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20 July 2009

Ferran Adrià, author

In the past year I've been to two events where Ferran Adrià was speaking, both associated with book launches.  First promoting A Day at elBulli and more recently for Food for Thought. Thought for Food.  

According to Amazon there are three more Adrià related books due out before the end of the year: Modern Gastronomy (with a foreword by Harold McGee), he has written a foreword for the latest Maze book and he's featured in Coco, the latest in the Phaidon 10x10 series.

It seems uncontroversial to suggest that Adrià has morphed into a man of letters.  Yet I can't really find any reference to it.  Whilst there has been a lot of excitement regarding Adria's move into the art world, his appearance at Documenta 12 was the genesis of Food for Thought, no-one has attributed any significance to this urge to write.

He might be writing so prolifically because the money can't hurt and anything that extends the brand helps.  Adrià has form for such initiatives.

Then again, it could be that he feels a need to get his thoughts down on paper and it seems equally uncontroversial to say that much of what he has to say is interesting.

I'm thoroughly enjoying the Food for Thought, although I don't think it answers the question over whether food at elBulli is art, because it ties itself in knots trying to decide what art is.  It is a textbook on elBulli more than anything else.  It tries to encapsulate the history and DNA of the restaurant and therefore Adrià himself. 

I find the the photos of all the dishes ever made at elBulli from 1987 to 2007, fascinating, as are the various timelines in the book.  One shows the progression of Western haute-cuisine generally, another how techniques and recipes have developed at elBulli over the years. 

The transcripts of the roundtables with Heston Blumenthal, Carsten Holler, Adrian Searle and Bill Buford amongst others give an insight into how those with a unique perspective, chefs, authors, curators, artists, regard eating his food.  These discussions are important because whilst there may not be agreement on whether or not his food is art, it clearly is not prosaic and therefore deserves some analysis. 

In addition to the writing, Adrià has actively encouraged debate around his food.  The first of the two events I mentioned above was a full house at the Royal Festival Hall, the second was a panel discussion followed by luvvie party.  The point of both was to get the audience thinking and engaging with Ferran.

Whilst we're used to seeing our chefs on TV, or in bookstores, hardly any of them seem to engage in this way.  There are examples of chefs with blogs, or très a la mode on Twitter, but to me this doesn't count.  Compared to what Adrià seems to be doing it is marketing not education.

Adrià clearly is influenced from all around and the discussions and roundtables are another facet of his ongoing education.  It feels that the books are a way to codify what would otherwise be a jumble of ideas, discussion and snippets of knowledge.

I know I might be giving Adrià's intentions far more credit than they're due.  I know that many are sceptical about his food.  I know that his food is not for daily consumption - I've never consumed it and am unlikely to - but his ideas are important.  And books are the home for ideas. So I await his next outpourings with interest. 

I hope that other chefs and cooks start writing about their thoughts, rather than just pumping out more recipes.  Heston has come out of the blocks at a roaring pace.  But I feel very strongly that this space should not just be owned by the great culinary innovators.  I'm thinking more along the lines of the essays in Giorgio Locatelli's Made in Italy as an initial template.  I'd particularly relish hearing more from Shaun Hill or Rowley Leigh.  Cooks with exceptional experience of their craft (or is it art?) and who have something to add to the debate and as with any debate, will in return learn and benefit from what they hear.

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The Clatter of Spoons and Forks, Richard Corrigan

@eatnow I take it that is a recommendation for Richard's book, that it fulfils the criteria I set about above? If so, I've heard good things but haven't read it.

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