Gulliver TRAVELS to San Sebastián

The cool culinary congress inspired by Gulliver’s Travels

Diálogos de Cocina 2023

Diálogos de Cocina (Kitchen Dialogues) is an interdisciplinary congress with guts in San Sebastián that promises a unique two-day journey through gastronomic transformation

Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.

 Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift

Dedicated to dissecting gastronomy “from nose to tail”, the ninth edition of Diálogos de Cocina will take place at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastián on 13 and 14 March. This year, inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, it vows to “turn any shipwreck into a true journey”. And let’s face it, the world is a wreck right now.

Since its creation in 2007, the gastronomy biennial has been led by Andoni Luis Aduriz, the pioneering chef behind Mugaritz (the innovative Basque restaurant has two Michelin stars) and president of Euro-Toques, the only lobbying association of head chefs officially recognised by the European Commission. His unorthodox approach at Mugaritz was first inspired by four rule-breaking years at the controversial and experimental El Bulli in the 90s.

On 15 February, at the Diálogos de Cocina press event in DSpot studio in Madrid, chef Andoni was joined by a culinary supergroup that included Diego Guerrero, the sense-awakening chef behind DSTAgE, Joxe Mari Aizega, the general director of the Basque Culinary Center, and Venezuelan journalist and Diálogos coordinator, Sasha Correa.

Opening tastebuds and minds: Joxe Mari Aizega, Diego Guerrero, Sasha Correa and Andoni Luis Aduriz

Based on the congress’ usual motto of “love, humour and joy”, they promised that this year’s edition will get to the heart of the major food issues facing society. ¡De cabo a rabo! (from nose to tail, or from end to end) is their clear statement of intent to cover all areas of gastronomy.

Eating is anything but a harmless act, it has consequences. Look at what we take for granted. Rename things, remember and explore from scratch.

Sasha Correa

Diálogos de Cocina gastronomic congresses are always unique, as you can tell by the fact that this year is inspired by Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726). In the (mis)adventure story, food plays into the idea that Gulliver holds all of the power over his ‘captors,’ as the Lilliputians (in the land of Lilliput) continue feeding him despite the fact that his significantly larger appetite “might cause a famine”. At the end of it all, Gulliver returns home from his travels in a state of wisdom, purged and matured by his experiences.

A colour print from an 1860s edition of Gulliver’s Travels

Correa says that questions will be raised that allow us to address the challenge of multiculturalism, of coexistence within difference and integration, “as Gulliver did the day he had to return home”.

The quirky Diálogos de Cocina graphics

Over the two-day congress, producers, consumers, educators, researchers and entrepreneurs will reflect on the past, present and future of food, to inspire debate and collaborations and fertilise the ground for transformation. At TOPIA, we love a mashup, so appreciate that Diálogos mixes professionals from the food sector with great minds from other disciplines such as sports, the arts, music, literature, activism and architecture

As usual, the programme promises to provoke questions “like those asked by children, the outspoken or even drunkards” – apparently naive, but powerful enough to get to the point: How does climate change help us understand the price of olive oil? If we dissect the kitchen as if it were a fish, would we know how to take advantage of its bones? At a table, does the end always justify the means? What is haute cuisine for? Do you know what tokenism is?

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One thing that is clear is that in order to contribute new visions and moments of shared reflections, there are many “melons to open” inside as much as outside of the strict space of the kitchen and the restaurant. “Abrir melones” is a tasty Spanish idiom that means opening a melon as we would a can of worms.

“We talk about old rules for new needs,” said Guerrero in reference to haute cuisine.

Gastronomy, far from being an area linked only to haute cuisine, is today a broad ecosystem, a transforming movement.

Joxe Mari Aizega

The essentials for 2023

For two days, the Basque Culinary Center auditorium will become the epicenter of a large programme of talks and round tables within themed blocks, with the central elements being creativity, diversity, memory, sustainability and generational change. 

The ‘Gulliver’s Tastebuds’ section will bring together Mexican chronicler, Juan Villoro, who is one of the most recognised writers in Latin America; culinary activist and consultant, Jenny Dorsey, who will cover equity, diversity and inclusion challenges to challenge status quo; ​​Roberto Olabe, the sports director of the Real Sociedad de Fútbol; and British journalist and researcher, Dan Saladino, presenter of The Food Programme on BBC radio and author of the wondrous book, Eating to Extinction. Expect topics such as gender equality, challenging collective intelligence and, of course, food extinction.

In the ‘What is haute cuisine for?’ section, it’s over to chef Andoni with sociologist and academic, Iñaki Martínez de Albéniz; earth-defending new Michelin star winner, Edorta Lamo (ARREA!); and chefs Samy Ali (Döppelganger), Vicky Sevilla (the youngest chef to win a Michelin star, at Arrels), Ángel León (the “sea chef” behind Aponiente) and Dabiz Munoz (the “enfant terrible of the Spanish cooking scene” behind DiverXO).

‘From the rural to the urban’ will address the rural issue from different perspectives thanks to top chefs Lucía Freitas (A Tafona) who is behind Amas da Terra, which gives a voice to the women who support gastronomy; ethnographer Eugenio Monesma, a director with more than 40 years experience documenting traditions of popular gastronomy and lost trades; veterinarian, poet and essayist, María Sánchez, author of Tierra de Mujeres (Land of Women), and conscious cooking recipe and music-lover Claudia Polo (Soul in the Kitchen).

Meanwhile, ‘Love the kitchen’ will bring together Jon Maya, the founder of the award-winning dance company Kukai Dantza; chef Maria Nicolau (El Ferrer de Tall), author of the book Cocina o barbarismochef/restaurateur Nino Redruello, and Borja Insa, the author of his own language in cocktails.

Finally, a quirky travel section will feature Erik Harley, the Catalan artist behind #pormishuevismo, an avant-garde artistic movement that aims to demolish, theoretically and irreverently, national architectural displays in “a delirious cacophony of superlative skyscrapers, economic miracles, dreams of the future and the occasional roundabout”; and BRAVA, a performative DJ who has played at festivals like Sónar and Primavera Sound.

How to get tickets 

Join TOPIA on the boat and be Gulliver for two days. Tickets are €200 from the Diálogos de Cocina website. Check out the full programme.

In addition to attendance to the event, the ticket includes lunch and dinners with speakers and attendees. Monday is at Zelaia de Hernani – one of the best cider houses in the Basque Country – and Tuesday night is all about the after party and feast with live music at chef Andoni’s latest opening, Muka.

Diálogos de Cocina is organised by the Basque Culinary Center, Mugaritz and Euro Toques España, with the support of HAZI and the Department of Economic Development, Sustainability and Environment of the Basque Government; Tourism of Diputación de Gipuzkoa; San Sebastián City Council and San Sebastián Turismo.

What’s so good about this?

As Dan Saladino says: “We should be using the best science to unravel traditional food systems and crops because they kept humans alive for thousands of years and did so in greater harmony with nature, and were more beneficial on every environmental and nutritional measure.” All talks and round tables will be available on the Diálogos de Cocina website.

lisa goldapple mind blown

Meet the writer

This was written by TOPIA editor Lisa Goldapple – inspired by a piece by elBullifoundation collaborator Claudia González Crespo for Hule y Mantel, a unique Barcelona-based Spanish food newspaper that sees gastronomy as cultural heritage.

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