Fernando Salazar started getting involved with Spanish tapas 15 years ago as VP of F&B of Omni Hotels and Resorts. He developed an annual international gastronomic trip for chefs and Food and Beverage directors of Omni Hotels. The first year consisted of a 10-day trip to Italy, followed by Spain the following year. It was 2004 when Fernando’s love for the world of Spanish gastronomy and with its iconic dish – Tapas – truly took form. 

What is a Tapa?

This definition must first be defined: what is a tapa?  The concept has been bastardized by many chefs by creating dishes that are not a “traditional tapa”. A true tapa should not be larger than 2-3 small bites and preferably something that can be easily picked with one’s fingers and eaten without the assistance of a fork or knife or spoon. Many restaurants outside Spain that supposedly specialize in tapas consist of a dish that is 5-6 bites that needs fork and knife to eat it. That is not a tapa, period! 

The First National Tapas Competition in Spain

Coincidentally, 2004 was also the first year of the National Tapas Competition, celebrated in the city of Valladolid, capital of Castilla y Léon. This area is known to be the largest Autonomous Region of Spain (Regions are to Spain what States are to the USA). Over 50 Spanish chefs compete for the title of the Best Tapa and the prestige that goes with the award.

Fernando Salazar’s involvement started with a simple invitation to be a guest judge of the annual competition. Fast forward a few years later, he proposed to the government to do an International Tapas Competition. After some back and forth, the International Tapas Competition for Culinary Students was born. The goal was to put Valladolid and Spanish tapas on the world map by bringing future chefs of the world to compete with the most recognized Spanish dish.

With city government approval in 2009, the first ever International Tapas Competition for Culinary Students from around the world was born. Each year, 15 culinary students were invited to participate. The competition was so successful that it was covered by the international press, including the New York Times, The Telegraph of London, Le Monde of Paris plus press from Italy, Mexico, Israel, Ireland and New Zealand.

From Students to Chefs

Due to the incredible success of the event during its first 8 years, Salazar worked with the city to transform the competition to include professional chefs from around the world. So, in 2017, the first ever World Tapas Competition came to life. Invitations were sent to 15 chefs from all five continents. To this group we add the winner of the National Tapas Competition from the previous year to represent Spain. 

In the meantime, Salazar worked to form e-Spain; a company that specializes in international culinary competitions and in creating opportunities for culinary students by offering them internships in top Michelin-Star Spanish restaurants. Through e-Spain, also grew the International Tapas Competition of Australasia as well as the First Tapas Competition of Ecuador. The winners of those competitions represent their country in the World Tapas Competition. 

Creation of the International Black Truffle Competition

To further opportunities for budding chefs, Salazar worked with the government of the Region of Castilla y Léon to create the International Black Truffle Competition in 2017. The competition encourages young culinary students to participate. Therefore, each of the 15 chefs that are invited to this competition, must bring along a culinary student to form a team and represent their country. This competition is held every other year. The Third International Black Truffle Competition will take place in December of 2021.

What’s Next for the World of Tapas

Argentina Winning Tapa

Argentina winning tapa from Fourth World Tapas Competition 2020

Coming soon is the First International Tapas Competition of The Americas. Participants will represent every country in North, Central and South America plus the Caribbean. The top 15 entries will be invited to the finals in Ecuador and the top 3 chefs of the competition will represent their countries in the Fifth World Tapas Competition. 

Fernando Salazar encourages the learning of young culinarians while challenging existing chefs to create recipes from their own region.  His goal is to bring the expansiveness of tapas to every corner of the world.  A fun factoid: One may assume with all this history and knowledge about the world of Spanish Tapas that Salazar is from Spain.  But he is a naturalized USA citizen born in Ecuador.