Yesterday evening at the International Culinary Center, there was no talk of restaurant rankings and no demonstrations for the rubes. Instead, there was Ferran Adría, who came to discuss the new biography Ferran with its author, Colman Andrews.
Throughout the course of the ninety-minute affair, the diminutive chef — looking a bit older than his 48 years and with his trademark raspy voice and Catalan cadence — displayed shades of shaman, surrealist, and rustic Spanish dude, effortlessly and unintentionally reminding those in attendance that he's the one who started it all.
This wasn't a night of straight answers. Adría's responses, "lovely abstractions that you have to be in the mood for," according to Salon writer Francis Lam, seemed to use Andrews' basic line of questioning as a jumping-off point for intoxicating episodes of free association. Or, if we want to be less kind about it: his biographer could barely get a word in.
Andrews started out by asking what the biggest misconception about elBulli is. Adría fired out a "todo" before making the argument that it's very difficult to have a true grasp of what elBulli is. It's tough to talk about it authoritatively when the restaurant has put out more than 1,800 dishes in its history and is constantly shifting philosophies and evolving its program. "You think you know, but then it changes," he said. During this particular digression, the chef mentioned the seminal and oft-overlooked 1993 book El Sabor del Mediterraneo, which according to him remains his most influential contribution to cooking. It's a text no one seems to talk about when discussing his legacy.
Adría spoke about creativity. He explained how he believes that there are so many depressed people in the arts because it's very difficult to get to where the likes of Le Corbusier and Picasso got. He claims it's unfair for a young chef to feel that he has to aspire to be on the front page of the New York Times and to receive honorary degrees. There's no question Adría fundamentally sees himself as a cook, but his emphasis on expressivity and art in his undertaking is unquestionable.
His proudest accomplishment? "Waking up in the morning and being happy." But of course, he didn't leave it at that. He talked about how his restaurant has encouraged sharing within the culinary community — the notion that chefs should exchange recipes and ideas to create a dialogue and move cuisine forward. "If you go to a restaurant and the chef says he can't give you the recipe, he's an idiot."
It's in this spirit of sharing that in 2014 "the foundation" elBulli will transform into intends to meticulously broadcast online the day-to-day developments of the thirty or so chefs who'll be working with Adría. This, according to the chef, is all thanks to Telefónica, the Spanish broadband and telecommunications company he's teamed up with. Upon the chef's mentioning this, Mario Batali turned to Jacques Torres and blurted out, "This is genius!"
This arrangement will allow the restaurant to "be creative for at least ten more years." He didn't divulge much more about what exactly will be going on at this new incarnation, but he did mention that he's met with architects and is nearing a complete idea. It's all part of a job which requires him "to see the future."
The evening concluded with questions from the small audience, which included Michael Lomonaco, Drew Nieporent, Tim and Nina Zagat, Michael Laiskonis, Jonathan Waxman, and Mario Batali. They had all come to pay their respects. Lomonaco's question was especially interesting — it had to do with how Adría's cuisine could possibly inspire everyday cooking. Adría's answer: "to bring excitement."