EDIBLE INTERVIEW: A CONVERSATION WITH FERRAN ADRIÀ

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PHOTO BY LAURA WATILO BLAKE

Prior to coming to Kansas City, Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity was on display in Cleveland, Ohio. During that time, Edible Cleveland’s Jon Benedict sat down with the chef and his interpreter for a few questions .

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JB: Did you always want to be a chef?

FA: No. It’s by accident in some ways that I became a chef. To be able to get a visa to go on vacation I got a job washing dishes to be able to raise the money to be able to go.

JB: Did you love to eat growing up?

FA: In 1980 food in Spain was very different. Almost no one wanted to be chefs or cooks back then. It wasn’t something you aimed for. I just ate like a normal person.

JB: You’ve often been called the greatest chef in the world. So in your opinion what makes a good chef a great chef?

FA: The important thing is the in uence you have.  ere are people who have in uence and people who don’t. In any discipline I value what has in uence because then you can measure the impact. Whether it’s better or worse is a di erent question.

JB: You’ve in uenced so many cooks. What in uenced you when you started cooking?

FA: When someone travels as much as I do, you’re always being in uenced. And today with the Internet, in one hour you can have more information than you could have in a month before.  at changes the rules of the game.

JB: Your show, Notes on Creativity, draws inspiration from several disciplines. Outside of food, what inspires you?

FA: Everything. It depends on the moment. What you’re looking for. What you’re not looking for. You could be walking around an airport and get an idea. We all get ideas.  e point is whether you bring them to fruition. And whether it has any important consequences or not, whether it has influence.

JB: What surprises you about American food?

FA: In 2002, I was one of the  rst saying that American food was going to be very important, but no one in Europe was thinking it then. It’s logical that the richest country in the world would one day have a very important cuisine. What’s di erent here is that it wasn’t where an old civilization started.  at makes it very di erent than other places. It’s a mix of civilizations. When you’re in Spain there’s a mix also, but there are certain things that are part of an old civilization. America is de ning itself as it goes along, relative to cooking. It’s almost easier to understand contemporary American cooking than it is to understand traditional American cooking.

JB: What advice would you give a home cook?

FA: Cook logically.  ey should do what they can do and not try to do more than that. Simple things.  ere are lots of wonderful things that are simple. Use the healthy products that are available and ready made. You don’t have to obsess about making every single component for yourself at home. Within your budget and what you can a ord to buy, buy the best quality products.

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JB: Do you have time to cook at home and if so, what do you like to cook?

FA: Chefs are always cooking at restaurant kitchens.  ey are never cooking at home. Cooking at home is to do it every day. Really having to cook at home. One or two days a month perhaps you make something clever, but you’re not usually cooking at home.

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JB: Do you ever eat anything bad, like go to McDonalds?

FA: Food on airplanes is sometimes just as bad as McDonalds. Not to demonize all of it. Sometimes at the end of the day it depends on everyone’s  nancial resources and what they have. If you have two McDonalds hamburgers a month, it’s not a bad thing. Two or three a day is a di erent situation. But sometimes people don’t have the resources to eat better quality. If an amazing quality hamburger costs a dollar, everybody would be choosing that. You have to be careful with these topics because you don’t want to fall into condemning populist food.  e truth is you can go to a market and get good quality and cook it at home and can a ord it.

JB: What is essential to teach children about cooking?

FA:  ey should cook what they can’t buy.  ere are things that are not that good when you buy them. You can buy a good quality tomato sauce because there are good ones, but not all industrial food is good because for some things, technology has not been able to produce a good quality version of it. A stew, for example. Meat for example, you can buy one prepared in small production, but  sh that has been cooked, that’s hard to get one that is good. It has to be freshly made.

TO GO

FERRAN ADRIÀ COMES TO THE
NELSON-ATKINS MUSEUM KANSAS CITY

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By Jon Benedict

Can food be art? Not just pretty, or composed, or creative, but actual art: sublime, transcendent, beautiful, both elevated and elevating.

Fifty years ago or more, such a question would not even have been asked, certainly not outside of the most rarified haute-cuisine restaurants in France, and even then the idea would have had the flavor of the ludicrous or transgressive. But in the last 20 years, the question seems less absurd, even without a consensus answer. I’ve heard and read plenty of arguments on both sides.

One of the strongest arguments one could make that food can be art would be Ferran Adrià.

Unless you are among the more obsessively informed foodies, or a culinary-focused world traveler, you could be forgiven for not knowing who Ferran Adrià is. There’s a good chance, though, that you have eaten a dish that owes something to one of Adrià’s revolutionary ideas. Since the late 1980s, Adrià was the co-owner, head chef, and creative engine of elBulli on the eastern coast of Spain. Everything about elBulli was remarkable. Diners were served one tasting menu comprised of as many as 30 “courses,” most often single bites. Reservations were regularly sold out years ahead of time. ElBulli won three Michelin stars and, between 2002 and 2009, it was named the world’s best restaurant by Restaurant Magazine a record five times before closing in 2011.

The food innovations that came out of the elBulli kitchen proved most revelatory and influential. Adrià is often saddled with the culinary description “molecular gastronomy,” and it’s silly to think he isn’t largely responsible for the popularization of many methods associated with that awkward term. However, he prefers thinking of his cooking as “deconstructivist,” where familiar dishes and culinary expectations are taken apart, examined and researched, reimagined, and remade unexpectedly.

Adrià’s dishes can often sound ridiculous, almost imaginary, until you see the dish: a margarita made out of a cube of frozen ‘snow’ topped with salted foam; “caviar” made of tiny spheres of melon juice that burst in your mouth; transparent, disappearing “ravioli.” He was at his best when what he imagined required a whole new way of cooking, even the development of new tools, to create.

At elBulli, the development of new dishes was not an ad hoc process. The restaurant was only open for six months out of each year, the remainder of which was spent by Adrià and his team in a workshop and laboratory, coming up with and perfecting a new menu for the following year.

Rather than begin with a recipe, Adrià often started with a drawing— his creative process generally began visually, so elBulli dishes were sketched as they were developed. Those drawings, collected and curated, now provide a remarkable insight into his creative process and the innovation it inspired in the kitchens everywhere. Adrià’s sketches and models, along with two films about elBulli¸ are showing now through August 2nd in “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity, Visualizing the Mind of a Master Chef” a major exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City. The show opened on February 28th and runs through August 2. Location: Galleries L14-L15.

To a larger degree than any other single chef in the world, Ferran Adrià has helped define what it means to cook creatively today, and he has done so with a process that is as much artistic (and scientific) as it is culinary. This exhibition provides a glimpse into the mind of this world-renowned chef to see how his dedication to cultivating inspiration, investigation, and innovation changed food forever.

For details about public programs, hours, and admission visit nelson-atkins.org/art/exhibitions/ferran-adria.cfmcom or call 816.751.1278. The Nelson-Atkins MOA is located at 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO 64111

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