Sunday, January 29, 2012

Madrid Fusión 2012

On Thursday morning after I finished teaching, Gregorio called to see if I wanted to go to some event with him for lunch.  His description of this event was vague; there was mention of tapas and famous chefs.  I had been looking forward to taking a nap before my private English lesson that afternoon so I would have some energy for frisbee practice that night, but in the end I got dragged out of the house decided to go.

I imagined this tapas event to be an outdoor market with different stands where one could purchase tapas for reasonable prices - maybe something comparable to the Taste of Madison.  Let's just say I was a bit off with my prediction.

This event took place in Madrid's Palacio Municipal de Congresos.

Palacio Municipal de Congresos

We walked into the lobby and I immediately felt underdressed.  There were lots of professional-looking people walking around with an entrance pass around their necks and conference folders in their hands.  Jumping out from the background of Spanish, I heard some women speaking in French, and then some English from two men walking in the other direction.

I quickly learned that this "lunch-event" we were attending was actually a small part of a three day annual gastronomic conference called Madrid Fusión.  There were over 800 journalists - including 200 foreigners from a total of 36 countries - participating in the tenth edition of Madrid Fusión, according to this news article.   (T.J. - you probably would have liked going to the exhibition hall that afternoon)

Madrid Fusión

Gregorio called his friend who was working at this conference (he works for a ham company in Spain), and the friend gave Gregorio some guy's name and number.  Gregorio calls this guy and says that his friend told him to call.  Gregorio continues to tell the guy that he's down in the lobby with one other person.

We continued waiting around, and ten minutes later the man Gregorio had called came down and had two conference passes with him.  He quickly handed us each a pass (with a barcode) to wear around our necks.  Then we followed him into the conference, where our passes were scanned upon entrance.

We took an escalator up to the third floor, then boy did my eyes pop.

Live cooking competition with famous chefs judging

We went to Gregorio's friend's ham stand, but he wasn't back from his lunch break yet.  The guy who brought us up took our passes back as soon as we arrived to their ham booth.  Booths lined the walls, and in the aisles there were square tables every few yards where people could set their wine glasses down and eat all the food samples they were being given.

Now, when I've been at big conferences where booths might be giving out free food, you take whatever serving they're giving out and you don't push your luck.  If you want seconds, you usually try to be sneaky and get a friend to go up for you, or you pretend you're getting food for two so you don't feel guilty.  

There was none of this guilt at Madrid Fusión.  

Apart from all of the booths giving out their food products, there were people walking around with trays of bite-sized tapas.  These servers were seemingly trying to empty their trays as fast as possible.  Once empty, they return with a full tray of some other tapa.  One server made me feel guilty for not eating!  

He came by and asked if I wanted one of whatever he was serving.  I said "No, gracias," because it wasn't clear what it contained, and I didn't want to eat anything that would upset the stomach.  I had also just eaten some tortilla, a mini-hamburger, and a bunch of other tapas.  More people walking by grabbed samples from this guy's tray, and then he came up to me again and said "Take one, take one."  Programmed to follow directions, I took one.  It was actually really good.  He saw that I was done and asked if I liked it.  I told him I did, and he shoved the tray in my face and told me "Take another, take another."  I hesitated, but he commanded "Take it."  So I took it and ate it.  He left, and my growing stomach was relieved he didn't make me eat a third.

For the first forty-five minutes or so, we were standing by the same table in the aisle next to Gregorio's friend's booth.  Although his friend wasn't there yet, servers kept walking by with trays full of samples.  We didn't even have to move; the food came to us!

Here are a few pictures of what we ate.  Just a few, because I often devoured the food before thinking to take a picture of it:


After the first hour or so, we started exploring the rest of the booths, as there were many to be seen and more food to be eaten.  Although there were certainly other types, the majority of the stands fell into one of three categories:

1. Olive oil


2. Wine

3. Ham

With respect to the wine, take a look at this picture:

These tables were all over the exhibit:  Open bottles of wine.  Clean wine glasses.  Self-serve.

We had some really good wines that afternoon.  And tons of amazing food.  I really wished I hadn't had to leave for my afternoon private lesson!   Here are a couple more pictures from that afternoon:

Really delicious tortilla

Italian meats


On our way out of the conference, when we got to the bottom of the escalator a woman was waiting to scan our passes.  Uh oh...  
Gregorio told her we left them upstairs and she let us leave with no hassle.  Phew!  

After learning that this wasn't an event for the public, and that so much free food was served, I was curious as to how much conference participants (or their companies) had paid to send them to this conference.  I found this pdf online that shows a price of 400 euro to attend the whole three-day conference, which included the food in the exposition (where we went on Thursday).  

I'm lucky to have attended, even though I wasn't really supposed to be there.  You know what they say, "It's not what you know, it's who you know."

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