Dining
Madrid Fusion Manila Prolongs The Philippines' Moment in the Spotlight
The gastronomy congress aims to create the consciousness of the country as a center of gastronomy in Asia.
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With various international media outlets forecasting the rise of Filipino cuisine among the world’s most exciting for the year, this month’s Madrid Fusion Manila 2017 sets the stage for prolonging the Philippines’ moment in the spotlight.

The world’s biggest and arguably most important gastronomy congress since its inception in 2003, Madrid Fusion has consistently brought together the best of the best chefs from all continents to share information and promote inventive new ways of preparing food and drink.

Gert de Mangeleer, the youngest Belgian chef to helm a restaurant with three Michelin stars, and his dim sum of langoustine and butternut at Hertog Jan in Belgium.

Today, the Philippines remains its only partner in Asia, bringing venerated chefs in the league of Andoni Aduriz, Elena Arzak, Mario Sandoval, and Paco Torreblanca in past years to showcase their culinary prowess in Manila. “It’s very good for the Philippines right now,” says Verna Buensuceso, project director at the Department of Tourism, which first brought the event to Manila in 2015 in an effort to promote a different facet of the Philippines. “Madrid Fusion Manila was about building awareness and creating the consciousness of the Philippines as a center of gastronomy in Asia, and I think we’ve been able to start that ball rolling.”

Often passed over in favor of its more prolific Southeast Asian peers, Philippine cuisine has been highlighted in the past year in a way that it hasn’t before, with a number of Filipino restaurants finally fielding attention. One of them is Washington, D.C.’s Bad Saint, purveyor of “Filipino food worth the wait,” according to the New York Times, and Bon Appétit’s second-best restaurant in America in 2016.

Magnus Ek of Oaxen Krog in Sweden

Here and in other parts of the world, Filipino chefs are similarly getting noticed: Margarita Forés was named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016; French-Filipino sisters and co-owners of Paris bistro Le Servan, Tatiana and Katia Levha—who will be joining the star-studded cast of chefs at Madrid Fusion Manila this year—have been covered by the Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, and Eater.com. If last year’s Madrid Fusion Manila, themed “The Manila Galleon: East Meets West,” celebrated the 450th anniversary of the Galleon Trade which opened up trade routes between Asia, Europe, and the Americas, this year’s symposium aims to provoke discussion of a matter that is pressingly urgent and relevant to the world at large, with the theme “Towards a Sustainable Gastronomic Planet.”

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Chef Simon Rogan

While recent years have introduced the local market to the farm-to-table movement, with more and more chefs consciously altering their practices to reduce the environmental impact of food consumption and consequently make the trade beneficial for the farmers who produce the ingredients, the movement has yet to reach its peak in the Philippines—and in other parts of the world for that matter—despite the number of big-name chefs who have ingrained the practice in their respective restaurants. “The area of sustainability is something that affects not only gastronomy but also different sectors of society,” notes Buensuceso, who explains that the choice of theme is a discussion between the Madrid Fusion organizers in Spain and their Philippine counterparts. “We think it’s very timely—the Philippines has so many natural attractions, and we are a biodiversity hotspot, which makes it even more relevant for us.”

Basque chef Pedro Subijana’s Akelarre in San Sebastian is known for its innovative use of seafood in dishes such as calamari risotto.

Ahead of the Manila congress, Madrid Fusion 2017 shone the spotlight on those who have devoted their careers to sustainable gastronomy, such as Maria Fernanda di Giacobbe, recipient of the 2016 Basque World Culinary Prize—an award dubbed the Nobel Prize in the world of gastronomy and given to chefs with projects of social significance. 

In the span of a decade, di Giacobbe’s Project Bombon has slowly but steadily transformed the cacao industry in her native Venezuela by championing the bean to bar movement, directly impacting the chain of cacao production and creating livelihood for thousands of female Venezuelan farmers. “It was a moment of enlightenment, like being struck,” di Giacobbe told the Madrid audience on her commitment to uplifting Venezuela through food. “I taught 10 women when Project Bombon began, then they taught 330, and we now have thousands of women who have taken part. We like to say that the men in Venezuela harvest the sea, but the women harvest the cocoa.” While she may not have pioneered the concept of social entrepreneurship, di Giacobbe sets a supreme example for her peers that theirs is an industry that can make a difference not only in sectors of agriculture and farming, but also on countries as a whole. “Our practice has become a message that we can change a country that has been impoverished, we can create new jobs through food,” di Giacobbe says. “The more we give, the more we get. We can change the world by loving people.”

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Among the culinary superstars who will be taking their cues from the Madrid exhibitions are Pedro Subijana (of three Michelin-starred Akelarre in Spain), Gert de Mangeleer (three Michelin-starred Hertog Jan in Belgium), Regis Marçon (three Michelin-starred Regis and Jacques Marçon in France), and Jordi Roca and Alejandra Rivas (three Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, ranked second on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016), who will be joined by the Philippines’ Jordy Navarra (Toyo Eatery) and Robby Goco (Cyma and Green Pastures). Though touching on many various topics in relation to gastronomy’s role in our global ecological footprint, the chefs’ presentations in Manila aim to collectively make a case for why sustainability begins with food.

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Manica C. Tiglao
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