Gastronomika 2022: From L’Enclume to Osip and Barrafina – a tribute to the cuisine of the United Kingdom
A three-day event of talks, demos and contests has taken place in San Sebastián, where international food convention Gastronomika turned this year’s spotlight on Britain and its restaurateurs. The official slogan, “United Kulinary”, is deliberately in contrast with the UK’s infamous, retroactive withdrawal from the EU (commonly referred to as Brexit).
The British delegation included among its number Simon Rogan (L’Enclume), Isaac McHale (The Clove Club), Merlin Labron-Johnson (Osip), Roberta Hall-McCarron (The Little Chartroom) and Matt Brown (Hawksmoor).
Simon Rogan and L’Enclume
One of England’s most celebrated industry professionals, Simon Rogan was at the congress to lead the Brits and talk about the work he is doing in the Lake District. Rogan shared the idyllic scenery that is home to his restaurant group – first and foremost three-Michelin-starred L’Enclume – and talked about his crops. The chef and his teams have helped shape a cutting-edge dining scene in an area that, once desolate, now has “the most Michelin-starred restaurants outside of London.” After the presentation, we sat with the chef to discuss the impact of Spanish cuisine on his work and what the future holds for L’Enclume.
Celebrating a legend: Thomas Keller
This year’s Homage Award went to American industry legend Thomas Kellery, the chef behind three-Michelin-starred restaurants The French Laundry (California) and Per Se (New York). Unable to to collect the award in person due to being in recovery from Covid, Keller addressed the auditorium in a video where he remembered how, in 2010 at the peak of his career, he participated to the Basque congress.
The UK being the main focus of the convention, London had to be a major talking point. In fact, a panel of three ambassadors of Spanish cuisine in the British capital opened the conversation: José Pizarro (heading up José Pizarro), Quique Dacosta (who manages Arros QD in London) and Ángel Zapata (chef at Barrafina). Their message was that London loves Spain and its products, as they invited other restaurateurs to open business there. Pizarro explained, “There’s a hole [because] the British have an open mind – they like to try and learn, and they love our culture.” Dacosta expanded, “At first I showed them a ham and they told me that ‘Parma ham’ was good… But that’s normal. The Italians had arrived before.”
Time is needed, which “many restaurateurs and distributors are now taking advantage of”. Convinced it’s a good moment for the Spanish product and concept, the three converged in pointing out the existing opportunities, alongside the fact that the gastronomic level of London is very high. “You eat very well”, Zapata clarified, “[even] in front of a frying bar with Michelin stars.”
Scottish capital Edinburgh is where Roberta Hall-McCarron, of The Little Chartroom, is helping to consolidate the city as a go-to destination for food in the country. Hall-McCarron opened her restaurant in 2018, winning national awards including Breakthrough Chef of the Year and Best Restaurant in Edinburgh, and represented Scotland in the BBC’s Great British Menu twice. She showed her passion for hunting by cooking pigeon and smoked fish. “Scotland is mountains and coast,” she said, “The game starts on 12th August and from then on I only serve game as a main course in the restaurant.”
The Basque legends: Arzak, Atxa, Subijana and Luis Aduriz
Elena Arzak took the Kursaal on a journey through the history of her iconic restaurant, with a creative video showing all the menus and changes that they have been through since 1969. “A menu is more than a list of dishes; it is an identity statement […] It is a love letter to the product, the producer, the detail, the know-how, the technique and the diner,” she said. Elena and her father, Juan Mari, have been at the forefront of the Basque fine-dining scene and explained how they changed the restaurant to suit the cultural changes.
Azurmendi’s chef Eneko Atxa, who is about to open his debut Madrid outpost, NKO, presented his collaboration with NASA researcher Eneko Axpe, who stated that science needs to “work with new materials to live in space, such as mycelium – a network of filaments present in fungi with a structure very similar to wood: lighter, resistant, compostable, sustainable. And it reproduces very fast, [it’s] a perfect element to build in space.”. Mycelium, as opposed to the more obvious choice of growing potatoes on Mars, has more protein content.
Pedro Subijana of Akelarre opened a conversation about the lack of personnel and also the fact that most of the CVs they receive are overstated. “They look like Spielberg made them but then [when it comes to the practice] not half of it [is accurate]. We have to fight this lack of training.” The master chef also addressed the lack of respect for the waiting profession and house rules of restaurants: “We have to ensure that, just as it is said with pride that one is a cook, one can also say ‘I am a waiter’. Clients have to learn to respect them and the rules. It’s true that […] the clients provide the payment but […] other professions are forgiven for this, such as bank [personnel]. If you go to a bank ten minutes before closing and they don’t attend you, you don’t complain,” said Subijana – a point that received a standing ovation.
Finally Andoni Luis Aduriz, the chef of Mugaritz, discussed the role of fire – one of the topics of this edition of Gastronomika, in reference to the grill – with Argentinian writer Martín Caparrós. “Fire has given us everything,” explained the writer, “We have always related to fire but now it doesn’t happen anymore. Fire is no longer the central space of rich countries. In our houses there is almost no fire, no matches… even the cars are electric! In our lives there is no longer fire. It has come to occupy a nostalgic place. And it is a radical change. Now perhaps fire only matters in good kitchens.” In fact, Luis Aduriz has just opened a new restaurant, Muka (meaning “spark” in Basque), at the Kursaal, where fire is the main tool for cooking.
Is meat the enemy?
Aitor Arregi of Elkano and Pablo Vicari of Cataria (Arregi’s venue in Santi Petri, Cádiz), took the stage to talk about meat and discuss whether it has a sustainable future.
“There is a demonisation of meat but it can’t be. Beef is the only food that captures more carbon than it emits. Now there are many critics, but the solution lies in biomimicry (which means learning from nature’s strategies): regenerative farming that makes cattle graze together and fertilise the fields.” This is the system employed by one of the world’s most famous barbecue restaurants, Don Julio, whose owner, Pablo Rivero, has called for participation in this system as a community in the Basque Country , “with which I am in love, for taking care of its gastronomy as we do at home”.
Finally, Jon Ayala (Laia Erretegia, Hondarribia) cooked a chop live-streamed from outside the venue to present the different cuts contained: skirt, feather and heart. “We are the only site that works and presents them separately. It must be this way. [It’s fundamental to understand] they are different meats.”
In conclusion, Gastronomika brought together over 70 industry leaders for a mix of demos and presentations as part of a congress that paid homage to the cuisine of the United Kingdom. As globally celebrated chef Martín Berasategui said, “International gastronomy would not be what it is without the existence of Gastronomika. It has shown us the way.”
All the chefs were complimentary towards the UK, from Pedro Subijiana (“I have been to London and the United Kingdom on several occasions, and I see a booming country, in which there are many new and innovative formulas that are fun at the same time”) to Elena Arzak (“England is a cuisine with which I have close ties because I also spent a stage of my life there”) and Andoni Luis Arduiz (“London, and the United Kingdom in general, is a clear reference when we also talk about gastronomic trends. And trends that are not temporary, trends that remain.”) This was a true celebration of gastronomy.
The food desk
For further information and to register for the 2023 edition visit the Gastronomika website. The next major Spanish gastronomy convention will take place in Madrid in January 2023.