SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain – Chef-cum-teachers from the Basque Culinary Center attended on Wednesday Gastronomika, the San Sebastian Gastronomy Congress, to revisit the road that led a Spanish gastronomic revolution which fascinated the rest of the world by resorting to novel techniques that modified textures, appearances or cooking methods.
Spain’s “New Cuisine” revolution pointed to a complete breakaway from classic, traditional cooking by seeking a multisensory experience to willing gourmets by applying scientific methods to the realm of the kitchen.
Thus enter deconstructions, edible coup d’oeils, gels, foams and previously unheard-of techniques that forever changed the history of cooking.
Jorge Breton, a Spanish Michelin-star-winning chef and a teacher at the Basque Culinary Center, reminded those present that one thing these cooking pioneers never forgot was the kitchen’s paramount consideration: “flavor always comes first.”
Breton explained: “The chefs were ready to break away, based on knowledge, from all the traditional kitchen rules because flavor is not limited to the tongue, it includes both visual perception and sense of smell.”
He added that this is why they allied with experts from other fields, proposing a “voyage for the senses” to “satisfy the human need to accrue experiences.”
These plates are a fusion of a scientific base and artistic execution that seeks to nudge “the client’s taste memories and also generate new ones,” said Juan Carlos Arbolaya, another distinguished chef.
That is how new, local or foreign, ingredients entered Spain’s “Nueva Cocina”: seaweeds “discovered” by Angel Leon); liquid nitrogen, freeze-drying, gels, spheres and foams which changed both the textures and appearance of plates, transformed into edible coup d’oeils.
The deconstruction process created by the world-renowned restaurant elBulli, Breton pointed out, enabled working on traditional products by giving them new shapes and textures, such as Ferran Adria’s famous deconstructed potato omelet.
This new gastronomy sought to find “umami,” or fifth flavor, and investigated the best cooking temperature to achieve food’s fullest flavor (i.e. vacuum or low-heat cooking) as each one attempted to make their “flavor libraries” grow.
The senses are ever-present as most avant-garde restaurants seek the sixth sense – surprise – blurring the limits between flavors such as sweet or salty.