Editorial Feature

The Future of Spanish Gastronomy

Food critic José Carlos Capel on what the future holds for Spanish haute cuisine

Spanish cuisine has experienced two revolutions in the last 40 years and continues to evolve rapidly, changing all the time. A glimpse of the future suggests a natural transition into unknown — but undoubtedly promising — territory. On a daily basis, Spanish chefs continue to open up new pathways alongside those already trodden, aware that they are part of a constantly changing world. Avant-garde Spanish cuisine is now old news, and we hardly even bat an eyelid at the colossal technical legacy of Ferrán Adrià and his techno-conceptual cooking. And yet there is talk of reviving and updating old recipes in order to keep moving forward. With that, we are coming to the quite sudden realization that the world of haute cuisine is beginning to change.

Dish by Rodrigo de la Calle from El Invernadero restaurant in Madrid (From the collection of Real Academia de Gastronomia)

For some time now, Spanish chefs have become increasingly concerned with the quality of produce and its traceability, not only in terms of where it comes from, but also the way in which it was produced. New concepts are springing up from a number of directions that are affecting the very basis of cooking: methods, "product-based" cuisine, the preparation of certain sauces, the importance placed on proteins, and the unexplored universe of textures. The once unshakeable foundations of Spanish cuisine are now beginning to crumble.

Azurmendi , the restaurant of Eneko Atxa was chosen as the most sustainable in the world in both 2014 and 2018 (From the collection of Real Academia de Gastronomia)

Similarly, and seemingly without warning, haute cuisine is starting to concern itself with ideas that were previously outside of its remit. The slogan "waste not, want not" — the idea that food should never be thrown away — has become a new religion for influential chefs. This concern has been taken up by Big Data through apps that put restaurants, supermarkets, and other places that market and sell food in contact with groups that need it the most. Another issue weighing down on the hospitality industry today, in addition to its refusal to waste food, is the need to save energy. We are now exploring the idea of sustainability, and the standards soon to be set by energy-efficient restaurants that are committed to climate change and the environment, in the collective fight to reduce carbon footprints.

The third concern at the moment is to "turn the tide on plastic." Scientists are standing up to the seemingly unstoppable threat permeating our lives: the microplastics that are contaminating fish and shellfish in our seas and oceans. This not a latent threat but a real one, which must be tackled through the proper management of plastics derived from petroleum.

As if that wasn't enough, Spanish haute cuisine is also adapting rapidly to the latest technological advances. Besides Big Data, there are Bidi codes, which offer access to the secrets of recipes and their ingredients. Then there is the unstoppable and all-encompassing process of digitization (a new tool for the hospitality industry), and artificial intelligence as a source of creativity to support and guide the most curious of chefs (as demonstrated by IBM's new Chef Watson model). This whirlwind of current trends is also characterized by the influence of social media, with legions of new consumers in different realms exchanging information through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. In other words, the power of images and communication has become an additional outreach tool in the culinary world.

Dish for flexitarians from the restaurant Flax & Kale's, in Barcelona (From the collection of Real Academia de Gastronomia)

For Spanish haute cuisine, the future is full of new codes and languages that await it in the changing landscape. Would anyone dare to play down the unstoppable rise of plant-based foods and the boom in healthy cooking? Society's demand for these options is now inescapable, as a result of the torrent of food intolerances and allergies affecting an increasing number of people. Whether due to needs or trends, the future is likely to see increasing numbers of flexible vegetarians— or flexitarians, to use the term coined by the restaurant Flax and Kale. Now there is even vegan haute cuisine. It's no longer enough to observe some of the still-relevant principles of nouvelle cuisine, such as shorter cooking times and lighter sauces; the new creations of haute-cuisine are seeking balance.

A number of questions are being asked in this rapidly changing world. What does the future hold for Spanish haute cuisine? How will restaurants evolve? Will we continue to promote and elevate the concept of tapas, which is more a way of life than a style of food?

Optimism, creativity, and the desire to excel are the driving forces behind Spanish cuisine— a gastronomy that has not stopped evolving in recent years and has become one of the most influential in the world.

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