2008 NYC Wine & Food Fest: TimesTalk with Ferran Adrià and Anthony Bourdain

Famed chefs Anthony Bourdain and Ferran Adrià in one place? Where do I sign up?! Sadly, unless you were really on top of things and ordered your tickets to Saturday’s TimesTalk super early, you may have missed out on Eric Asimov’s chat with Bourdain and Adrià. Tickets to ‘A Revolution of Food’ sold out in record time, but luckily, your favorite Daily Blender blogger had her name at the top of the waiting list and shimmied in just as the talk was about to begin.

Chef Ferran Adrià is one of the world’s culinary leaders in ‘avant-garde’ cooking. Since the age of 18, Adrià has been making waves as head chef at Spain’s legendary El Bulli, expanding the creativity and innovation of each culinary dish in his kitchen. Utilizing syringes, nitrogen, and other assorted unconventional techniques, Ferran Adrià has pushed the limits of food since day one at El Bulli. Restaurant magazine has even named it the best restaurant in the world a record four times (2002, 2006, 2007, 2008).

Touring with Phaidon to promote his first book in English,  A Day at El Bulli, Ferran Adrià sat down with New York Times chief wine critic Eric Asimov and El Bulli documentarian Anthony Bourdain, to talk about his gastronomic innovations.

“Ideally, I’d like to cook for you all,” Adrià began to explain through his interpreter. Instead, the crowd had to settle for a beautiful viewing of two of El Bulli’s dedicated customers enjoying a meal at the famed restaurant. From the joyous smile on the woman’s face to the expressive eyes of her dining companion as they took each bite, you could tell it was meal to be savored. With seventy staff members for only fifty diners, there is a great attention to detail, obvious in the short film clip. “Cuisine is a language. When you cook, you’re creating a dialogue with the diners,” he noted.

“I think you’re the only person who has dined with me at El Bulli,” Ferran comments to Tony, who’s 2006 documentary, Decoding Ferran Adrià, tracks Ferran’s culinary process at El Bulli.

“The restaurant is very comforting,” Bourdain responds, “It’s a succession of dishes and surprises. But it’s like Eric Clapton seeing Jimi Hendrix play guitar. You come out thinking, ‘What do I do now?'” It’s the responsibility of the diner, he notes, to arrive for dinner at El Bulli with an ‘open mind, open heart, and a sense of humor’.

“A meal at El Bulli is like a film in which I want to establish a dialogue with the diner,” Ferran Adrià interjects. “It’s one thing to have a dialogue [about avant-garde cuisine] but it’s another thing for people to understand.”

Awarded four Michelin stars over the years, El Bulli, only open six months a year, has a menu that changes with each season. What’s the process like to develop new dishes each time? “It’s like standing in a room with forty paintings. Starting on June 15th of each year, we take down the first painting and replace it individually, and you continue in this manner. If I kept the menu the same each time, why bother going back to work?”

On developing his own culinary style:
“Imagine you needed to create a language. The first thing you would do is create an alphabet. From there, you can create words, sentences, poems, novels.”

On creativity and cooking:
“I think the first amendment of a creative person is to change and evolve. There are many different ways of cooking many different ways of being a chef, and I respect them all.”

On fellow chefs attempting to emulate El Bulli:
“There are people who try to copy who are not doing it well, but there are also people who make bad pizzas.”

On the future of avant-garde techniques being used by home chefs:
“Without a doubt. Ten years ago the discussion of avant-garde cuisine didn’t exist. Who knows what we’ll see in [the next] ten years.”

~Jennifer Heigl

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