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25 November 2008

A night with Ferran Adrià

This is cross-posted on The Guardian's Word of Mouth blog. The post over there also includes a video of Jay Rayner with Ferran Adrià.  I seem to be unable to embed it here, but here is the link.

It would be trite and a little too convenient to describe Ferran Adrià as "...a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Nonetheless, there is something about the man that is hard to pin down. It's not just that he's chef patron of elBulli, repeatedly ranked the world's number 1 restaurant, you want to know more. Can all the hype be true? I wasn't the only one hungry for answers. Over 900 of us filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night to hear him interviewed by Jay Rayner.

The premise for the London visit is Adrià's new book A Day at elBulli and except for the gratuitous flogging and signing at the end (I succumbed), the book didn't make much of an appearance. If there was a theme to the evening, it was that Adrià was at pains to make clear that what he does is no more scientific than almost any other cooking.

He kept referring to a new language and that to create a new language you need a new alphabet, new grammar, new tools and processes. He argues that his style of cooking is this new language and that, with every new technique, he's building up the alphabet.

He once again refuted that his style of cooking, or that of Heston Blumenthal, could be described as Molecular Gastronomy. Instead, he was keen to demonstrate that his food had deep roots. He argued that his cooking is a progression from the food and culinary techniques most of us practice at home. He clearly sees progress as vital, but is desperate that it isn't seen as elitist.

During the evening he showed a series of videos demonstrating his techniques. One of the most popular was the combination of coconut milk, a Thermomix, a syringe, a kids balloon (blue) and the obligatory iSi whip. The result - a coconut made of coconut milk - sounds a bit flat in black and white, but looked stunning on the screen. As did an espuma stuffed tomato juice balloon and the jelly and sorbet strawberries which, though they sound horrific, looked outstanding.

And that's the risk with his type of food. It often sounds and even looks ridiculous and so it is an easy target for the critics, but as Adrià pointed out, there are many horrendous mistakes made with pizzas and omelettes and these rarely warrant column inches. He argued that chefs who wanted to experiment shouldn't worry about mistakes as long as they remained "humble and honest".

He was into his humility. He seemed to get dewy eyed reminsicing about his lunch today at Manze's. Yes, that Manze's, the pie and Mash shop. It turns out an Evening Standard journalist thought it would be a good idea to take him there. He described Manze's as "fantastic" because of its honesty and history (if Manze's have a PR team, this has got to be their wet dream.)

So all in all, it was a great evening. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Adrià came across as warm and humourous, even in translation, and yes, very intense. He clearly feels the focus on the science is a distraction and wants people to understand what lies behind his food. I think he did a great job of explaining that. Then again, from the repeated moans and groans of pleasure at the videos, he may well have been preaching to the converted.

There was a Q&A session at the end. I was tempted to ask a question but frankly felt a little intimidated. I had two thoughts on my mind. First, what impact would the economic downturn have? Second, where was he having dinner afterwards? I've no idea his thoughts on the first question. As for the latter, the bigwigs at Phaidon, his publisher, took him to The Wolseley. I hope he had a better time than others have recently. I'm not sure where in London I'd take the world's greatest chef. If he hadn't had eels for lunch, possibly The Golden Hind or St John?

Where would you take Ferran Adrià for dinner?


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Check out the video footage from Ferran Adria’s “A Day at elBulli” book tour in NYC - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_osiPxpXDNE

Kelley, thanks for that I hadn't seen the video before. There are other videos I've linked to in my liveblog above that are worth checking out - such as him at Google.

I'd take him to 'Saf'.

I'd take him to the Stockpot on Old Compton. All the honesty he could want plus lashings of local Soho colour :)

@Douglas & Jeanne - you're both just mean ;)

lol stockport...cheap as chips and definitely very colourful but maybe I'd take him for dim sum at Laureat in Chinatown. I like the variety but i don't think there are very many places that would impress him in London.

I've been trying to book ElBulli for 3 years now so I could bring my mum but now it seems that I'll never get a seating there! Any ideas Anthony?

@Anthony - Yes, but the colour suits us :o)

Been trying to link to this post from mine, but the permalink does not work :( I think the grave accent freaks out the system. Can you edit your URLs??

@Michelle, I've never had any luck either so have no special insight. I think the book gives suggestions, such as be relatively specific on dates rather than say "I'll come whenever you'll have me."

@Jeanne, I can but I've got a feeling I'll bugger things up for others if I do. How about using the link from Word of Mouth?

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