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Madrid Fusion shows that the world’s top chefs still take time out to learn

You know an event is exceptional when Tetsuya Wakuda, one of the most innovative chefs in Sydney, Australia, says that attending every year has changed the way he cooks. Similarly, British sensation Heston Blumenthal says the event holds a special place in his heart. Even Ferran Adrià, the Spanish father of molecular gastronomy, never misses it. Charlie Trotter and rising stars Dan Barber and Grant Achatz, all of the United States, are willing to cross the ocean for it.

That event is Madrid Fusion: The International Summit of Gastronomy. In its fifth year, Madrid Fusion lures top chefs from around the world to give demonstrations and share ideas. This year’s conference, which was held last month, focused specifically on ingredients and so-called “restaurant farms.”

Barber illustrated the farm concept, explaining that his restaurants, Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., source organic food grown at the Stone Barns farm.

“The hours of sunlight are more important than temperature to grow vegetables,” he said. He also noted that the stress levels of animals being led to slaughter affect the meat because of hormones being released into the muscles. He said Blue Hill lambs are slaughtered individually after being trucked to the slaughterhouse accompanied by two sheep. Those two sheep return with the truck, reducing fear among other lambs and improving the quality of the meat.

Adrià spoke about simplicity, saying, “If the produce chosen is always the most expensive, very few people could afford the results.”

But seeking out the best of everyday produce can translate to exceptional taste, he added.

Other notable chefs in attendance included Martin Aw Yong, judged in 2002 to be the Best Chef in Asia, who came from Singapore; Italian chef Davide Oldani, whose restaurant, D’O, outside of Milan, is so busy that it has a four-month waiting list; and Zhenxiang Dong, whose Beijing establishment has people lining up for tables. Pascal Barbot and Pierre Hermé, the so-called “Picasso of pastries,” came over from France.

Spanish chef Santi Santamaria, a classicist with six Michelin stars between three restaurants, stole the show with his speech about returning to basics. He drew a standing ovation with his frank admission that even after five years of attending Madrid Fusion he still didn’t understand a thing.

Given the diverse styles of the chefs in attendance, Santamaria’s confusion is easy to understand. Whether thinking outside of the box or rethinking basics, however, the common denominator is the philosophy that eating is more than tasting, it’s a thought-provoking experience.

Keld Johnsen, a chef-restaurateur and sommelier from Denmark, summed it up: “The great thing was that all the chefs had different ways of thinking, different visions and different styles. It shows that the modern restaurant scene is not only about molecular gastronomy, but that the gastronomy goes in many directions.”

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