Highlights from Ferran Adrià's Culinary Conclave
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The 15 European and American food writers and journalists who gathered on March 29th for Ferran Adrià Culinary Conclave — held at LeDomaine, a luxury hotel in a converted monastery adjacent to the Abadía Retuerta winery in Spain's Ribera del Duero region — covered a wide range of topics in their discussions. Here are a few highlights of their remarks:
Howard Chua-Eoan, news director of Time Magazine from 2000 to 2013, and editor of the magazine's controversial "Gods of Food" section.
"I was in a car in New York with Ferran one night, and we were heading downtown, when he suddenly decided that he wanted to go to Nobu. 'Call Nobu,' he told me. I dialed the restaurant and told the young woman who answered the phone that I was with Ferran Adrià and they wanted to come for dinner. The woman had no idea who I was talking about and said a table was impossible on such short notice. 'Who are you talking to' Ferran asked me. 'The restaurant,' I said. 'No, no, no, no,' said Ferran, 'I said call Nobu. He's in Los Angeles. Here's his number.' I did and got him on the phone, and of course we got our table, and I suspect a young woman at the restaurant got a lesson."
Allen Jenkins, editor of Observer Food Monthly.
"Fish and chips is a dish from the East End of London, combining fried fish from Jewish cooking with frites brought to England by the Huguenot French. In the 1960s, there were 30,000 fish and chips shops in Britain. A chipper was the first restaurant most people went to. In 1997, chicken tikka masala, a dish unknown in India, replaced fish and chips as England's favorite food."
"In 2008, about 8,000 people in Britain ate at food banks. Last year, it was half a million. One government minister said that food banks were rising because it's free food. But in the U.K., you need a doctor's certificate stating that you cannot afford to eat in order to use a food bank, so that's obvious nonsense. The most influential figure in British food today is Jack Monroe, a left-leaning lesbian woman who feeds herself and her young son on £10 [about $16.50] a week — and that includes the cost of elecrricity for cooking!"
Anya von Bremzen, widely published food writer and author of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a memoir.
"During the recent revolution in Ukraine, they served borscht. It's the Ukrainian national dish. Then the Russians served borscht at the Olympics in Sochi, and there was a debate about who it belonged to. We should pay more attention to the political-social context for food revolutions. Nouvelle cuisine in France grew out of the events of 1968, elBulli grew out of the movida [the countercultural ferment in Spain after the death of Franco in 1975], the expansion of downtown New York as a restaurant center was fueled by Wall Street in the prosperous '80s, the 2008 economic crisis in italy prompted the return of the trattoria. And there's 9/11. Comfort food was already a trend, but 9/11 provided the legitmacy for eating mac and cheese. We should look at modern history vis à vis gastronomy."
Bill Knott, restaurant critic for The Gannet in the Financial Times and for Christie's magazine and wine columnist for The Oldie.
The early important figures in British cuisine were all French — Carême [Marie-Antoine Carême, who went to London in 1815 to cook for the Prince Regent, later King George IV], Soyer [Alexis Soyer, who was the most famous chef in Victorian London], Escoffier [Auguste Escoffier, who cooked at London's Savoy and Carlton hotels), Boulestin [Marcel Boulestin, whose restaurant in Covent Garden was highly acclaimed]. In 1937, Boulestin became the first TV chef, but there were only about 6,000 TVs in Britain at the time, and the BBC stopped transmission during World War II, and Boulestin was dead by the time the war was over."
Ryan King, Milan-based food journalist and writer for Fine Dining Lovers, an online magzine.
"I'm interested in the ways in which the dining experience has changed with technology. Technology can entertain, and can enhance flavor. Recently in London there was a dinner with fireworks that you could taste. Technology can be used for enhancing flavor or memory. Maybe one day could i capture the aroma of a dish and send it to a friend. For me 3-D printing is one of the most disruptive developments of recent years. You could print pastas in any shape, you could print sugar cubes. These things now inform and entertain, but what about using them for health? Perhaps we will have something like Google Glass to make food look bigger, trick us into thinking we have had more to eat. There are apps that change the sound of food as you chew it. Is the next thing personalization, which would allow us to sit in the same restaurant and have different experiences? How can we control all this technology?"
Ferran Adria Explains El Bulli's 50-Step Soup
Ferran Adrià's El Bulli changed the food world. Then it closed. But Adrià has found a way to bring back epic dishes like this one.
