A steady rumble filled the Kursaal Conference Centre at San Sebastian’s Gastronomika (8-10 October). Showcasing the best of Basque, Spanish and international cuisine, the prestigious culinary event was rife with talks, tastings, workshops, cooking sessions and presentations on everything from olives to kitchen equipment. But the surrounding conversations revealed it is much more than a networking event — while professionals connect, there is also the chatter of proud Basque locals. Here, it is learned that the epitome of a San Sebastian flavour is the Gilda pinxo — olives, anchovies and pickled peppers presented as one bite. Defined as “Un poco verde, un poco salado y un poco picante” [a little bit green, a little bit salty, a little bit spicy], it’s derived from the eponymous Rita Hayworth film, suggesting that this pickled, spicy mouthful is as sexy and intriguing as her Gilda character. This legend hints to the mythology, playfulness and fearlessness surrounding the culinary approaches that Gastronomika showcases. And as it celebrated its 20th anniversary, the culinary conference further exposed how San Sebastian is a hub for a liberated attitude towards cooking that incited a culinary revolution.
San Sebastian — touching both the ocean and verdant hills containing discreet repurposed citadels with unparalleled views — has one of the largest collections of Michelin stars, just behind Kyoto. With 17 collective stars, three restaurants in the intimate city have 3-Michelin stars: Akelarre, Arzak and Martin Berasategui. But visitors need not only frequent these eatiries sprinkled throughout the winding streets of Old Town and the boulevards of the centre. There is a reason that Gastronomika found its home in San Sebastian: the wealth of flavourful ingredients sees any outlet — including unassuming, standing pinxo joints — leading to a satisfying bite. San Sebastian has built a reputation as the ultimate foodie destination — what’s available is just that good.
Gastronomika capitalises on the landscape providing high-level of produce from earth, sky and sea from which simple and cutting-edge cuisines emerge. Presenting a diverse and comprehensive roster of events catered towards professionals, the public, and youths, sections included Activities, where grape, dining, cocktail and restaurant figures gathered for tastings, competitions and workshops; Market, where international exhibitors showcased their products; Auditorium, featuring presentations and live cooking; and Street Food, sampling iconic dishes such as potato Omelets and Andalusian fritters. While promoting the participants, the 2018 edition also paid homage to several known figures. Recently passed Anthony Bourdain, who received the Pau Albornà i Torras Gastronomic Journalism Award 2018, was celebrated in memoriam. Luis Garcia and Luis Biosca won the X Golden Gueridon Prize, Local 3-Michelin star legend Juan Mari Arzak received the Gastronomika 2018 Tribute Award, and his daughter Elena gave a dynamic presentation on their quirky molecular approach. This year reminded that the foundation upon which Gastronomika began is very much still in play — emphasised by the chefs outfits by Garcon: “Chefs want to be fashionable and contemporary too — they want to move forward.”
Launching with a private 25-course dinner in an unprecedented format, creations arrived from the likes of Mikel Gallo from Ni Neu, Mario Sandoval from Coque, and Mari Carmel Velez from La Sirena. All-day talks and live cooking demonstrations saw individuals such as José Andrés, Yoshihiro Narisawa and Virgilio Martinez discuss the current state of world gastronomy, which touched on leading chefs such as Pedro Subijana, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Hilario Arbelaitz and Eneko Atxa. They also introduced the next generation, including Diego Guerrero, Iván Domínguez, Juan Carlos, Jonathan Padrón and Yolanda León, most of whom own their own restaurants. The roundtable The Evolution of Avant-Garde Cuisine analysed the rise of Spanish gastronomy, tracking its origins and development, as well as discussing its future. Psycho-Taste by Paul Pairet of Ultraviolet and Multi-Sensory Cuisine by Pablo Gonzalez of Cabaña Buenavista picked up on multi-sensory technology to create immersive experiences that go beyond consumption. Providing well rounded programming, for every avant-garde direction taken, there was another to play devil’s advocate, as with The Confines of Haute Cuisine, Simplicity, New Paths or Without Tradition There is No Avant-Garde. So while Gastronomika had a marked focus on the future, including presentations on the growing trend of sustainability by like the likes of Germán Martitegui, Rodrigo de la Calle and Rodolfo Guzmán, there were also humble, practical explorations including Three Unique Visions of Lamb, Prospective Salty and Sweet Interpretations of Avocado, or Surprise as a Generator of Emotions.
Gastronomika is able to discuss the future with smart retrospect, but it remains rooted in the groundwork set by the legends before. “The revolution that never ends,” is Gastronomika’s cry — but one best fuel up for that journey through taste sensations of past, present and future. Though any spot in San Sebastian — in Gastronomika or the plethora of recommended eateries surrounding it dotted with individuals wearing their Gastronomika entrance badges — there is no better place to start than “the moon”—if you can find it, wandering through those San Sebastian streets.
Press play to watch our exclusive interview with Morah, Dubai chef Stuart Cameron