Second year of GourmeTapa by Fuentes: conclusions in miniature

- Chefs

A logbook by Sensei Hiroshi Umi.

The trick lies not in reaching the summit or finding a place among the elite, but in having the clarity of mind and enough hunger to remain there at the very top over a period of time. Within the context of the wonderfully bustling marketplace known as Salón Gourmets (Madrid), Gourmet Tapa by Fuentes was held for the second time, and if anything, improved on the achievements of the first edition. And it left us with plenty of conclusions.

Aside from its success with the media and the professional interest it aroused (60 entrants, 13 finalists, and a real buzz among the audience), the level of sophistication, technique, accomplishment, creativity and enthusiasm in conjuring up gastronomy in miniature serves as a guarantee of quality in coming years. This second year was celebrated to the full by both the audience and the competition itself, the clearest sign that the event has a great future ahead of it.

There were plenty of other lessons to be learned as well. The first, and most notable, was that when it comes to cuisine, the sometimes elusive goals of subtlety and approachability always win. The second, that there is no lack of daring or skill when it comes to handling, trying out, experimenting with and giving a new twist to the less well-known cuts of the titan of the seas.

Rubén Sánchez Camacho, this year’s winner

Both these principles were confirmed by the winning creation. Rubén Sánchez Camacho, chef of the Epílogo restaurant (Tomelloso, Ciudad Real) showed that less is almost always more, and that bluefin tuna is perfect in combination with almost any ingredient… provided that you strike just the right balance. He claimed the honours with his Tuna orza and Fuentes bluefin tuna tripe, which stood out for its balance and depth, memory and innovation.

The professional jury –comprising Jesús Santamaría, of the Bokado Group, the renowned chefs Joaquín Felipe and Pablo González, culinary journalist Javier Vicente Caballero, gourmand Esther Muñoz, the marketing director of the Ricardo Fuentes Group, José María Donate and Víctor Díaz, CEO of Big Fish Cut Pack, distributor of gourmet products in the United States– weighed up the tasty approachability of this creation, which in the words of the chef “was all about giving a La Mancha twist to bluefin tuna”

His interpretation really hit the spot, by curing the belly like pork loin, in the style of orza manchega, accompanied by tripe using the fish’s own skin. “We are really into drying fruit right now, which essentially involves dehydrating the ingredients, and in this case we tried the process out with asadillo manchego (a salad of red peppers with garlic and tomato), a sisho vinaigrette and pea shoots“, the chef explained, adding that he had opted for a nearby location “as there is no need to head off to Japan or other distant lands in search of success”.

Oriental inspiration among the finalists

Perhaps another of the common themes this year: the orientalisation of many of the tapas. This approach almost gave the victory to chef Sergio Moreno (Siesta Shanghai, Madrid), who claimed second prize this time around. He served up a spectacular “Tohoku-style cured loin in kombu-jime, with dark meat smoked in katsuobushi, adding a dashi with plenty of collagen from the tuna’s eye, umeboshi-style nectarine and a base of edamame given the hummus treatment, to round out all the unctuousness and acidity,” explained Moreno, who spent ten years at various kitchens in Asia, resulting in this inevitable culinary baggage. His loin left a sensational after-taste in the jury’s mouths, although he was guilty of a lack of speed in preparation, which would make it impossible to serve up in a hurry at a bar. This was a stunning dish which might need more than two mouthfuls…

Another morsel with a hint of the rising sun also nearly made the podium. It came from José Antonio Guerrero, who claimed the trophy last year with his formidable Japo-taco. At his Aquarium Sabores restaurant in Valladolid, this time he devised a tapa which he dubbed Japanish, likewise adding a gypsy touch with a botijo jug to sample a textured gazpacho. A creation which also won high praise, but perhaps lost points because the outer layer was rather heavily smoked.

Antonio Xu Castro – another repeat entrant– arrived from Villanueva de la Cañada (Natur Sushi restaurant) with a Mediterranean coral which likewise had a Japanese hint to it. “I created this specifically to come here and win. It didn’t work out, but I’m really happy. The idea was to blend Japanese cuisine with Mediterranean elements. It’s a pâté of chutoro, with the vein removed, and slightly cured. The crunchy base is baked wheat, with capers and a touch of spiciness. You also get all the umami,” Xu noted.

His colleague Rocío Maya (La Taberna de Noa, Fuentes de León, Badajoz) produced a notable Saam oriental roll of tripe, cheeks and marrow cooked over charcoal, wrapped in a sisho leaf, and also served in the lap of a Buddha who added a shot of sake from the Ebro Delta.

Innovative creations in miniature

More journeys, more distant and succulent inspiration… Ángel González Riera (Hacienda La Llorea, Gijón) opted for a marinated Thai ossobuco; Sara Cámara (Casa Pacheco, Salamanca), went for “steamed back cheek with fried egg and tomato cream, in the style of arroz a la cubana”; Antonio Martínez (Restaurante Frontera, Tobarra, Albacete, also here for the second time) produced a tartar of the harmonica cut, which won fairly high praise; Lidia Bajo (El Ramito, Alpedrete, Madrid) devised a tapa with the imaginative title of “Tuna from nose to tail” (since it is known as the pig of the ocean, with use made of every last part), and which comprised a block or saku of tuna with crunchy Iberian pork dewlap, a pil-pil made with the eyes, and even a demi-glace of the marrow (the height of daring, with the whole construction held together by a little sponge cake); Adrián Burgos (Moonlight Experimental, Zaragoza) chose to make use of robata and olive wood, the fish’s semen, yolks and piparra peppers for his Marine Secret; from Cartagena (A La Brasa restaurant), Cayetano Gómez conjured up an outstanding blini of bluefin tuna heart with pickles, which was also paired with an amontillado sherry; Juanfran Pérez (Novelda, Alicante), from Espacio Montoro was delighted with his  tapa of tuna belly in koji mold, and kept saying that “for me just to enjoy this experience is more than enough – this is so cool”. And to finish, the first to get to work in the kitchen: Isaac Montoya (Paquita Mariví, Burgos), with his novel Barbate Tiger, serving tuna meat on a mussel shell, in a tribute to the cheeky freshness of a tapas bar.

And so transpired the second edition of GourmeTapa by Fuentes leaving us with the following conclusions; the event was presented with style, free-flowing charm and pace by the influencer and TV presenter Vero Zuma, preceded by a masterclass courtesy of Pablo González (La Cabaña, two Michelin stars in Murcia) and his faithful companion Adrián Costa. The duo showed an open-mouthed crowd the kind of supreme haute cuisine that can be conjured up with the tuna’s eyes, skin, and even its marrow. Until next year, dear tuna fans in miniature.