Ferran Adrià&aposs El Bulli changed the food world. Then it closed. But Adrià has found a way to bring back epic dishes like this one.
In his new seven-part book, elBulli 2005-2011, Ferran Adrià chronicles the culinary highlights of his seminal, now-shuttered restaurant on Spain&aposs Costa Brava. Each volume captures a year at El Bulli, including the key moments and techniques. The year 2008 stands out: Not only did Adrià perfect his now legendary technique of spherifying (encapsulating flavors within bubbles), he also became fascinated with Japan and natural landscapes. Adrià calls that Japanese influence "one of the characteristic features" of El Bulli. No dish exemplifies that more than his Water Lilies soup. There are 16 components, from a xantham gum–thickened floral broth (made with jasmine tea and mandarin orange blossoms, among other things) to vacuum-packed white begonia flowers and multicolored cashew "rocks" (freeze-dried fresh nut pulp). "This dish is very complex," says Adrià. "But the balance of its beauty and its nuanced flavors makes it magical."
Ferrán Adrià, culinary avant-garde
“Who is Ferrán Adrià?” you may well ask. In his own words, he’s just “a chef with a restaurant”, but this Spanish master is in fact so much more.
Here is an account of a journey of numerous sensations, pleasures and emotions. It began by getting on the motorway and heading towards Roses, a small seaside town in Catalonia, Spain, where the Pyrenees tumble into the Mediterranean Sea. It was there that I found the restaurant El Bulli, where an eccentric, dishevelled genius dressed in white emerged from his ‘laboratory’ (the kitchen) to wish us a good evening and to introduce us to the mystery that is the Adrià effect.
Curiosity and chaos without boundaries
Parmesan marshmallows, pumpkin oil caramel, oyster with its pearl, or salad of conserved meat and Cantonese crayfish… These are four of the 100 recipes concocted for this season. El Bulli is open for five months each year to cater for just 3,000 lucky diners (they receive 8,000 applications from all over the world). During the rest of the year, Adrià combines his research in the ‘Bulli workshop’ with trips, conferences, courses and collaborations with businesses.
We sit on the patio, shielded from the sun, where we watch the sea and listen to the waves. I explain to him what café babel is and he swiftly says that whilst he does feel European, cooking knows no boundaries. “Another thing”, he goes on, “is to whom you feel closest. Spain, for example, has many characteristics that are different to those of other European countries due to its close ties with Latin America. At the end of the day, we are Latinos above all else.”
“But gastronomy evolves and the geographical position of a food can change from one day to the next. Where is cannelloni from? My mother would say Catalonia!”, he says with a smile. “Borders are constantly changing and their cuisines change with them. In the kitchen, people leave their geographical affiliations behind. My kitchen’s first point of reference is the nearest: this bay. After that, the whole world.”
When El Bulli closes to the public, the research stage begins. “You have to remember that El Bulli is a place where you eat radical avant-garde food. What matters to me most is that the customer is happy, but even more than that, that I am happy.” People come to eat at this restaurant without knowing that they are going to be served the most extraordinary dishes being made in the whole world dishes that will invoke surprise, pleasure, laughter and fear.
France in the history books
Adrià considers himself heir to French nouvelle cuisine. So is it a question of France versus Spain? “France versus the world,” he corrects. “In the seventies, France revived a creative medium that was in need of complete transformation.” Spain has since taken over the mantle but it does acknowledge its priceless inheritance. He explains the difference between the two: “Nouvelle cuisine was one movement. Today there are hundreds: minimalists, naturalists, happenings, performances, live food… the real revolution is that Spain has made cooking contemporary and has attracted media interest. It now draws fondness and curiosity, it contravenes laws and it innovates. It attracts hundreds of young people who want to join in this revolution, bringing fresh ideas with them.” He goes on to say that this will result in a ‘global’ European cuisine that will differ fundamentally from Asian cooking. It will be a compilation of the heritages and movements that will survive this current revolution.
A job for long-distance runners
“Cooking is demanding work in which exigency and perfection must be served up on every plate that leaves the door.” Adrià believes that it is an understanding of these requirements and a shared perception of cooking that leads to camaraderie between colleagues in the profession. “The strange thing is that we [chefs] are more highly valued and recognised today, and we are now of interest to the media. We are approached wherever we go. We step into the arena to answer questions, to give insight into what is going on backstage, into our cooking, our recipes and restaurants. That is something that has never happened before.”
