One of the great ironies about working in a professional kitchen is that, when the Big Show comes to town, you don't get a chance to get out there and pay a visit. And shows don't come much bigger in the hospitality industry than Alimentaria - the most important annual food exhibition in Iberia and one of the world's leading hospitality industry shows.
Held in Lisbon last year, this time it was the turn of Barcelona to host Alimentaria. With 4,300 food and drink exhibitors and 152,000 professional buyers and general visitors including some 50,000 from outside Spain, you'd have had to be on a serious diet last week not to have noticed that Alimentaria '08 was in town. And while everyone else had fun, we had all the stress with a full dining room twice a day all week at Comerç 24. Such is life!
Estimated to have generated some 167m euros worth of business, the massive event was segmented into 13 different halls, each with its own dedicated show: Congelexpo frozen products, Expobebidas soft drinks and beers, Expoconser fish and vegetable preserves, Intercarn meat & allied products, Interlact: milk & dairy products, Olivaria: olive oil, Interpesca seafood & farmed fish products, Intervin wines & spirits, Multiproducto general food products, Mundidulce biscuits & confectionery, Restaurama hospitality products and services, Vegefruit fresh fruit & vegetables and Ecological & Organic Food a show looking to the future and reflecting the industry's responses to increasingly ecologically concerned consumers. In addition, the Pavilion of the Autonomies displayed the produce of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities and the International Pavilion displayed the produce of foreign companies. Between the main site at the Gran Via Exhibition Centre and the Montjuic Exhibition Centre, a total exhibition area of 122,000sqm, equivalent to 30 football pitches!
Although I couldn't attend in person myself, I've had a good look around the reports of both exhibitors and visitors, including several food bloggers luckier than me. As a result, I've been able to put together a Flickr display to give you some idea what this year's show was like.
I've also found a video clip on YouTube of the Grand Final of the Chef of the Year 2008, a competition to find Spain's best up and coming young chef, which took place during the Alimentaria '08 exhibition (see right).
Photos courtesy of Barbara at vonblum, Núria at Spanish Recipes and sources including La Loca Cocina, Fresh Plaza, Gastronomía & Cía, Almada Cafe, Chefuri blog, Directo al Paladar, Agrelma, Picturesnews, Bloc-O, Serra & Silva, Spanish Recipes, La Cocina de Auro, Gotuj się!, Cuenca News, Juan Marblaz, Cristina Mutiu and Rafael Lacb. Video courtesy of VelSid.
Maybe I'll get a chance to attend next year, when Alimentaria is due back in Lisbon.
Postscript: It took me a few days to put this report together and only after I posted it this morning did I read the announcements about the winner of the Chef Of The Year competition. Many thanks to Galicia Gastrónomica, Grupo Adolfo, El Aderezo, Paparevivir and Gastronomía & Cía for the additional information and pictures.
First place went to the only female finalist in the field of eight young Spanish chefs: 26-year-old Beatriz Sotelo, co-proprietor of Restaurante A Estación in Cambre, A Coruña. Although the iconic Mey Hoffman was on the judging panel along with other leading chefs including Martín Berasategui, Jordi Cruz and Rafa Morales, Spain (like Britain) still lags behind many other countries in terms of women breaking into the upper echelons of hospitality. And as a gallega (from Galicia), Beatriz Sotelo is not exactly from the most gastronomically fashionable end of the country either. So it was a fantastic result for the winner, for Galicia and for Spanish cooking as a whole. The competitors were given five hours to prepare a three course meal for no more than €13. Beatriz's winning menu, rooted firmly in Galician provincial cooking, comprised a cannelloni of pheasant with seasonal mushrooms, roasting juices & truffle to start, Celeiro hake with green peppers and lemon pil-pil to follow and an almond, apple and grape dessert.