You never go hungry or thirsty at Madrid Fusion, three days of incredible cooking and conversations. We went along with open mind and emerged open mouthed.

{YOUTUBE:ZGgkeEw1_A8}Once a year a corner of Madrid that’s reminiscent of Wembley – big office buildings, conference centres and a bit of a ride from the centre of town –  hosts Madrid Fusion.

For three days chefs from all over the world, but mostly from Spain, come to demonstrate what they are up to creatively. There’s a giant auditorium, with slightly ineffectual translations to English, and off to the side and on the’roof’ massive displays from food and drink producers gathered from all over Spain and the world. Anyone can come in and browse the over 150 displays who buys a ticket.

I always hit that food and drink first, having worked out which speakers in the Big Room I am most interested in seeing and when. The sheer variety of products on display is staggering and all are happily giving away samples to the crowds.

An old ham

By eleven on the first day I’m usually shining with massive consumption of jamon, you’ll rarely see so many top class producers gathered in one place and so you have to make jamon while the sun shines.

How many pigs’ legs are consumed over the three days? I don’t know, but it must run into hundreds. The men with the knives never seem to stop slicing, nor I eating, especially when there’s chorizo on the go too.

The Russians are here in Madrid, I think for the first time, showing amongst other things produce from Siberia. Yes, Siberia.

The man tells me the pine nuts they sell are, like all Siberian produce, remarkably full of goodness because as the plants have so little time to flower between the seasons, they pack the nutrients in to compensate. The nuts are intensely sweet and the pine nut oil delicious

The wines from Russia are interesting too, rich Cabernets and sparklers that have adopted olde worlde wine labels but are all in Cyrillic script. How long before they become a feature on UK supermarket shelves?

The Russians on the stand are enthusiastic and driven by desire for’beezness’,  so not long, I suspect. If Brexit goes bad, we can rely on the Russians to keep us all cheerful at dinner.

Salad days

A lot of chefs are gathered around the stand for Koppert Cress, a Netherlands company that grows microgreens, mostly cress variants of which they have over forty.

The flavours are remarkable – a cress that tastes of honey, another that’s pure unami, a purple one that tastes of cumin. If you’re a chef who likes to create dishes with tweezers, these are fascinating and inspiring products.

The big stars come out

Inspiration also comes from the main stage. So many chefs but I pick the ones I am keen to see, one group being Joâo Rodrigues (Feitoria, Portugal), Alexandre Silva (Loco, Portugal), Henrique Sá Pessoa (Alma, Portugal) who do some remarkable things with fish and Mario Sandoval (Coque, Spain).

The latter does a talk about fibres in food, which I don’t get to hear all of as the translation earpiece doesn’t work too well.

I do go to his restaurant, at his invitation, later that week where I get to eat a multi-course meal experience that moves from bar, to kitchen, to wine cellar, with a drink and a tapas dish in each, before finally sitting at table to eat 12 courses with matched wines.

The price for those who do pay  is as mind blowing as the food experience, but worth every penny, A glorious restaurant in every way and no wonder it has two Michelin stars.

Stars on the stairs

I wander out of the main hall after watching’The Evolving Tokyo-Japanese Cuisine’ talk by chef

Zaiyu Hasegawa (Den, Japan). He’s nothing like the cliche of a Japanese cook; he’s young looking and punky and his cooking is playful but based on classical techniques.

His food is, he explains, modern kaiseki, a type of Japanese cuisine involving a series of small, finely wrought  dishes. His chicken wings served up in a fast-food takeaway box get a big round of applause and those lucky people who get to try them say they are fantastic.

Taking the back stairs, rather than wait for the lift, I come across a spread-out gang of bad boy chefs from DSTAgE in Madrid, they’re all beards and tattoos and smoking, none too subtly, in a No Smoking building. They have a gang bravado that comes from their leader no doubt.

That’s because leader of the gang is chef owner of DSTAgE  (Days to Smell Taste Amaze Grow & Enjoy) Diego Guerrero. His T-Shirt on stage for his demonstration  the next day says’What the fuck is DStage?’. He’s a bit of lad is our Diego.

In his restaurant, over two floors, you apparently go on a journey eating in all parts of the building, so it’s not for those who prefer to sit down. The kitchen is part of the dining room, not seperate, and the chefs come out and mingle and serve guests in a way that breaks down the usual borders

His demo is brilliant, a study in iconoclasm and of not giving much of a F about anything but the food. It works too, his restaurant has two tasting menus: DTASTE, – 10 dishes at 88 euros; and DSTAgE, 13 dishes at 118 euros and he has two Michelin stars. I want to go. Now.

Food and drink forever

The siderooms at Madrid Fusion are constantly staging small demos, tapas making competitions and things like a discussion of’the beauty of beans’, by top Asturian chefs. Actually it was very interesting, don’t laugh.

It helps that there are so many wine tastings, and this year saki tastings too, to keep me going. And then there’s beer, the Mahon stand is perpetually rammed with thirsty punters.

I enjoy the free hospitality so much that I wander off and leave my camera behind;  a fast, panicky, run back ten minutes later finds it just where I left it, under a bar stool. So I have another beer to celebrate.

Showtime dinner

That evening I try a place I’ve heard a lot about, Platea Madrid. It’s an old cinema theatre now turned into a rather remarkable dining space, a multi level food court. Each of the balconies is now a restaurant. The stalls are a restaurant but the stage is still working with performers and aerial acrobats perform off the galleries. You can watch the show as you eat

You can choose different styles of dining but I went for Canalla Bistro the restaurant’pop up’ of chef Ricard Camarena who has two stars at his main restaurant. A very eclectic menu that crossed continents, space and time from Japan to Chile and ended, rather bizarrely, with a pastrami sandwich. Interesting was the word for the experience and not too expensive. I couldn’t eat that sandwich, though.

Turning the turntables

Back at Madrid Fusion I tuned in for Elena Arzak’s talk, arguably perhaps the finest female chef in the world,although gender really shouldn’t matter – she is one of the world’s best chefs full stop.

She is constantly raising the bar of Basque cuisine, but as she says, it’s about rearranging the pieces in new ways and not just novelty.

She then proceeded to use an old LP turntable to spin a plate while it was dressed. You can read my interview with Elena Arzak here, albeit on another website.

And so gradually the whole wonderful caravan of chefs, suppliers and industry experts comes to a stop. Three days of remarkable demonstrations, exciting chefs, exploration of wonderful food (and wine with Enofusión, the 8th edition of the International Wine Congress) and catching up with friends old and new. Meet up in Madrid next year? Yes, please