On top of that, the El Bulli chefs have annotated and documented their activities so that research and advances are not lost. “The publications have a dual purpose: the commercial purpose and the communicative, informative one.” I look surprised. He carries on, “El Bulli was not conceived to make money. It is our way of bringing ourselves closer to the rest of the world and showing off our work. We could easily auction places for the restaurant and the figures would surely be impressive…but it’s not about that. Dining here costs 150 euros and a wide variety of people come. The important thing is that we are happy with our work and that people enjoy it - not that we give in to the rules of the market or our clients’ requests. It is for that reason that the commercial element [TV appearances, cookery books, etc] that surrounds El Bulli is so important [since it finances the restaurant]. My dream is that in two or three years I’ll gradually move away from all this and become fully dedicated to my research and travel.”
When asked where he would travel, he replies without hesitation “China. The cultural exchange that [the world] is currently experiencing is unparalleled and constantly growing. Chinese cooking is an entire universe in its own right. The problem with Europe has always been its Eurocentrism. If you ask someone in the cooking business to name the best Indian or Chinese chef they have no idea, which is ridiculous as there are more than 2.5 billion people in India and China!”
At this point we enter Adrià’s kitchen, an event which I find somewhat mystical but at the same time intimidating. It is a place of multiple senses, like any of the dishes on his incredible menu. The organisation is impeccable, thirty chefs are finely tuning the Bulli engine tonight. The sound of a running motor can almost be heard amongst the bustle and the coming and going of would-be chefs from all over the world: Italians, Japanese, Brazilians, etc. The hot and cold zones, the carve-up area and the frying area… An assortment of different smells…Hhhmmm, chocolate…!
Art? Food? Emotion? This culinary phenomenon involves living and experimenting with new things, taking on the most radical avant-garde yet and eating a dish that exceeds all your expectations. Tasting this magic-show is an absolute must.
Chocolate Dirt: Is it Art or is it Dinner?
A few years back, an unknown chef, at restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, created a strange series of tableaux on his dining room tables, using tree bark, pine needles, lichens and other things normally grazed by reindeer. And so it was that in 2010 the Nordic forager René Redzepi (sounding much like an acid rock band) displaced the Spanish chemistry wizard Ferran Adria (for whom he once worked) as the world’s numero uno chef.
Since last year, molecular gastronomy hasn’t exactly evaporated, but now you might get trampled by dozens of upscale chefs who are rushing to harvest dinner from the underbrush and under rocks – or assembling dishes that looked like they might be untamed gardens. Although many chefs preceded Redzepi, dozens of acolytes are now making pilgrimages to Copenhagen for a chance to stage at his stoves.
In the US, “wildcrafting” is largely, but not entirely, a West Coast trend. Forerunner to Redzepi, Jeremy Fox created a global stir with beautifully composed plates at Ubuntu, in Napa, years ago, and Daniel Patterson at Coi in Los Angeles and David Kinch at Manresa in Los Gatos are masters of the style. You’ll find similar efforts at the restaurant McCrady’s in Charleston where chef Sean Brock lists farmers and foragers on his menu at Toqué in Montreal, where chef Normand Laprise’s website lists his kitchen staff as “artists” and its suppliers as “artisans” and at Castagna in Portland, Ore., where chef Matt Lightner, who’s been rooting around woodlands for years, produces still-lifes-with-leaves and calls them dinner.
Perhaps the most “florid” exemplar is Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco (her restaurant is subtitled “Poetic Culinaria”), whose vegetable presentations look like bonsai gardens and who claims she is reliving her childhood food memories and fantasies.
These chefs’ horticultural foodscapes appear to have been assembled with tweezers and dental instruments. Their foraged dishes might contain upwards of 20 plants and herbs, and they’re sent to your table on slabs of slate, miniature rock slides, primordial wood shapes and thrown glass instead of plates. They come with lyrical names such as Ocean Creatures and Weeds, A Walk in the Garden, Into the Vegetable Garden, Summer Bids Adieu, or Le Jardin d’Hiver.
In truth, if you substituted gems for the food, these presentations would look perfectly at home Tiffany’s display windows. Caravaggio might have painted them.
You’ll be eating roots, stems and petals of plants that used to be discarded or that you might step over on the sidewalk. One chef famously quipped, “Not the sidewalk. We’d never use stuff from there!” Which makes one wonder whether this chef has any idea what bears do in the woods.
