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François Chartier on Collaborating With Ferran Adrià

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Photo: Télé-Québec

Much of the science that sommeliers are now bringing to their field is François Chartier's, a former Canadian sommelier who has spent a decade creating a new scientific discipline that explores "aromatic synergies" and how they can inform food and wine pairing on a molecular level. His book Taste Buds and Molecules explores the theory that certain wines and certain food belong to specific aromatic families and just how these families can create more symbiotic pairings.

In part two of this two-part interview (see part one) Chartier talks about his science applies to the aromatic synergy in food, his collaborative experience with Ferran Adrià at elBulli, why Adrià is like Picasso, and why Celler de Can Roca is the best restaurant in the world when it comes to food and wine matching.

So during the time you were working with Ferran Adrià (between 2008 – 2010) how did you collaborate?
I went there to exchange with him these ideas of aromatic families and how it applies to food. We worked on 50-60 dishes. It was a great surprise in my research because before this I was focused on only wine and food, but through Ferran I saw how this science could apply to aromatic synergy in food. So we first started in the lab where we'd play with ideas.

They'd take one ingredient like parmesan cheese and they try to freeze it then fry it then freeze it again—they'd try everything to see how the chemical reaction that occurs when you freeze and then fry something will change the product. Then I'd say, okay, you are working with parmesan, then you can play with miso, coffee, etc. because they are all in the same aromatic family.

How did this translate to the kitchen?
I went to the restaurant and we would test recipes and we would use this aromatic knowledge to find out if we could add more ingredients to a dish. So at a certain point I was working in the kitchen. It was bizarre and strange because basically for me Ferran was god and I was with god in his kitchen saying, you know, "Try this with parmesan." It was incredible.

So you never worked with pairing wine while at elBulli?
I've talked a lot with the sommelier Ferran Centelles. But at elBulli, you know, you have 35-37 dishes and sometimes four at once—it's a festival of taste and you pass from slightly aromatic to aromatic to salty to sweet. It's boom, boom, boom. So for the sommelier it was a hard business. They've been trying to work with wine and on matching wine and food. At first they would say okay, start with champagne for the canapés, then riesling, then chardonnay, then Priorat. And that was good, but Ferrán said, "As a creator this is putting me in a box." And he's out of the box, Ferran.

The power of Ferran's cuisine is the fact that even the canapé can be sweet and from there you go to salty to bitter to a course with ice and fresh mint. It's completely crazy, but this is Ferran Adrià. It's like Picasso. You don't say to Picasso, "Can you make me something that reminds me of another painter." No, because it's coming from his soul. So I think it was better to let Ferran go.

Do you see your research potentially bringing the sommelier closer to the chef?
This would be great. It's changing now. There's been a great lack of communication between these two, especially if we go back 20 years ago in France and here in Quebec. But there's a great chance for chefs. You've talked about Joe Beef; they understand the place of wine at the table and they are thinking about that. On the other hand, I hope that sommelier school will give courses on cooking. It's so important. Inspiration is everywhere. No matter what you do. With knowledge comes inspiration. Here now we have courses given by the Quebec government called molecular sommelier based on my book, and one thing I insisted on was that half of the course would be cooking and would be sommelier courses.

Which restaurants do you find particularly inspiring in the way they are using scientific knowledge to pair food and wine?
El Celler de Can Roca. No question. It's the best restaurant in the world when it comes to understanding the matching of food and wine. Josep Roca, Joan Roca the chef and Jordi Roca the pastry chef. I have the chills. When I went there for the first time I was so inspired by him that I was jealous. They create a lot of dishes around wine and Josep is a fabulous sommelier.

They do this dish, for example, to pair with Chateau Chalon and they go into the woods and they take soil and they distill the soil so they make a water with the soil aroma – which is same as the aroma of Vin Jaune – and they put it with an oyster. It's this idea of the mar y montaña. The mountains and the sea. That's the signature of Cataluyna. But this dish came from Josep wondering what he could pair with vin jaune and then his brother thinking of mar y montaña and it developing from there. It's amazing.

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