Another year, another Madrid Fusion. Nick Harman goes to see what chefs are cooking up this time as they bring their tools, their tricks and their taste in tattoos to Europe’s premier culinary showcase.

Elena Arzak is painting a balloon green, or to be accurate one of her team is painting a balloon green but it isn’t actually paint, it’s a form of edible starch dissolved in fish stock mixed with blended parsley. The luminous result is left to dry before  the balloon is deflated to leave a crisp Mekon-style helmet behind.

In the audience Elena’s father, the legendary Juan Mari, watches with smiling approval as his daughter performs this party trick. It’s a clever idea which adds theatre and texture to the hake beneath it and which will release the trapped aromas at table in the manner of an old-style cloche.

A short time later on the same main stage two Spanish Mrs. Mops in tabards walk bewildered into the glare of the spotlights, casting nervous glances at the 500 strong audience.

Reassured, they begin  busily brushing up sawdust and woodchips, the detritus of the previous chef, Stefan Wiesner‘s performance, one which involved noisily carving his own serving platters out of cherry wood using a petrol chainsaw. At Madrid Fusion  you have to have an eye-catching act, cooking will only get you so far these days.

And you need a fancy video too. Each chef comes on stage and shows his or her video across the massive screens. They all have the fashionable look that comes from being HD shot on Canon dSLRs. In fact they could all have been made by the same person,so alike are they.

Key memes like Passion, Terroir, Creativity, rumble portentously from the loudspeakers or flit across the screen in designer typography. Stirring music, or art school nerd pomp like Arcade Fire, seems the order of everyone’s day when it comes to the soundtrack.  This is cooking reinvented as mega-stadium rock.

Madrid Fusion in case you didn’t know, is a yearly symposium of top chefs; three days of showing their skills and ideas to their peers. The majority of the chefs are from Spain itself, or South America, but none this year appear to be from Scandinavia where the food world is currently focused. But you won’t make any friends pointing that out to the hosts.

In fact the foodie elephant in the giant exhibition centre is the fact that El Bulli is gone and no longer does making food in a laboratory excite the fickle critics. The food blogger Disneyland that is San Sebastian aside, and of course Arzak and Can Roca, Spain is really no longer king of the kitchen. Like punks rejecting prog rock, food critics now want it raw and savage; natural foods, things found in the wild, knocked from a log, or scraped off a road. They want live ants not dead science.

But not at Madrid Fusion 2013. Here there are only three things chefs require, apart from a sexy video: textures, tweezers and a Thermomix. Many of the chefs’ dishes this year major on contrasting textures; thin and crispy being the most popular, while the tweezers are necessary for moving microscopic bits of food around on the plates. The Thermomix meanwhile is needed to do all the actual work.

There are some wild cards in the mix; chef Wojciech Modest Armo, usually known as Modest (which he isn’t), is bringing a country little known for its cuisine into the modern culinary circus ring. In his native Poland he follows the teachings of both Adria and Redzepi and his presentation is an eye-opener to the food possibilities of a country previously chiefly known only for its dumplings and main export – its population.

Modest hasn’t joined the general exodus to the UK, but has stayed home to forage and find and to create dishes that you might really want to eat. There is no a la carte in his Warsaw restaurant, Atelier Amaro, only a choice of’moments’. Yes it all sounds rather pretentious, but Poland could well be the next Denmark if Modest is an example of what’s cooking over there.

From Spanish restaurant Mugaritz comes star chef Andoni Luis Aduri, but he doesn’t have any cooking to show us just a lot of aerosols. He has quietly had a 13 million euro factory built in Spain and there he is manufacturing pressurised cans of things like churro, pancake, and tempura mix. Art meets commerce and he could become a very rich man indeed. He needs to; his promo video must have cost enough.

And what of the Brit chefs? Only one came this year, Simon Rogan of l’Enclume. His video of empty raised vegetable beds in a chilled British landscape didn’t exactly set the audience on fire and he spoke too fast and too slangy for the Spanish translator to keep up.

His dishes are excellent, but didn’t really come across which was a shame The last time I went to Madrid Fusion, the UK entry, our boy Heston, did no cooking at all and made the audience wear 3D glasses – now that’s how to make an impression.

For many the interest this year was primarily in the chefs from Minas Gerais in Brazil where all kinds of exciting dishes are being created with unique local produce. The chefs from Colombia also showed that their country is capable of creating exciting things to stick in your mouth, as opposed to up your nose.

Three days, over 60 top chefs and an awful lot of eating; Madrid Fusion is still a major must-see for anyone interested in creative cooking as opposed to casual dining. Roll on Madrid Fusion 2014.

All photos © Foodepedia 2013. Click any photo to enlarge.

Thanks to Spanish Tourist OfficePO Box 4009London , W1A 6NB

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