As this trend of “food as naturalistic art” takes hold in upscale restaurants around the country, you’ll find lots of new ingredients slipping onto upscale menus: White acorns tips of fir needles “dirt” made of dried and crumbled mushrooms, pumpernickel breadcrumbs, black olives, bulgur wheat, or sprouting grains aloe vera, eucalyptus leaves, chickweed, wild ginger, wood sorrel, yarrow, pineapple weed, and sumac. Dirt is so hot that Crenn cooks her potatoes in the stuff before washing them clean. You’ll find a similar plating style at just-opened modernist Korean eatery Jung Sik Dang in New York, where you’ll need to bring lots of money. Next up: Dessert assemblages growing out of chocolate “humus” (as in dirt, not as in chick peas).
All of this comes at a price, of course, which is why you’ll only find these goings-on at fancy restaurants. Some restaurants actually have foragers on their payrolls, and others need to hire artistically talented cooks to plate dishes so that each leaf, each carrot stalk, each nasturtium flower, each pod of immature sweet peas, is placed just so – a serious challenge when tonight’s wild harvest contains a surprise crop of newcomers. You won’t be stumbling across such food at your local Olive Garden.
But is it food? Is it art? Or is it merely extravagantly imitative horticulture? Some critics have complained that taste is taking a back seat to artifice, but they said the same thing about earlier shenanigans of molecular gastronomy without recognizing how new laboratory trickery might be transformative in the kitchen.
In this case, I think we’re witnessing a reaction to cooking-with-chemistry with a romantic return to naturalism, or, to coin a word, “gastro-naturism.” It is a way for high-flying chefs to differentiate themselves from the rest of the herd and it is guaranteed to get a thousand bloggers and their cameras into these restaurants.
Rafa''s Restaurant, and Other Highlights from the Costa Brava
Barcelona was a wonderful city to be in, but leaving it was just as fun. Installed in a tiny stick-shift Citroen, we headed north from the city for Costa Brava, opting for the cheaper no-toll road that snakes along the coast and could take twice as long. Driving in Europe was harrowing the first time I did it, but I've since learned to embrace the speeding, reckless flow--I figure it's safe to go with it than stand in its way. Bright blue skies and palm trees swept by us as we headed north towards France and the mountains.
We wanted the Mediterranean, cold and rocky we wanted to visit Cadaqués where Salvador Dali spent much of his life and we wanted to eat really good seafood.
We also happened to be headed for the territory of El Bulli, one of the most expensive restaurants in the world. But our plans didn't include a stop there, though we did consider the idea of finding it and taking a photograph of the driveway, which apparently people do . No, our approach was different: we would instead eat where El Bulli's chef Ferran Adrià himself eats, at a tiny storefront in a town called Roses. There, a man named Rafa, who has named the restaurant "Rafa's" in a nod to simplicity that his food also embodies, unceremoniously cooks some of the best seafood in the world.
Rafa is essentially a fishmonger who also cooks your dinner. When we ate there, the concept of a salad or side dish was never mentioned during our exchange with his wife, who waits on the tables and takes care of pretty much everything but the scathing hot plancha where the seafood is cooked. We simply discussed what was on ice in the fish case--at one point she brought over a shimmering whole fish cradled in the bend of her arm for us to inspect--and then Rafa would scoop out big pawfuls of clams or gambas or a giant turbot and slap it on the scale.
The weight would determine the price, which was scrawled on a slip of paper, a series of which lined the counter for each table. Then dinner would find its way to the blazing hot iron plancha.
We had just begun to eat our almejas , baby clams that were sweet and tender, remarkably full and round in their flavor, when a guy came into the restaurant and started talking to Rafa. For some reason he looked really familiar. Hadn't we seen him at Inopia just a few days before ?
A few moments later, another woman walked in who we recognized--but from where? Then Rafa and his wife began exclaiming "hola!" and a ruckus appeared at the doorway. That's when we looked up to see a whole group of people walking in--including a man wearing a t-shirt that read "In Ferran We Trust." Half the diners in the restaurant were staring or standing up to join in the greeting.
Moments later our dense heads finally got the picture: the man in the t-shirt was Ferran Adrià himself.
I almost choked on a clam.
We kept our cool until Ferran and co. shuffled out of the restaurant: they were just stopping in to say hello on their way to a joint across the street called Las Golondrinas. There they held court at a table and whiled the night away, while we somewhat incredulously returned to our imminent dinner.
