Spain's Royal Academy of Gastronomy has had a notable influence on the development of national gastronomy in recent years and its recognition around the world. Wikispanishfood.com interviews its president Rafael Ansón, who discusses the current state of gastronomy in Spain.
Gemma Fernández. Journalist. @gemmafdz
Spanish gastronomy is a sector on the rise as a result of the contribution by, and successes of, prestigious national chefs. What is the situation in Spain compared with other countries?
Although there are other emerging national cuisines, such as Peruvian, Mexican, Brazilian, and several from Asia, Spanish food remains a leader. The prestige of our most important chefs remains very high, and some recipes from Ferran Adrià, Joan Roca, Juan Mari Arzak and Andoni Luis Aduriz—to name just 4—are imitated by aspiring chefs all the world over as well as by many professionals in various countries. Moreover, our products have a reputation for being the most delicious and varied on the planet.
Many small and medium-sized restaurants have closed on the back of the crisis. Do you believe the high-end gastronomy model is better equipped to weather the storm?
All kinds of businesses and catering projects—small, medium and large—face difficulties. Haute cuisine, which requires very large investments in products and personnel, is enormously costly and, therefore, only the biggest names—which are few and far between—have been able to weather the current situation with reasonable success. If we take a good look, there are very few places which require reservations more than a week in advance, which is a sign of resounding success.
But not everyone can afford to enjoy a Michelin star restaurant. What type of consumer eats at a gourmet restaurant?
It's worth noting the following: Michelin star restaurants attract not only high-end customers; there's also a growing public that is curious about food, known as foodies, who are capable of saving for weeks or months so they can eat at a specific locale. Moreover, among restaurants with Michelin stars (and those with Repsol suns, which are perhaps a better reference), there are places with considerably different price points, some of them very reasonable. You just have to look for them.
What is a better sign of quality, Repsol suns or Michelin stars?
The two guides are very professional and have an outstanding track record; however, in my opinion, Repsol is more sensitive to Spanish travelers' tastes and criteria when it comes to eating, both in the north and the south. I believe that sensitivity has allowed it to remain a successful model for over 35 years.
Spanish cuisine and ingredients are among the most highly-valued aspects by tourists. What do international tourists look for in Spanish cooking?
First they focus on the product, and then on the recipes that appeal to them. We are assuming that there's some international knowledge about our most popular dishes. They seek them out in trustworthy locales and usually enjoy them enthusiastically, making them the best proponents of their quality when they return home. It's also important to note than a large percentage of people visit Spain for the food.
3D printers, Google Glass, etc. Technology and gastronomy are increasingly intertwined. Where does that leave traditional cooking?
Traditional cuisine is still around, and it's increasingly attractive. From my standpoint, it's a safe bet in times of uncertainty, especially when given a modern touch. In some way, the crisis has had a positive impact on traditional food because there is a renewed interest in soups and stews, tripe and offal and popular cuisine as a whole.
What are the Royal Academy of Gastronomy's objectives for the coming years?
We will continue to fight for the prestige of Spanish fine dining and to increase the presence of gastronomy from a global perspective, as a source of health and pleasure associated with culture, the land and liberty. From there, we will continue to promote healthy eating, adapting to new social trends without sacrificing quality, our ingredients or our recipes, which will continue to evolve constantly.
What is your favorite dish and who is your favorite chef?
I enjoy all food, which I am constantly rediscovering. I love caviar and Ibérico ham, but I also enjoy a good Spanish omelet or a simple potato purée drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. I have many favorite chefs, among them Juan Mari Arzak and the Roca brothers, as well as Andoni Luis Aduriz and Ángel León and, of course, Ferran Adrià, even though he's not cooking at the moment.
What should Spanish cuisine focus on in the future?
Perhaps it could promote itself better, while also contributing to the universalization of our outstanding ingredients.
What is the Academy doing in this regard at international level?
We play an important role as part of the International Academy of Gastronomy, where Spanish fine dining has a very strong position and is among the first to be considered for all initiatives, as you would expect from one of the best cuisines in the world.
What remains to be done in terms of exports?
We must shed all of our complexes and promote our products like the French and Italians do. We're working on that. In truth, I travel a lot all over the world, and I assure you we have nothing to be envious of.