1st European Congress of Tourism and Gastronomy in Madrid

‘It’s very easy to do nothing’, said Ferran Adria at this meeting in Madrid of people from all over Europe involved with restaurants, wine and tourism, which took place on May 24th and 25th 201o. He was referring to how much he and other chefs have pushed to get Spanish cuisine recognised outside Spain.

Spanish food and wine is having a bit of a moment, but that certainly hasn’t happened by chance, as I learned at the congress. Key figures have been plugging away at promoting Spanish gastronomy and local produce for a good 30 years, as top chef Juan Mari Arzak, who has three Michelin stars at his restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian, pointed out. “But no one took much notice of us until Ferran Adria came along,” he said ruefully, but added how happy he was with how far things have come since then.

Now chefs are at the forefront of Spain’s tourism campaign. And about time too. As Javier Blanco of the World Tourism Organisation reminded us, “One of the slogans of the new campaign is ‘Art is not just in museums‘, and this means that people should regard creative cuisine as art too.”  Antonio Bernabe, Director of Turespana (Spanish Tourist Board) said, “Gastronomy is now one of the main reasons people travel. It is the thing people like best.”

Emilio Gallego, director of the Federacion Espanola de Hosteleria, introduced the new Saborea Espana (Tasting Spain) campaign, which is presided by leading chef Pedro Subijana and will be rolled out over the next three years with the aim of highlighting the gastronomic specialities of towns and cities around the country. These are not just obvious choices either.  The first tranche includes San Sebastian, as you would expect, but the list also includes Lanzarote, Cambrils, Valladolid, Santiago de Compostela, Gijon and Lleida. The next phase features Valencia, Ciudad Real, Albacete, Badajoz and Zaragoza – some of these destinations have been decidedly unfashionable up till now, so the campaign could really put them on the map. The plan is to have around 30 places involved by the first quarter of 2011.  Each town will have a  ‘gastromap’ to help foodie visitors find the shops, bars and restaurants they want. There will also be a series of Expotapa events throughout the year.

Pedro Subijana, founder and chef of the Akelarre restaurant in San Sebastian, which has three Michelin stars, recalled how his parents were horrified when he said he wanted to be a chef. “But now there are waiting lists to get into catering school.”

Ferran Adria stressed how important it was for the hotel and restaurant industry to invest in promoting Spanish food and wine. “It has to be a joint cause, not just individual ventures, otherwise you get 10 people doing the same thing,” he said. “I’m not interested in Spain having the best gastronomy, but I do want it to be the most influential.”

He rather surprised the audience at the Ifema exhibition centre in Madrid by saying that he has his sights set on China and India. “If we want to have 10 or 20 million Chinese or Indian tourists 10 years from now, we have to introduce Spanish food there to get them interested.”

One thing’s for sure, with all the initiatives now underway to make sure the local specialities of every region, and the wines produced all over the country, get the support they need and the recognition they deserve, these new visitors won’t be disappointed when they finally make it to Spain.

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