The standing trilogy of modern Spanish cooking descended upon the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles last night. No, not olive oil, garlic, and saffron. We mean José Andrés, Ferran Adrià, and Juan Mari Arzak. Entitled "A Discussion With Friends: Ideas of Today, Foods of Tomorrow," the talk and question and answer session attracted perhaps 300 attendees — fans, friends, cooks, chefs, and media — and was in honor of the second anniversary of the opening of The Bazaar By José Andrés. Chefs including John Rivera Sedlar, Ludo Lefebvre, the guys behind Test Kitchen, and cooks from Bazaar all nodded approvingly at Andrés' antics, Arzak's humor, and Adrià's wisdom. Media and fans were simply agog and hanging on every word that came out of the translator's mouth (Arzak and Adrià spoke only in Spanish).
Adrià began very simply by breaking down the reasons for eating. He showed a short documentary of a couple who has eaten at elbulli more than 100 times. They eat there year after year, he emphasized, for the experience. He asked individual audience members why they ate their last meal. The bottom line on why we eat? "To feed ourselves," he said deeply. Nourishment and sustenance aside, what modern Spanish cookery has added to the equation is the experience of eating a meal: Eating as entertainment.
Andrés introduced Arzak by explaining that he was one of the fathers of the movement known as "The New Basque Cooking." Indeed, Arzak's 40-seat restaurant heralded a new tradition in cooking. Adrià explained, "Before, you could go out to eat well, very well, extremely well." Those meals you paid lots of money for, they most likely featured French food. Today, Japanese, Turkish, and other cuisines have come forward in excellence. The men continued to explain that Spanish chefs today have endeavored to define food as an experience. Andrés: "We create a language, emotion, provocation, sense of humor, reflection... what happens in life is mirrored by what happens in the kitchen."
Arzak elicited laughter from the audience when he quipped, "We've developed a cuisine for non-cowards."
Like brothers, the three men bickered on stage, teased each other and caused Andrés to throw his hands up in feigned distress more than once. They covered topics ranging from cooking techniques to humility, culinary education to media perceptions, their mother's cooking and what Adrià serves to his staff at elbulli (his forthcoming book 31 Menus for $3 is about how he feeds his culinary army on his own brand of fast food). After a bit more bickering, they opened the discussion up to questions from the audience. It was somewhat shocking when Adrià offered a table at elbulli to any audience member of Hungarian descent who came forward to discuss their cuisine — and no one volunteered!
Later, a loud murmur went through the audience when a gentleman asked the three esteemed chefs: If cooking is an art, as they claim, then do they feel that chefs who copy other chefs are committing plagiarism? Adrià attempted to answer the question by suggesting that the copy would reveal itself, that there are only perhaps ten chefs in the world that are creating right now, and that the ones that are copying simply must in order to inspire others into the future. Ultimately it seemed a challenge for chefs of their stature to let go of their creations. The evening ended with festivities and bites of food at the SLS Hotel and a sense of heightened curiosity about how we eat today.
— Daniela Galarza