After our almejas came the course I was most anticipating, chiperones, little baby squid.
They were possibly the best thing we ate our whole trip. The intensity of the plancha allows Rafa to get an amazing crispness on the outside, especially the little legs which crisp all the through, while the inside is practically liquid it's so tender. Some of them were actually liquid, with their ink still inside. Everything was perfectly seasoned and the whole plate had been soused in olive oil. The resulting olive-oil-squid-juice sauce was heavenly, and we sopped it all up with bread.
Next came Gambas, big sweet shrimp. They were cooked on the plancha on a layer of salt, but because the shell was still on hardly any salt got to the flesh itself. One of the things any eater must experience is twisting a fresh shrimp's head off and sucking out the sauce some go so far as to call it the best part (I'm more partial to the pillowy sweet flesh).
We requested a flat fish to end our meal, with hopes of reliving our experience at Elkano a couple years ago in the Basque region of Spain, which we still remember so vividly. I wish I could remember what kind of fish we got--I believe it was a turbot but I'm not certain (fish experts, weigh in!). It was crispy and golden like everything else. Rafa seasoned each fish on the outside before putting it on the plancha, and it was garnished with absolutely nothing--not even lemon.
Rafa's was probably the most expertly-cooked dinner we ate in Spain, but we also had some other highlights. In Cadaques, a windswept sea town accessibly only by a harrowing mountain road which seems to scare away the tour buses, we wandered into a restaurant we'd read about in the New York Times , which was at the end of a tiny alley in the winding streets of Cadaques called La Sirena. There we ate an affordable meal of whole fish a la plancha and a delicious bottle of house white wine.
After Cadaques we drove down to stay near a town called Begur at a little hostel/restaurant down by a cove in the Mediterranean, a beach called Aiguafreda. Hostal Sa Rascassa , named after a local fish, is run by a harried but ebullient guy named Oscar, who speaks Spanish, Catalan, French, Italian, and perfect English. You can stay in simple rooms above the restaurant just a minute from the beach.
We had a great dinner there as well, grilled sardines, squid-ink pasta, a bowl of mussels and olive oil, and lots of wine. The beach itself was absolutely stunning, and we were content to hardly leave it, feasting on picnic food and succumbing to the sort of distilled, pure beauty of the place. The beaches are rocky and sandless, the water is freezing. But there was something renewing about leaping into the salty mediterranean.
There's a discussion over on eGullet that went on some time ago about two very different kinds of excellent restaurants that one encounters--particularly true in this part of Spain--called "Dining 'in extremis.'" On the one hand, you have the El Bulli kind of cooking "pinnacles of technique or sobriety," the kind of heady food that's intellectual, inspiring, and strange. But on the other, you have restaurants that thrive on "perfect ingredients, cooked with a minimum of adornment," ingredients "usually coming from the immediate region of the restaurant."
Both El Bulli and Rafa's function on a kind of unswerving devotion: one to technique and invention, the other to superb ingredients and simplicity. Both are equally superb types of restaurants, and both are, perhaps, the highest and purest kind of food.
Of course, a restaurant doesn't have to be an El Bulli or a Rafa's to be good I'm always suspicious of dialectics. But I think in some ways people identify with one over the other. For me, a bespectacled, portly guy named Rafa in front of a plancha, who gives all the credit to the fish when you compliment him on his cooking--there's something wonderful about that. That's the kind of restaurant experience I really savor.
Rafa's, Sant Sebastià 56, Roses, Spain (00 34 972 254 003)
Sotheby's to Auction Off Dinner With Ferran Adrià and elBulli Memorabilia
What's new with the world's busiest shuttered restaurant? ElBulli is selling off all kinds of memorabilia. Sotheby's has added a number of lots to their elBulli wine auction, to take place in Hong Kong and New York in April. This includes custom plates and utensils from the restaurant, chef jackets (starting bid $1,000), and siphons signed by chef Ferran Adrià (starting bid $50), and the opportunity to dine with the world famous chef at Albert Adrià's Tickets in Barcelona (starting at $5,000). Other items for sale include a set of elBulli steak knives ($1,000), elBulli chocolate boxes (also $1,000), and the "crockery" for the famous spherical olives dishes (a bargain starting at $150). Proceeds go to the elBulli Foundation. Below, the press release.
