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TAPAS -- Spanish food design exhibition -- thrills visitors

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Washington, D.C. --- Watch out Ikea and Martha Stewart! A popular new exhibition at the former Spanish ambassador’s residence has Washingtonians raving about Spanish culture and food design.

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The exhibition, TAPAS. Spanish Design for Food, organized by Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) and SPAIN arts & culture, features more than 200 objects and instruments, videos, photographs and installations to explore the interaction between design and gastronomy, two creative disciplines enjoying a boom in Spain and currently achieving international acclaim.

Curated by designer and architect Juli Capella, TAPAS showcases imagination and talent targeting the taste buds, where design and haute cuisine go hand in hand. Spanish chefs, designers, architects, wineries and restaurants reflect the last 25 years of Spain’s avant-garde experimental blending of design and food. Legendary culinary icons from Spain are also featured, including the paella pan, traditional wineskins and flasks, the bota, botijo and porrón.

“This exhibition is a tribute to the origins of the word Tapa,” Capella explained. Tapa, he notes, also means lid in Spanish. It was derived from the ancient custom to cover (tapar) a glass of wine with a slice of bread or chilled meat to keep out dust and insects.

During the turn of this century, Capella observes, Spain has led a bold, avant-garde experiment: combining high cuisine with high design. Culinary creations are matched to their containers, thus going beyond raw ingredients and cooking. This Spanish revolution fosters the partnership between chef and designer, he says.

The Tapas’ tradition best exemplifies Spain’s true social nature. When a group of friends comes together at a table to taste portions of widely varying flavors, it’s more than just a way to enjoy food -- it’s also a great way to share an experience. This is Spain’s message to today’s world: to bring people together for real social interactions by enjoying Tapas.

José Andrés, the master chef and Tapas ambassador in the United States, has been the chef adviser for this exhibition. For the past 21 years he has been championing this healthy and tasty way of eating in a fun context.

Andrés is a great promoter of Spanish design, upholding a creative and pioneering approach in his restaurants. He claims that “working with the best ingredients is how we create an astonishing dish. But in order to create a memorable experience, the best elements of design, from the kitchen, to the table, to the plate, all must come together to tell an exciting story.”

This philosophy reflects in the redesign of Andrés’ Jaleo restaurants in Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, recently developed by Capella, who has also designed other Andrés’ restaurant concepts such as Jaleo Las Vegas, minibar and Mi Casa.

Capella further emphasizes the role that design plays in this exhibition, and in Spain’s culinary trends: “In a world without design, we would be sitting naked on the ground. There would be no tables and no chairs. No cameras or wristwatches. Design is synonymous with progress. As our different cultures engage in more permanent contact and we are all influenced by each other, the distinctive features of geographical design by countries or regions are melting away in our inter-connected world. Unlike languages [Spanish vs. English, for example], design is like music: a universal idiom.”

The exhibition features products designed by Spaniards, even if produced in another country, along with items made in Spain by foreign designers. TAPAS offers a contemporary and cutting-edge perspective via a number of designs produced exclusively for leading restaurants such as elBulli, El Celler de Can Roca (named the best restaurant in the world in 2013) and Mugaritz.

The exhibition is organized by Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) and SPAIN arts & culture with the support of the Embassy of Spain in Washington, D.C. and the Spain-USA Foundation.

Related events surrounding the exhibition have been extremely popular. Check the TAPAS website for details, but do not be surprised if they're all booked!

Regardless, the exhibition is free and open to the public at the former residence of the ambassadors of Spain, 2801 16th St NW, through March 23, 2014. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.