were influenced by the flow of ingredients during the 250-year old maritime activity, which many acknowledge as the precursor of globalization. By emphasizing the role the Philippines played in this exchange of goods might have made Rizal proud.
Similar to like last year, Madrid Fusión Manila was part of the activities organized by the Department of Tourism’s “Philippine Food Month” (April) [as usual, we don’t know if the so-called food month will be retained in this new administration…it could be totally scrapped or moved to another month]. The other major food event that took place last April was the World Street Food Congress, obviously more accessible to the different social strata in Philippine society.
Leading up to Madrid Fusión Manila were several activities that served as prelude to the gastronomy gathering. First, there was the Paella Gigante event held in Greenbelt 3 as a charity event organized by the Sociedad Española de Beneficencia. It was on a hot summer day when that paella gigante was prepared and boy was it amazing that despite the sheer size of the paellera, the paella itself tasted, smelled and felt exquisite. The chefs who executed the endeavor were from LTB Philippines.
After paella gigante, food enthusiasts, writers, members of the Filipino-Spanish community and the diplomatic circle were treated by the Embajada de España to a Tapas Night at Greensun, the venue turning into a virtual culinary tour of España. At the center stage, of course, were the jamon (cinco jotas) and cava. It was a beautiful evening, and I can still remember the smell of perfume, cheese and jamon all mixed in one enclosed space.
This year’s version of Madrid Fusión Manila also introduced a handful of new features, namely: the opening of the congress with a highly informative, scholarly presentation by historian and archivist Don Antonio Sanchez de Mora of the Archivo General de Las Indias in Sevilla; the twice-a-day Chefs’ Hour, which were intimate press-conferences for the chefs and the media and; a round table discussion among select chefs, which was moderated by Chef José “Chele” Gonzalez, a presenter in last year’s congress and David Celdran, who has proven to be the perfect host for the event. On the last day, Joan Roca, the chef behind one of the world’s best restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca, surprised the gastronomy congress participants when he showed to an audience his team’s newest movie for the very first time.
Rizal would’ve beamed with pride at the sight of his fellow Filipinos co-presenting on a stage with chefs dubbed by the international community as some of the very best and brightest. They did not only impress; they also shared their philosophies, techniques and recipes to participants and media observers who were curious as to where Filipino chefs are taking Philippine cuisine. This writer admits that last year’s set of Filipino presenters were more stellar and presented far more captivating demonstrations than those this year. Likewise, this author believes that there are many more seasoned but not so-famous Filipino cooks who could’ve better represented Philippine gastronomy. Just like last year, tongues were wagging why he/she was there or why he/she wielded so much influence while some who have been in the industry for so long were veritably snubbed. Nevertheless, this year’s set still showcased great talent. Standing out was Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa’s highly-informative and insightful portion featuring tamales.
The excitement and learning didn’t end within the enclosed walls of the congress. In fact, they extended, and were heightened, at the much-anticipated Regional Lunches, jointly curated by the Department of Tourism, the Department of Agriculture (through the indefatigable Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat) and Alicia Colby Sy, Editor-in-Chief of Town and Country. The chefs who participated gave their all, the expansive lunches proving the variety and richness of our regions. The best, perhaps for this author, was the Luzon fare followed by the Mindanao lunch. It was a big question among many why the Visayan Regional Lunch was such a disappointment when the Visayas as a region is known for its amazing gastronomic heritage.
In his day and age, Rizal and his fellow ilustrados tried their best to prove to Spaniards and to other Europeans that Filipinos deserved equality precisely because they can compete or even prove to be better than their colonial masters. By excelling in different fields, most notably in the arts, the ilustrados pounced on every opportunity to demand respect and adulation. One can only imagine if there was a Filipino ilustrado during their time who could have used cuisine as his sword. Perhaps, we could’ve have gained independence at a much faster pace if someone made his reformist agenda through the tummies of the colonizers. Forgive my whimsical assertion but yes, the Filipino and his techniques can prove that the Philippines is a world-class destination, a country inhabited by talented cooks and blessed with a wonderful variety of local (and imported, through centuries of trading) ingredients.
Let us hope that the next Madrid Fusión Manila will push through. Perhaps, instead of the calamansi, Davao’s durian can take next year’s center stage.