Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dialogos de Cocina - Kitchen Dialogues: the report

IACP member Kate Hill travelled to San Sebastian , Spain, to attend Dialogos de Cocina - here she tells us about her experience.

Thanks to having subscribed to the alerts on the IACP Global News Blog (that discrete subscription button under the archives on the right of the blog)
I saw the information posted and immediately made my plans to attend the Dialogos de Cocina or Kitchen Dialogues in San Sebastian, Spain.

Why should I, a dyed in the wool traditionalist, go to the heart of this new wave of technological cooking to a congress of ‘New Cooking’ chefs?
a. I am not a restaurant chef and have never worn a toque. Although I cook, teach and write about it, I am not a restaurant groupie.
b. I live in the heart of a strong gastronomic tradition in Southwest France and promote these old ways through my cooking classes and writing.
c. And I have been heard to say on more than one occasion how I am not fond of this new technology that invades every European kitchen like a plague and if I see one more foamy thing ill-placed on a menu, I’ll scream.

So what was I doing jumping in my car and heading to San Sebastian, home of bacalao pil-pil and the best pintxos bars in the world, to attend a congress of scientists, farmers and cooks? Because of you dear reader. Because I believe that the IACP needs to look outward toward our fellow culinary associations to cross pollinate our own fertile fields.

I trust you all would have been infected with the same kind of creative energy, hope and respect that I was having returned from this Euro-toques gathering- dialogos de cocina. I was there for you, and ate your share of great food and good wine.

As president of Euro-toques, famed Basque chef Pedro Subijana (Akelare restaurant) welcomed the 200 cooks and others assembled in a modern congress auditorium set up for simultaneous translation of Spanish, French, Italian and English. Setting the tone for the two day congress, he enjoined the audience of cooks to listen to these twenty people who were brought together– farmers, scientists, thinkers, journalists, and other cooks. Juan-Mari Arzak (Arzak restaurant) added that “We cooks speak a lot; we have to listen now.” And so at that admonition, we listened for the next day and half and late into the night around their kitchen tables.

“From the kitchen, the dining-room and the vegetable garden, we try to establish links with people from other worlds who have things to tell us.”

This quote is from the driving force behind Dialogos de Cocina—Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz restaurant ) who invoked an atmosphere of “trust in which we can dream and act”. This atmosphere was to prevail as speaker after speaker presented his role or point of view on issues that ranged from the defense of autochthonous breeds of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats and preserving endangered organic farming practices to the fostering of creativity and innovation based on scientific techniques developed with laboratories and in think tank ‘summer schools’.

Each speaker presented a 30-minute presentation culminating with a one-hour round table and Q&A session. On the first day, a working lunch served in the open atrium behind the auditorium, became yet another forum for dialog around a table of diverse nationalities and disciplines. My Anglophone table of immigrants reflected Swedes living in England, English living in Spain, an American in France and a Japanese in Spain as well as Basques and Spanish locals. Conversation ran as fast as the courses of carefully prepared and thoughtful food.

Star chefs, both Spanish- Albert Adriá (El Bulli restaurant) and Joan Roca (El Cellar de Can Roca restaurant) and international- Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck restaurant) and Michel Bras (Michel Bras restaurant) set on the round table discussions and contributed the link between farm and laboratory to kitchen.

The first morning’s discussions were defined in the program as Product, Raw Materials, the Environment, and the Cultural Environment. Incorporating traditional cultural roles, education of the public via geographic and quality labels, and preservation of slow food dynamics dominated these presentations. Informing and educating the public via the kitchen underpinned the impassioned conversations. A level of emotional attachment ran high at the round table as gastronomy itself was defined, defended and tethered to the local earth- the farmer and his products. Jose Uranga (organic farmer) defined his own passion as “my madness, now intertwined with other madness here.”

The afternoon sessions on Technology, Technique and Science began with two very disparate foundation presentations- the Fundacion Alicia- and the Fundacion Azti. The role of research and development of techniques is simmered down in the spoken goal of Toni Massanes of Alicia statement,

“The investment is in the future tools for cooks to help then innovate and safeguard our traditions and products; to educate in a holistic approach incorporating gastronomy and everyday cooking so that everyone can be happier and healthier, everyday.”

Here there was no support of technique for techniques’ sake. To the contrary, and almost to a man (there was only one woman speaker although a strong female presence in the audience), the presentations turned on an emotional context, of preserving culture through gastronomy, of using science for self-fulfillment. American Harold MacGee illustrated the role of science and gastronomy with a series of historic examples of early collaboration between science and the art of cooking. The molecular gastronomy term, defined in 1992 for a conference in Sicily, has little to do with the sort of innovated and creative understanding of cooking talked about this week in the Basque countries. MacGee encouraged cooks to consider that “ the whole world is their larder” and that these new kitchens- Adria, Roca, Blumenthal, are kitchens defined by people and not just the place.

Italian scientist David Cassi defined his presentation, Other Ways of Seeing It, when he announced that “Cooking has to be an art, to please us. Science can be useful to achieve that goal.” And so science serves the kitchen and not the other way around.

