San Sebastian’s Gastronomika - Highlights of 2010

Luciana Bianchi - 26/01/2011

The life of a foodie has become a calendar full of essential appointments: new restaurant openings, new book releases, award ceremonies, food shows and chef congresses – MANY chef congresses! One of them was the highlight of 2010 according to many frequent congress travellers (including me!): Gastronomika. Thinking more closely about what made this event different from others, I realised in the first place that there was a direct relationship with the location. There is something unique about the Basque Country. San Sebastian is proud to have more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other place on earth. Food in San Sebastian is an institution. Whether pintxos, or a fabulous 10 courses tasting menu from Pedro Subijana, the dining experience is an adventure.

The background stage for Gastronomika was certainly one of the reasons for its success, but the choice of venue played an important role too. The overall event was vivid, busy, sometimes chaotic, but it was not just any other congress! The super-bloggers of 7 Canibales and the GSR group were the soul of Gastronomika, injecting an extra dash of youth and coolness to the event, feeding journalists and the webspace hourly with news, images and suggestions. Something I have never seen in any other congress – and I've been in many of them, believe me!

To give an idea about the exciting atmosphere:

The chef and artist Ramon Roteta presented his sculptures at the event

The NY restaurant guru, Drew Nieporent, spoke proudly and 'shamelessly' about his profits,

Ferran Adria and Andoni Luis Aduriz – the Picasso and Monet of avant-garde cuisine presented their stunning and unique dishes - certain soon to be copied around the world…

Young chefs shared the stage with the great masters

The stand of Joselito 'above-the-stars-ham' created a living room for chefs to have a relaxing time, great food and wine.

Food, glorious food, presented by the best Spanish producers

Small round tables between chefs and guests

Music, dance and a lot of interesting information about the Basque Country and its culture

There is no congress like Gastronomika. It is beyond food, and chefs were not the stars, rather ideas and shared philosophy played a central part. The 3 days of intense experiences, tastings and visits to local restaurants were punctuated by some priceless moments to be remembered:
Lunch at Pedro Subijana's Akelare – with a fabulous menu, breathtaking view, and a perfect host.

Dinner at Elkano – the most fascinating and most original fish restaurant I have ever visited.

Lunch at Mugaritz – the ultimate paradise for anyone who considers himself a food lover.

On stage, the presentations to be mentioned:

Andoni Luis Aduriz and his presentation accompanied by a very funny video about 'a certain chef' who picked wild flowers from around his restaurant. With so many talented actors among his staff, the chef should be warned about the next auditions for the theatre group 'La Fura del Baus'. He could lose some of his staff members… Quique Dacosta and Juanfra Valiente – Superb dishes in a well structured and clear presentation. A work of poetic beauty! Both chefs manage to make extremely complex dishes look so effortless…

Massimo Bottura and his vision of contemporary Italian Cuisine with deep roots in his territory – followed by a video presentation, linking food, art and philosophy through the work of the artist, Lucio Fontana, and Massimo's dishes: “Does reality have a cosmic dimension?”

Ferran Adria's press interview about the future of El Bulli – news about 110 new dishes and a smiling and relaxed Ferran as never seen before.

Juan Mari and Elena Arzak – The geniality of a timeless chef and his greatest asset – an equally brilliant chef, his daughter! A moment that conveyed the true expression of the culinary culture and modernity of the Basque Country.

The American chefs: The charm of Daniel Boulud, his perfectly choreographed entourage of chefs, and his unforgettable petit Burger. Thomas Keller's dishes - elegant simplicity. Wylie Dufresne presenting his unfamiliar ingredients in a traditional way (or his traditional ingredients in an unfamiliar way!)

To finish in grand style – The two master pâtissiers, Christian Escribà and Patricia Schmidt, with an extra-dimensional chocolate and pastry sculpture of New York and the iconic figures and images of Spiderman, King Kong and the Empire State Building.

The NY chefs were also part of the sweet sculpture: Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Adam Perry Lang, Anthony Bourdain, David Bouley, David Chang, and Wylie Dufresne made of fondant and marzipan.

Criticisms to Gastronomika? Only two: the disappointing 'London weather' and my desire to split myself into three to be able to take part in everything! It was sometimes like Sophie's choice!

Luciana Bianchiis chef de cuisine and food writer, works as International Editor correspondent for the Brazilian gourmet magazine, Prazeres da Mesa, and contributes to several publications in Brazil and Europe.
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