The Umami Information Center goes to Spain
Every European country builds up excellent culinary culture. Among them, Spanish chefs are in high reputation for their innovativeness. Last autumn, the Umami Information Center made the first step to disseminate UMAMI in Spain.
Ⅰ. First stop: BARCELONA
①Casa Asia in Barcelona
Kumiko Ninomiya director of the UIC and Ana San Gabriel as a scientific affairs representative went to Barcelona (Spain) last November to spread the word of umami and teach the bases of Japanese stock and its history. The team of Casa Asia in Barcelona led by the General Technical Coordinator Elvira Sanchez Mateos and the Director of East-West Dialogue Rafael Bueno welcomed and supported the UIC talk at the Modernist building of Palau Baro de Quadras, which is a Historical Monument of National Interest. During the seminar, a varied audience of around sixty had the opportunity to see a video about professor Kikunae Ikeda, taste and smell kombu, dry bonito flakes (katsuobushi), and shiitake dashi, learn about different qualities of kombu, and experienced the dried bonito shaver. There was also tasting of Iberico ham from the company Iberselec Montanchez, a traditional umami rich Spanish food, thanks to the generosity of Javier Esparza, counselor of this company. The audience was surprised to learn that there are proteins in vegetables and ham and kombu stock share the same umami taste. At the end there was some confusion between umami taste and glutamate safety.
②UIC at the University of Ramon Llul
This private university was founded in 1990 on the name of the Catalan philosopher Ramon Llul who lived in the 13th century. Although young, this institution is already consolidated as the best private university in Spain. The Faculty of Science and Health Blanquerna is dedicated to teaching Nutrition and Health Science. They opened generously their doors to UIC and gave us direct access to their students. This event could be organized thanks to the coordination of its Director and renowned Spanish nutritionists Maria Jose Rosello and her team of specialists. Ana San Gabriel discussed the importance and physiological functions of umami taste after the presentation of the pediatrician Fumio Endo from the School of Medicine of Kumamoto University. He is a supporter of breast feeding and knowledgeable of the presence of umami in breast milk.
Ⅱ. SAN SEBASTIAN
UIC and Gastronomika
Gastronomika is a culinary fair that during three days presents the best of the Basque and international cooking. San Sebastian, which has more Michelin-starred restaurants per person than any other city in the world, is the stage of this fair. More than 1600 people have the chance to learn from celebrity or young chefs, altogether in a large stage and giant TV screens. Besides the always protagonists Ferran Adria, Carme Ruscalleda, Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, Joan Roca or Martin Berasategui, New York was the star of Gastronomika 2010. David Chang, Daniel Boulud, Anthondy Bourdain, David Bouley, Wylie Dufresne, Colman Andrews, Thomas Keller, and Drew Nieporent held the leading role of this fair. Of special interest for us was the presentation of David Chang who brought his own made dried pork meat as a substitute for the dried bonito that is not available in America.
The UIC objective was to expand its existence and introduce the word "Umami" to an audience still unfamiliar with the fifth taste. Although Japanese cuisine is not estrange to Gastronomika, presentations from chefs have been translated literally so that "Umami" is either savory --gustoso-- or delicious --rico sabor-- not "Umami." We hope that with our contribution food lovers recognize that umami is not a product, not a kind of food but a basic taste.
Outside of the cooking stage, Gastronomika has a large surface with food exhibitors: Iberian cured ham, coffee, wine, chocolate, mushrooms... and UIC. Many approached the booth looking for foods, something to eat, and we gave them umami, a concept. Most have never heard of this word and stop with curiosity, others came knowing who we were and wanting more detailed information.
UIC special lecture
We held a lecture for umami aficionados, young chefs, food writers, besides some general public, in which Kumiko Ninomiya spoke in English and Ana San Gabriel translated her presentation using the word "Umami" intentionally. We presented umami foods and their content of glutamate and ribonucleotides, with special emphasis in Spanish ingredients. Testing consisted on ripe tomatoes and Iberian cured ham from Iberselec Montanchez, which newly joined in UIC as a supporting corporate member, specially cut by Nico who visited UIC last year. Umami is very easy to identify in this particular ham because of its high glutamate content and the impressive ability of Nico to cut thin slices, which give the best taste to the ham. The audience of 24 were motivated to understand umami taste and its properties so the discussion continue long after finishing the lecture.