Heston Blumenthal concurred as he had flown in from England to participate and support his fellow Euro-toques. “Science has influenced how I learned to cook … but you still need someone to stick his or her nose over the test tube and smell.” Later, in talking to Heston, he touched on what he felt was the heart of the congress, an honesty and willingness for cooks to share information “If I get something new, I feed it back into the system. Chef friends I’m close to have a similar spirit. The topical issue is the danger of technique for technique’s sake. This congress raises this issue.”

You can check out the video of this round table here.

The next morning’s presentation on Visions, Values and Soul was the logical sum of what we were hearing as innovation and creativity were defined by experts Jose Luis Larrea of Iberamatica and Igor Calzada of Creative Capital Summer School . Here Igor Calzada firmly places this crowd of cooks in a “value chain of farmer, cook, diner and society.” It was then Luc Dubanchet, French journalist and publisher of France’s Omnivore magazine, that delighted the until now sober crowd by truncating his planned presentation on ‘Exchange and Debate’ and invited Michel Bras, as “father of French cuisine” to join him at the table and talk. Bras had been invited as a special guest to sit on the round table discussion but there had been no other means made to let him speak directly. Dubanchet gets credit for using his time to encourage Bras to speak, like a prophet directly and poetically to his disciples.

Michel Bras spoke of his beginnings, his life in the “desert” of his native Aveyron in the central massif of France, and how, through cooking, he allowed others to come close to him. In a very personal dialogue, he revealed the steps it took for him to develop the very clear and crystalline ideas to take risks. Bras talked about his network of producers and the link between gastronomy and the earth, on nostalgia of a very personal nature that defines and is translated into a dish. Again, honesty became the topic and Bras reminded that “We can not lie to our guests, nor deceive them. A dish is the result of our feelings. It might not be the same feeling that a client has, but it is honest.”

Next, both Santos Bergana and Benedict Beaugé brought a sort of ‘gourmet voice’ to the table. The use of words and images as present in the collaborations of Tabula and Beaugé’s world press view took their place at this congress’ end. And just as the way in which we transmit this information from the ephemera of gastronomy to the durable word happens- in print and now on the web the Dialogos team has made video downloads of the presentations on the web at the Dialogos de Cocina site, with future materials to be available.

Below are a list of links from speakers and cooks who clearly understand the viability and value of web presence to help make themselves understood. Although I rarely use even an electric mixer in my own French Kitchen, I eagerly took the message from these Kitchen Dialogues home. I will be posting some further quotes on my own blog (see below)- the sort of poetic energy that came from these fine cooks in San Sebastian talking with their mouths full.

Interview with Andoni Luis Aduriz- Mugaritz:

I asked Andoni Luis A- a few questions about this congress, his responses were characteristic of his thoughtful and passionate nature. I ask his forgiveness if the double translated quotes are not as eloquent as his own words.

KH- Andoni, why have you called this meeting, brought these people together, now?

AA- This is the 20th anniversary of Euro-toques. There are many questions between cooks. Michel Bras and I talked. We would like to open this, these minds, to these questions.

KH- Who is here; who came and why?

AA- Cooks are very busy. It’s hard to get into and hard to get out of the kitchens. There are many barriers to break through. They came because they are trying to submit, to stop working, to listen. The people who have come to speak are accessible here, like Harold MacGee.
A lot of cooks are very ego driven and think that success equals money. But money isn’t the only way. Success is having a good life and restaurants should benefit everyone, guests and cooks. The people who have come here are ambitious, sensitive, innovative, creative, brave and idealistic. We have to transmit this information to everyone.

KH- Tell me why you brought these farmers, these scientists here to talk to these cooks.

AA- I admire all of them. There are two kinds of speakers, local and international. The problems for both are the same although the details vary. I wanted to create an opportunity. To look for the best of here and the best from outside. The most important thing was to do it. Now we must talk about it all. That is the dialog about cooking.

KH- is there something you would say to this IACP global audience?

AA- answers with heartfelt and quiet elegant gestures-
Sometimes blogs and the internet forums are an easy way for people to be critics, people who don’t really know. It can harm a lot of people. It makes me feel sad. To build something is the important thing. To be positive, not to access everything with criticism. I’d like to see an open spirit, good values to be extended, and to transmit this contact with these speakers with the audience. If only we can do this with generosity.

In this spirit of generosity, which was extended to me by the Basque members of Euro-toques, the wonderful translations of Vanessa and her team, the many scientists, farmers and other speakers who traveled from farm and far, and especially cooks who traveled on their few days away from the kitchen I offer these notes.


Andoni Luis Aduriz-
Pedro Subjiana-
Juan-Mari Arzak
Joan Roca-
Albert Adria-
Heston Blumenthal-
Michel Bras-

Benedict Beaugé-
Santos Bergana-
Jose Larrea-
Fundacion Alicia-
Fundacion AZTI-
Creative Capital Summer School-
Luc Dubanchet-

by Kate Hill
Gascony, France
visit Kate's blog


IACP said...

Dear Kate, thank you for this truly excellent report!
Merci bien encore!

Elena Hernandez
IACP, International Committee Chair

Diva said...

Fabulous, this seems to take Slow Food's Terra Madre program one stop further.
Bringing the farmers together with the chefs.

Seems like we need someone to remind us of where the food comes from and the work and passion involved in producing that food and getting it to the markets and to our tables.

chou said...

Thank you for taking the time to share what you learned. It's very interesting.