Bid For Dinner With The World's Greatest Chef At Sotheby's
New Lots Added To elBulli Auction Including Dinner With Ferran Adriá and Exclusive elBulli Memorabilia Sotheby's is pleased to announce that additional lots have been added to the auctions of the elBulli Wine Cellar. In addition to the range of superb wines, all of which will feature a specially designed elBulli sticker with many bottles signed by Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler, the sale will now include dinner with the famed elBulli chef and a range of memorabilia and equipment that was used in the elBulli kitchen. The auctions, which take place on 3
April 2013 in Hong Kong and in New York on 26 April 2013, will benefit the elBulli Foundation - an experimental centre looking at the process of culinary innovation and creativity.
Jamie Ritchie, President Sotheby's Wine, Americas and Asia said: "We are excited to offer food and wine lovers a chance to enjoy a part of the elBulli experience. In addition to wines from the cellar, the elBulli sales will include equipment, memorabilia and experiences all sold to benefit the charitable foundation founded by Chef Ferran Adrià. You might not have been able to go to the restaurant but a small part of elBulli is now available to enjoy in your home kitchen!"
The highlight of these new lots is the chance to enjoy dinner with Ferran Adrià who is widely recognized as the world's most famous and greatest chef (opening bid: $5,000). Four elBulli chefs jackets signed by Adrià are also available (opening bid: $1,000 per jacket) as well as a set of elBulli knives (opening bid: $1,000), and a large number of menus, wine lists and other pieces of elBulli stationary (opening bid: $250 each).
The food at elBulli has been widely recognized as revolutionary, introducing the world to the concept of technoemotional gastronomy and setting new standards for restaurants around the world. Much of this unique food could only be served using equipment especially designed for the restaurant, several examples of which will be offered in the auctions including Mesh Trays (opening bid: $250 per set) and Crockery for Spherical
Olives (opening bid: $150 per item). Many of the pieces of kitchen hardware were designed specifically for use at the restaurant after the elBulli team realised that the equipment available to them was not of the level of the food that would be served on it. Examples of these unique pieces which were created by designers in both Barcelona and Switzerland include Baroque Metal Trays (opening bid: $150 per tray) and Corrugated Trays (opening bid: $150 per tray). The structure of meals at elBulli was always important and this meant Petit Fours at the end of lunch or dinner. As they were essential to any elBulli meal, crockery was designed on which to serve them, several examples of which are available, each with an opening bid of $50.
Dinner with Ferran Adrià at Tickets restaurant in Barcelona, opening bid: $5,000/HK$40,000
A set of elBulli knives, opening bid: $1,000/HK$8,000
Chefs jackets signed by Ferran Adrià, opening bid: $1,000/HK$8,000
elBulli Chocolate Boxes, opening bid: US$1,000/HK$8,000 each
elBulli Mesh trays, opening bid: US$150/HK$1,000 per set
A selection of Petit Fours Crockery especially designed for elBulli, opening bid: US$50/HK$500 each
A selection of elBulli Baroque metal trays, opening bid: US$150/HK$1,000 each
elBulli cutlery, opening bid: S$2,000/HK$16,000
A selection of elBulli glass serving dishes, opening bid: US$1,000/HK$8,000
An elBulli Dish and cover, opening bid: US$150/HK$1,000
A selection of signed elBulli menus and wine lists, opening bid: US$250/HK$2,000 each
A signed elBulli siphon and box, opening bid: US$50/HK$500
A range of 5 elBulli books in both English and Spanish that contain photographs of cocktails, snacks, tapas, dishes, pre-desserts, and desserts to chart the evolution of elBulli, opening bid: US$500/HK$4,000.
elBulli Corrugated Trays, opening bid: US$250/HK$2,000 per item
elBulli Crockery for Spherical Olives, opening bid: US $150/HK$1,000 per item
Chefs Speak: Ferran Adrià on His New Beer, Inedit
From the brilliant Chef chemist and molecular gastronomy mastermind Ferran Adrià, creator of Spain’s El Bulli, frozen chocolate air, edible flower paper and spherical olives, a beer? Yes it’s true. While the talk has been online for over a year, Chef Adrià’s new brew Inedit is now making an official appearance on restaurant menus.
From the Estrella Damm website, Inedit is described as “”a unique coupage of barley malt and wheat, flavored with coriander, orange peel and liquorice”, (it is) “the first beer specifically created to accompany food. It is born from the conviction that a beer that could be paired with the utmost respect to the best cuisine was necessary. That is its aim and its virtue, and that is what makes Inedit different, special and unique.”
