Madrid Fusion in Bogota– Food Critic Workshop
“It’s about the people. The best part of our job is that we get to discover other cultures, people, and philosophies”.
Those words show part of what motivates José Carlos Capel and Julia Perez Lozano, two of Spain’s most renowned food critics. Visiting Bogota in May 2013 for their Food Critic Training sessions, they spoke to journalists, editors, chefs and others in the food industry about the challenges they’ve faced and the role of food critics.
And they know what they’re talking about. Mr. Capel is president of Madrid Fusion, member of the Spanish Gastronomical Academy, professor at the Universidad Menendez (Spain), food critic for the Spanish El País newspaper and author of 48 books about culinary topics. Ms. Perez has also been producing award-winning food writing for decades, and teaches contemporary cooking at the University of Barcelona.
In the midst of informal banter between the two, insight and tips were given on writing about food.
A little bit about the past… and the future
They briefly covered the history of fine cooking, starting with the cuisine of the French courts and then nouvelle cuisine. The conversation got interesting when they jumped to a discussion of “el iluminado – realmente, el loco” (the illuminated one, or just the crazy one) – Ferran Adria.
In the beginning Mr. Adria was just copying French food. They quoted him as saying, “Crear es no copiar” (Creating means not copying). So he closed the books and invented his own style. In the beginning it wasn’t easy, but he kept working hard. Even if he had to give the food away, he couldn’t stop cooking – the passion didn’t let him. And along the way he changed everything.
Mr. Capel and Ms. Perez continued with an examination of new trends such as restaurants with themes, nomadic cooks, private kitchens, dining at a chef’s house and pop up restaurants. A new concept of luxury is food bars with chefs who serve tables and interact with the diners.
Tablecloths and more elegant dining are a thing of the past. Now what’s trending are the youthful, simple places that are simply concentrating on making good food. They mentioned two restaurants here in Bogota that are doing just that – Mini-mal and Suburbio.
Focusing on the fact that restaurants are changing, they commented, “Everything’s changing. There are new parameters of luxury. What is luxury in a certain restaurant? It could be the light, or space, and those things can have tremendous value. The music also makes a big difference.”
And they stressed this point of view: The future of vanguard cooking is here, in Latin America.
How to report on the restaurant
“You don’t go to a restaurant because you’re hungry; you go because you’re looking for experiences. Experience is important even when the food isn’t. It’s not just about eating well. They should steal your heart. They should take you to another dimension”.
And they supplied a word of warning about chefs. “Chefs try to fool critics” by serving food that the typical client wouldn’t get. “You want to report on what the customer will get at the restaurant when he goes”. Mr. Capel recommends visiting the restaurant twice, though that can be impossible when travelling.
They commented on the importance of being kind to restaurants. The goal is not to destroy them. Though sometimes, as Mr. Capel says, “I do have a go at the important people, the ones that are charging 60 euros a plate and really are just fooling people”.
How long should a food critic wait after a restaurant is open to visit? The reality is that sometimes simply because it’s new you have to go right away.
Ms. Perez added to that point: “They’re just starting up but they’re open and charging customers. So they should be ready for the criticism. What a restaurant can do is open up by stages. If things aren’t working well yet, they should give a discount.” So in her opinion a restaurant critic should visit as soon as a restaurant is open because they’re open, they’re charging, and that makes them responsible to the public.
And a word on flavor…
Ms. Perez pointed out; “You want to see if the cooking has a solid foundation. A cute restaurant that isn’t good isn’t gastronomy. Flavor is the important thing. Don’t forget it.”
Factors to take into account when visiting a restaurant
Things to keep in mind:
- the ingredients
- balance in the dish
- service and staff
- ambiance and decoration
- Wines and wine service
- oil (they are Spanish, after all)
- noise level
- and my favorite point of all, the bathrooms (in Mr. Capel’s opinion, the third Michelin star is based on the state of the bathrooms).
- Of course, keep in mind that indigestion is sign of bad food, so factor that in.
Mr. Capel considers it important to rate the restaurant on a scale of 1-10. “You have to put the restaurant in its place. Don’t be quick to give them a 10, since every restaurant has a problem, a weakness”.
In all his years as a restaurant critic, Mr. Capel emphasizes; “I’ve only given one 10”.
See Part II of Madrid Fusion in Bogota – Food Critic Workshop coming out soon.
To read more about Mr. Capel and Ms. Perez’s culinary adventures, check out these blogs (in Spanish):