Gastronomika, 2016: The culinary world gathers in San Sebastian

  22.11.16    Spain

This piece first ran at


The culinary Mecca of San Sebastian was again home for the latest edition of the Gastronomika congress, bringing together 1500 participants from 45 countries for four days of discussions, demonstrations, exhibitions and networking in the picturesque Basque town.

More than 50 chefs shared their knowledge throughout presentations at the congress, this year focusing on respect, unity and enthusiasm for gastronomy, and to be able to ‘share happiness’, in the words of Martin Berasategui. The legendary chef from Lasarte celebrated his origins in an emotional talk, where he also cooked two of his star dishes, beetroot juice with raw horseradish and taramasalata steeped in citrus juices. Outside the congress and across the town which is 2016 European Capital of Culture, special pop-ups and dinners also wowed diners.


Luke Dale Roberts#22 in the 50 World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 list – stressed the need for chefs to create memories with food while Brazilian Alex Atala from D.O.M., #11 in The 50 Best, gave an impassioned and educational talk on the virtues and challenges of being a chef, focusing on biodiversity and noting how: “Luxury is the ability to transform ingredients into emotions”.


The two chefs who arguably travelled the farthest to get there were Australians Peter Gilmore and Jock Zonfrillo. Gilmore demonstrated cuisine “with French, Chinese and Japanese influences,” while Zonfrillo spoke of his “fondness for tradition, nature and Aboriginal produce, which will disappear, if nothing is done” he warned.

Yoshihiro Narisawa was one of a number of Japanese chefs represented at Gastronomika and he warned of the “loss of the culinary tradition of Japan because of Westernisation.” Narisawa surprised many in the audience by cooking a sea snake, a species that “Although poisonous, contains many nutrients necessary for the human body. New generations no longer know how to cook it,” he lamented.


The countries most visibly represented in this edition of Gastronomika however were Turkey and Hungary. Mehmet Gürs, chef at the best Turkish restaurant (Mikla, #56) transported the audience to Anatolia in his presentation, highlighting his campaign to bring back traditional products and explaining the critical role of yoghurt in the diet of the peninsula.

The most colourful presentation came in the form of chef Cüneyt Asan who arrived on stage dressed as a lamb, before then proceeding to cut one up, explaining that he was “protecting the soul of the living being that is going to be cooked”. Hungary and Turkey also took centre stage with food stalls open to the public outside the congress building.


Naturally Spanish chefs also continued to shine throughout the four-day event. Joan Roca discussed his ongoing projects and ran through the work of the team of El Celler de Can Roca, including working with tempeh, fermented vegetables and distillations.

While Elena Arzak and her father Juan-Mari Arzak revealed their ongoing project of totally re-thinking their legendary restaurant: “We realised everything is changing, cooking, how we relate to our industry. So we have analysed everything we have done so far and spent time thinking about it. We want to reinforce the idea of simplicity and stress ‘Cocina para convivir’: we live together in the kitchen and a table helps peaceful co-existence.”


The “new Catalan cuisine” by Carles Gaig and “new new Catalan cuisine” of Nandu Jubany – two of the pillars of the evolution of Catalan cuisine – met each other in a very special meal dedicated to ‘Mediterranean essence’, sponsored by S.Pellegrino.

A four hands-dinner (14 dishes) started with a series of appetisers such as squids with figueres and caramelised onion by Gaig and tender beans with cod tripe and wild mushrooms by Jubany. Left to the main, the two chefs offered dishes with strong identities that made the dinner grow in intensity. And for the grand finale, Gaig presented cottage cheese, figs and honey as dessert, and Nandu, frozen truffle with hot cocoa liquor.