Priced at $10-30 per 25 ounce bottle, this is not your average Joe’s Saturday football drinking brew. Inedit is intended to be chilled and served at a temperature from 4 to 8 degrees Celsius or 39 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, in a white wine glass filled to one third. Where to find it? In NYC, it is available here, and you may purchase it online here as well as other venues.
In this video from Estrella, Chef Ferran discusses the beer and it’s serving suggestions. “I am sure it is going to be imitated” the chef remarks. What do you think? Would you consider stepping out of the box and serve Ferran’s beer to dinner guests?
We have not tried Inedit yet, but if you have, give us a shout and let us know your thoughts in the comments. For more mainstream beer drinkers, be sure to check our beer and food pairing charts. Cheers!
Adria began his culinary career in 1980 as a dishwasher. In need of money to vacation on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, Adria took a job as a dishwasher at a French restaurant in the Hotel Playafels in Castelldefels, Spain.
It was here that he learned the classic culinary techniques as the chef there introduced Adrià to "El Practico," the Spanish equivalent of Escoffier's "Le Guide Culinaire." Adria eventually made it to Ibiza, working at the Club Cala Lena for four months in 1981 and 1982.
A culinary walk through Barcelona
The best way to get to know the culture of any place is to eat your way through it. This is especially true in Barcelona, the epicenter of Catalonia. Perhaps it’s because Catalan food is such a good reflection of the culture. Historically, Catalans have had their kitchens invaded by a diverse crowd, including the Visigoths and the French.
The result is a cuisine that’s both unpretentious and sophisticated, much like the Catalans themselves.
And when you consider that the Catalans have contributed pan con tomate (bread rubbed with tomato, garlic and olive oil) as well as Ferran Adrià's high-tech foam concoctions to the culinary scene, you begin to get an idea just how diverse Catalan cuisine can be.
You also start to get some insight into the complexities of the Catalan character. Which means, if you’re looking to understand the soul of Catalonia, start with the food.
There are more than 40 markets in Barcelona, but the best known is La Boqueria, one of the largest food markets in Europe. More locals than tourists turn up here to buy slabs of stiff dried bacalao (cod), fresh anchovies and entire haunches of jamón íberico (locally raised ham). Stand in front of one of these ham stands and inhale deeply. Be sure to look for the black hoof. It means that the pig feasted only on acorns and is the sign of the highest quality ham.
Other things to look for are bull meat, frequently from the loser in a bullfight, and razor clams tucked into shells ornate enough to have been designed by Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona’s favorite son. Note that the most expensive stands tend to be in the middle. If you are looking for something specific among the 300 stands, pay a visit to the information center upstairs, where a quick check on the computer can tell you which stands have what you’re looking for, and at what price.
Other markets of note include the slightly smaller Mercat Santa Caterina, and the seafood-centric Mercat de Barceloneta, in the adjacent portside town of Barceloneta.
Of course, doing La Boqueria on your own is one thing, doing it in the company of a local chef is something else entirely. And that something else entirely is the first half of a Cook & Taste cooking class. Begin at the market, where fishmongers will compete to sell you the inkiest cuttlefish and the bristliest prawns. Wander through the open-air courtyard where farmers will swear that their giant figs are the sweetest.
Once you’ve filled the shopping cart with clams and tomatoes, pasture-raised eggs and a thick packet of that incredible ham, wind your way through the narrow Gothic streets to the Cook & Taste kitchen, a rustic stone-walled and yellow-tiled room with a long demonstration counter. If you’re feeling very “Iron Chef,” grab a knife and start cutting the whiskers off prawns or whipping up a batch of sofrito, the chopped garlic and tomato mixture that is the base of much Spanish cooking. If you’re feeling more Paul Child than Julia, settle in at the counter and learn by observation. Either way, when the cooking is done, everyone takes a seat, raises a glass and digs in to a garlicky tomato soup served in shot glasses, an omelet stuffed with potatoes and onions, a saffron-scented seafood paella and a sinful crema catalana.
Ever since chef Adrià started blasting meat with cans of nitrous oxide and transforming it into foam at El Bulli, Barcelona restaurants have come in two flavors: traditional and with-a-twist.
