Back in November, I had an intense couple of days in Valladolid, which every year becomes the gastronomic capital of Spain for a week when it hosts not only the National Pinchos & Tapas Competition but also the International Young Chefs’ Competition organised by the ICEX Training Programme and the Valladolid International Catering School.
It is actually one of the best cities for a tapas crawl at any time of year, but doesn’t really like to shout about it. Unlike some Spanish cities, Valladolid is remarkably unshowy but don’t be put off as there is a lot to be said for modesty in this look-at-me world, and this is a really rewarding place to spend a few days, particularly if you are a bit beyond relentlessly chasing the latest trends. It is a city where people clearly live very well, with fantastic food and wine. The Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Cigales and Toro designations are all near the city, so there is no danger of getting served a dodgy glass of wine here in the capital of the vast region of Castilla-León, which was once the capital of Spain.
During the festival, finalists in the two events from all over Spain and beyond prepare their creations in an igloo-like marquee known as the Cúpula del Milenio – or Millennium Dome – which was constructed for the Zaragoza Expo in 2008 and has found a more permanent home alongside the river Pisuerga which flows through the city.
The very elaborate tapas – which must not cost more than €1.20 to produce – are tasted and rated by a panel of judges made up of renowned chefs and gastronomic experts, who appraise the quality, creativity and originality of each dish.
As only professionals can attend the competition in the dome, for locals and tourists the most interesting thing about the festival is that bars and restaurants throughout Valladolid serve the creations too – with each place promoting one particular tapa and hosting one of the finalist chefs. The bars then continue to serve their adopted tapa throughout the rest of the year too.
The winning tapa was Placer Otoñal (autumnal pleasure) created by Alberto Montes Pereira of Atrio restaurant in Cáceres in Extremadura, which has two Michelin stars. The Young Chefs’ Competition was won by Nayab Aziz Siddiqui from Singapore with her tapa Torto Miniatura (miniature corn fritter). As part of her prize, she will present her tapa at the prestigious Madrid Fusión gastronomic conference, which takes place from January 23 to 25, 2017.