I arrived early for my first Theater of Taste at Salone del Gusto 2010. This particular type of activity involves a chef that presents his philosophy along with a few dishes for the audience to sample. I did a little background check on the chef directing the workshop, Eneko Axta. A young chef from the Basque country with a wealth of knowledge and pride in his origins. I learned he had won several awards over the last few years and felt a bit intimidated. He arrived in a modernized chef coat or rather a shirt tailored to slightly mimic a chef coat… I think… None-the-less, much to my delight, he arrived, with a smile and an air of humility, uncommon among individuals of his age.
Throughout the course he spoke proudly of his lands and how he works closely with fellow colleagues that are scientists and culinary professionals to exact the results he desires. He talked about foreign procedures such as using ultrasounds to recreate the flavors of the ocean and distilling vegetables to extract their essence. His dishes were playful, colorful and rich with inspiration. An army of waiters and waitresses served us several dishes that were delectable on the palate. We sampled an oyster dish that featured a mushroom (to replicate seaweed), sea sprouts and ocean water; in short his version of a day visiting the Basque Country coastline.
His words urged listeners to consider seasonality when creating a menu and to exercise caution when employing techniques, which should solely function as an enhancement to the dining experience. We received a dish that of braised oxtail, a humble ingredient which he promoted to a level of luxurious succulence that played with flavors and textures to create an incredible bite that was over all too soon. His other dishes including a blood sausage ‘croquette’ (for lack of a better description), a culinary homage to a vegetable garden, roast pigeon with wild blackberries and a homely milk pudding, underlined why chefs should make an effort to take basic products and elevate them to new heights.
The class concluded with his apologetic explanation that he must rush to catch a flight back to Bilbao for a prior engagement and an invitation to contact him and visit his restaurant. Amid a round of applause he smiled, bowed and took leave.