Here's video from a talk last week at the 92Y with elBulli chef Ferran Adrià and writer Lisa Abend moderated by the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik. Gopnick asks a pretty straightforward question, "What's the earliest memory of a transformational food experience?" and Adrià, speaking through a translator, just derails it completely.
Said the translator, "Before that, he would like to make people think about something. And after that we'll talk about cooking and cuisine." Adrià then goes into an unexpected, maddening, and profound four-minute dissertation on the properties and implications of water. It is delightfully obtuse in that Adrià sort of way. The transcript is below, but the video is definitely worth watching. He gets rolling at 2:10 in.
Video: 92Y Video: Behind the Scenes at elBulli
Gopnik: What's the earliest memory of a transformational food experience?
Adria, via translator: Before that, he would like to make people think about something. And after that we'll talk about cooking and cuisine. So, how many times do we all do this within our days or our lifetime? (Adria drinks water)
Adam's just doing this now. We do this thousands of times. And we don't seem to give it the importance it deserves. So let's get concentrated.
So, we will observe the glass of water. We will observe that it's transparent--it's translucent. We will smell it. It has no smell. Then we will observe that something that is odorless, transparent, has no flavor, if you analyze it would be very hard to find anything quite like it. There are not many products like this in the world. So we will then drink. We will observe it is about ten degrees. Then we will think about the fact that the human body can accept a variation of about minus fifteen degrees--for ice cream--or plus sixty degrees--which would be a consommé or a broth. It is nothing compared to the temperature of the nucleus of the earth. But enough to create a contrast in temperatures. Then, we will observe that it is a liquid. There are so many million different types of edible textures. Then we will observe that it has no base taste: it is not sweet, it is not bitter, it is not salty, it is not astringent, it is not spicy, it has no variations and no flavor. And then we will think and we will observe until now we have used our senses and then we will use our intellect.
We know it is water because that is a fact. If extraterrestrials were to exist and they came to Earth, they would not know it is water. We will then observe and reflect upon the fact that, if you don't drink water, you can die, and that makes it one of the most important ingredients or products in nutrition. It has a social component because we will also realize that there are thousands and millions of children that die every year because they don't have enough drinking water.
So, in order to talk about cooking or cuisine, we'll have to decide about which two aspects we're going to talk.