Chef Carles Gaig’s Fonda Gaig falls into the traditional camp. The atmosphere is comfortably modern, with cushioned leather armchairs pulled up to tables covered in brilliantly white linen. The menu is traditional enough to have been written by a true Catalan grandmother, including such classics as patates braves (fried potatoes in a spicy sauce) and bacalla a la llauna (pan-baked cod). But the execution takes tradition to a new level. At lunchtime at Fonda Gaig, a more affordable outpost of the more upscale Gaig Restaurant, the chef himself will generally pop out of the kitchen and take your order.
On the other hand, Canadian-Catalan chef Jordi Artal is in the with-a-twist camp, putting a modern spin on traditional Catalan cuisine at his Cinc Sentits, which translates as “five senses.” In Artal’s hands, traditional pan con tomate is reinvented as garlic air and tomato purée served with small squares of rustic bread on a giant white plate with a small well in the center filled with a delicious olive oil.
The dishes on the sensacions tasting menu are meant to stimulate each of the five taste sensations (sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness and umami), and Artal accomplishes this using mostly local ingredients such as wild Mediterranean red mullet, Iberian suckling pig and beef from the Pyrenees. Cinc Sentits was recently awarded a well-deserved Michelin star.
The Roca brothers, who run a restaurant in nearby Girona, are nearly as famous as the nitrous-wielding Adrià, and now it’s no longer necessary to hop a train to eat in one of their restaurants. Moo, in the ultra-hip Hotel Omm, is definitely Catalan cuisine in the future tense. In fact, it’s a kind of meta-food, in which nothing looks the way you’d expect.
The foie gras arrives in a neon green caramelized apple. Those things that look like bird’s nests on your plate are actually deliciously crispy pieces of shaved prawn. Your cheese course might arrive in a tiny Mason jar. The food is inventive and immensely satisfying.
Technically, tapas aren’t Catalonian, but Barcelona has embraced the tapas restaurant, so no reason you shouldn’t as well. For a modern take on tapas, visit Cuines Santa Caterina, adjacent to the Mercat de Santa Caterina. Check out the back wall, where fresh herbs grow vertically to the ceiling. Then grab a table or sit at the bar and order from the extensive tapas menu. Cuines Santa Caterina features tapas classics such as thinly sliced fried artichokes and little potato omelets, as well as more modern inventions such as mini-hamburgers, topped with Brie, and Thai chicken curry. At the juice bar they’ll squeeze you a lemon, ginger and mint drink.
For a traditional take on tapas, head over to La Cova Fumada, in the seaside town of Barceloneta. The wine is siphoned out of a barrel, which may explain why everybody is drinking beer, and you’ll probably have to share a table. But the spicy potato bomba is delicious, as are the sardines and everything else on the menu.
By this point, you might be ready for a little exercise. Barcelona Turisme has a map for a self-guided Gourmet Walking Tour around the Gothic Quarter. Or you can hire a guide to give you a more in-depth look at much of the same route, which begins near La Boqueria and ends near Mercat Santa Caterina.
Here are some highlights. Granja Viader has been serving incredible milk-based drinks since 1870. If it’s cold, try a hot chocolate. If it’s hot, sample a cacaolat. All the dairy products here come from local farms. If you’ve always wanted your photograph done in chocolate, you can have it at Pastissería Escribà.
On nearby Carrer de Petritxol you’ll find several cafes called granjas (or granges), which means they specialize in dairy products and cakes. Stop in at granjas Dulcinea or Pallaresa to sample Catalan-style pastries.
If all these sweets have made you crave something more savory, visit La Pineda, where you’ll find locally made sausages, cheeses and an assortment of vinegars. You know you want the opportunity to tell your friends that you sampled the “nun’s farts,” so better head to Caelum, the sweet shop where all the goodies are made by Spanish nuns and monks. (You’ll be relieved to know that the aforementioned are chocolate cookies.)
From wine to ham to tapas, Barcelona offers plenty of tasting tours. One of the best is Taste of Spain’s Olive Oil Tasting, which is held at d’Olis d’Oliva’s sparkling glass-walled shop at the Mercat Santa Caterina. Spain is home to 262 varieties of olives, and when you consider that oil can be made from either a single olive or a blend, that’s a lot of olive oil.
The Taste of Spain tasting guide however, recommends sampling no more than about five at one sitting. After that, they start to taste much the same. You sample olive oil much the way you would sample a fine whiskey, in a shot glass. Straight up, olive oil can taste buttery, or grassy, or even leave a scratchy feeling at the back of your throat, a sensation caused by the anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil. The good news: Most of the oil is reasonably priced and d’Olis d’Oliva ships all over the world.