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Bottura's dish involved civet and blood. "Fake blood," he said, but blood still.
Bottura's dish involved civet and blood. "Fake blood," he said, but blood still.
[Photos: Joshua David Stein/Eater.com]

Yesterday was Cocina Urbana Cosmopolitana (Urban Cosmopolitan Cooking) day at Gastronomika, the culinary conference happening here in rainy San Sebastián, and therefore some of the best chefs in the world or, as one of them said, in the history of the world, gathered for slideshows, talks, video presentations, and copious eating of meat.

Presentations are given in a massive 1,806 capacity auditorium at the Kursaal. There are two sections: those in the front half are served small plates from the presentation while those in the back half content themselves with looking and envy. Foreigners can wear headsets over which is broadcast simultaneous translations in Spanish, English, French, and Basque. It's like the U.N., but about food. [Though it should be noted, the World Food Programme, which is actually the UN but about food, does great work.]

Perhaps the most striking thing about the congress isn't how insanely well-funded it is — San Sebastián is a rich city — but how open and eager chefs are to be rather risky and openly cerebral. Nearly every presentation involved a video of some sort that would be mocked for its hubris stateside. Italian chef Massimo Bottura, one of Italy's most lauded chefs, presented a video complete with epic Stentorian narration. "Cutting gives us new forms and new shapes..." a man said as images of vintage Italian films flickered on the screen alongside images of Italian artist Lucien Fontana Rosa. There was a dish — "Todos Las Lenguas Del Mundo," a cube of beef tongue wrapped in cotton smoked in charcoal and surrounded by dots of sauces from around the world — that accompanied the mystico-culinary film. "Beef tongue is a meteorite, it's a planet in itself," says the narrator. Sure, it's a little over-the-top but better hubris than paralysis, right?

One of the few women chefs in the world of haute cuisine — alongside Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak's daughter — Carme Ruscalleda narrated a long slideshow in rapid-fire Spanish about how to make what she calls Paul Smith ravioli. Hint: It involves vegetables and stripes.

Ferran Adrià was there, obviously. The lecture hall was packed. David Chang stood and watched from the side. Adria was, as usual, a tsunami of words and ideas. He has started doing sequences of courses within courses at elBulli. "Why can't I repeat coriander in a tasting menu?" he complained. Sequences allow him to repeat elements in tasting menus. He also hates tartuffes. "Truffles smell good but they're total rubbish," he said. "They're all aroma and no flavor." At least, I think that's what he said but the translator translated truffle as "tartuffe" which is a 1864 play by Moliere. That doesn't seem to make sense but, on the other hand, it's Adrià. The truffles played into a three part sequence containing, truffle-scented caviar, a white macaron "but it's really a cloud of milk and parmesan" and something that looked like a brioche truffle sandwich. Adrià also announced news about elBulli, but we're trying to get confirmation. [Ed note: post will be up soon.]

And now for the best chef in the world you've never heard of. At a certain point, many chefs gathered on stage including Mugaritz' Andoni Luiz Aduriz, Juan Mari Arzak, and Martin Berasategui to honor Karlos Arguinano, a television host and chef of Hotel Karlos Arguinano in Zarautz, Spain. Arzak, himself no slouch, called Arguinano, "the most important chef there ever was in the history of the world." Then he said, "I'm going to give you a kiss which I know you hate." He did. Then Arguinano explained that he loved Arzak but hates it when he kisses him.

Late in the day, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz gave an amazing presentation about his failures (well, there haven't been many) wherein he combined three short films with a recipe for tulip bulbs in bread stock. I sat next to Daniel Boulud, who tried to videotape the movies with his camera, and Thomas Keller who seemed mildly appreciative but less exuberant. One video involved a number of kitchen staff dressed as animal/robbers, stealing flowers from a field. Harry Nilsson's version of Fred Neil's classic Everybody's Talkin' played in the background. It was like a Flaming Lips video, but with better music. Aduriz also presented a word cloud of feedback that he gets from visitors. The biggest sliver of the emotion pie was ilusion, a word that sounds like illusion but really means happiness.

· All Gastronomika Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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