By: Ada Solana de Valencia
Edited by: Carlos Dragonné
January 7th has always surprised me. This morning, trying to look back into my old diaries, I realized that this date has a special place un my life and, of course, it wouldn’t be different this year, as behind the calendar sheet was marked a very special gift for me: Madrid Fusion, the most important gastronomical event in the world.
As a chef, I’ve been lucky enough to visit and explore different worlds. As you can imagine, everything began on a January 7th, although the year in question was 1994, the date in which I was convinced that studying abroad was the best long-term investment I could do and that I should make everything to make that possible. Back then, I was already working after graduating from college and yet, the person whom I turned to for an advice was my teacher for Basque Cuisine, the chef Iñaki Aguirre. Even now, the words spoken by him are burned in my memory, when directly told us that: “If you want to be in a kitchen, you need to have commitment and work real hard.” He was also convinced that our practices in Mexico gave us just a small taste of what it truly was working inside a kitchen and that, just working a few hours wasn’t good enough to learn. “If you really want to learn how to cook, the Basque country is the best option”, he told us.
So, after thinking it through, Chef Aguirre’s idea looked like the best so by June I was already leaving Mexico City behind and traveling into a world totally unknown for me. On the plane, a friend who joined this adventure told me that, on the cover of the on-board magazine, there was an article about Chef Juan Mari Arzak. It was the first time I heard that name so I slept holding to that magazine and imagining the world of experiences that was awaiting for me.
The moment I arrived I fell in love with this land, where everything I tasted was great and everything I saw, feel, hear and smell hipnotized me. I even remember the feeling of the Cantabrian Sea on my feet after classes and everytime was a different moment, special and filled with life. It was a time of magic and just like that it comes back to my memory everytime I take that path down to memory lane. We were all young and all the life ahead, enjoying a city that in my opinion is one of the most beautiful ones in Europe: San Sebastian.
The Hospitality School of the Basque Country was our school. We arrived late summer of ’94 and start searching for an appartment near school and living in a real cultural exchange environment between Mexico and Spain. Of course, making friends in a few weeks was not a problem and, in a group of people of 3 women and 12 men, I was quickly called “La Txiki” due to my height, and I opened a door to a family we created that made me feel surrounded by the brothers I always dreamt of having.
Although I was missing Mexico, life at Donosti was beautiful. Walking a city that caught my eye on every corner, every monument, market, the Igueldo Mount and the beachs made it, instantly, one of my favorite cities to live in between the 4 I had the opportunity to reside in.
A few weeks after we arrived, my teacher realize that I was eager to make more as a student. I guess that was a definitive fact when he decided to send me for practice to the Restaurant Arzak. Looking back, I have a clear memory of everything that was there at the moment and, above all, the look on my friend’s faces cleared me out the huge opportunity life was giving to me.
What I lived in that kitchen was impressive from day one. Between the stoves and stations the energy is very strong. The first day at the begining of the service I was still putting my things in order and I asked something; the answer given to me by Pello was the first and most important lesson I learned in Arzak: during service, you don’t speak at all, as clients are sitting in the chef’s table at the kitchen. A really simple and absolutely basic rule of Arzak.
And so I learned everyday… during mornings we did the mise en place as part of a really fun game and, at service, you have to be focused and silent. On mondays I returned to school and so on until friday. I learned a lot in this venue, but the most important thing was the closeness of the basque people, the love for their land and products and, mainly, that creativity has no limits to suprise modern times.
I love keeping my memory fresh, where those moments are like beautiful images of a dream book. I returned to Mexico with nostalgia, the wish of making my time at San Sebastian longer and a promise made to those friends I found there: going back to that land whenever I could. Now I know that life turns out very different from what we expect and it goes by really fast. It’s been 16 years since I waved goodbye to Spain and, although I have returned, it’s never enough. In Mexico City I went as many times as I could to the restaurant Tezka to taste the menu of the grand chef Juan Mari Arzak and the last time I saw my friends from there was 6 years ago. Today I’m happy to know that finally I’ve been given the opportunity to attend for the first time to Madrid Fusion, an event that every January 7th, due to health reasons, it was impossible for me to go. I hope that this is the first time of many to come.
As leader of the SlowFood Movement of El Bajío, I believe in modernity as a path to go back to origins and I can sense that this year, Madrid Fusion will have it as a main point to find a way for balancing science and ancenstral knowledge, as Carlo Petrini said at Turin’s Terra Madre last october. By the way, I learned that Carlo will be in Madrid too.
I can feel from this Queretaro that is my home now, that Mexican cuisine is growing older and more mature in its technique, method, presentation and the way is being look from the outside. I strongly hope that this is a great opportunity for different cultures to coincide in a glorious exchange in which everyone takes home concepts as self sustainability, biodevirsity, local production, ecological gastronomists, Cero Kilometer Products, education, letting go the fragmented accumulation of knowledge and a better understanding of what it means to fully comprehend the right we all have to everything that is good and beautiful. Those subjects that now are gastronomical echoes and of great interest to everyone.