Ferran Adria

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Dorothy w/Daniel Humm

Last Monday was a stellar September day. Not only was the sky peacock blue and the air tinged with perfect fall crispness but I was spending the day with many of the top chefs in the world at the idyllic Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, NY. Joan Roca, Michel Gras, Daniel Humm, Ferran Adria and so many other super stars joined Dan Barber, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill NYC to do a deep dive on seeds and genetic engineering. What? Did you say genetic engineering? Are these chefs into GMOs? Actually not.

Stone Barns Center

From top left clockwise: Ferran Adria, Joan Roca, Adam Kaye, Floyd Cardoz

L to R: Michel Gras, Dan Barber, Dorothy, Francois Payard, Daniel Humm

What they heard from world glass genetic breeders and discussed among themselves from 10 am to 7:30 pm is the concept of chefs working with genetic breeders to create exquisite fruits, vegetables and grains. Actually that is something that nature itself has been doing for the past 10,000 years. Think a nectarine, which is a cross between a peach and a plum. How is that different from GMOs? GMOs are genetic transfers between two species that would not cross pollinate in nature. Think fish gene inserted into a tomato.

Ferran Adria

Acorn Squash

So, what did we learn? That genes are place sensitive. Have you ever brought home seeds from a vacation, planted them and found them not to be as delicious as your lingering memory?  There is a reason for that. Great seed growers plant hundreds of seeds and then watch for the one or two plants that are vibrant survivors in their field tests. Your soil may not have the same characteristics as the test fields and hence, the attributes of the seed might not perform as well in your backyard in Brooklyn. You might start thinking about saving the seeds from the best tasting tomato in your veggie garden and become a geneticist yourself. I think a lot of the chefs left thinking they were on to expanding their horizons in that direction.

Menu courtesy of Stone Barns Center

After yesterday it seems so obvious that chefs in their never ending quest for the most delicious meal, will now have to go beyond the farm and into the labs of these seed breeders. It is there that they can select, test, harvest, select, test, harvest, select… and here we thought farm to table would be the ultimate trend. Now we have conception to compost! I never saw so many chefs, so excited. We ate a dinner of the aforementioned conceptions: see Gaston Acurio’s squash, which has just a number not a name. I’d also like to mention that we at The International Culinary Center were so honored that our Farm to Table students were asked to help out in the kitchen with these iconic chefs. A new challenge in the top ranks of the culinary universe!

ICC Students

You heard it here first, look for the names of seed breeders on your next menu!

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Decoding Ferran

In March I had the opportunity to attend an event at The Council of the Americas in NYC that featured Ferran Adria. He was there to speak of his collaboration with the communications giant Telefonica.  As all foodies now know Ferran will be closing his restaurant, El Bulli in Spain in July 2011. He is no longer inspired by restaurant food creation. He is tired of visiting around the world and have people plague him with the question, “Can I get a reservation?”  He has the classic questioning mind of an originator.  He wants to explore  his passions and food is his medium. His collaboration with Telefonica will allow him to do just that. It sounded to me that he will be almost like a child in a playpen. Between now and 2014, Ferran and Telefonica will build a laboratory, a foundation and yes, another restaurant at the site of Il Bulli. This restaurant will not take reservations. Ferran will work on his ideas in the lab and the foundation will allow cooks to come and work with him. The by products will be served in the restaurant.

Befitting a telecommunications giant the presentation of Ferran’s ideas was splendid. Highly produced videos with gorgeous visuals helped explain how Ferran interprets and thinks about food. His basic premise is that food is just another language in which to communicate with people.  He interprets the cooking of the product as a word, the plate concept  as a sentence and the menu as a paragraph. Technological machinations are more simple than high tech.  His cuisine is more evolution than revolution. He plays with textures and the eye, not for sensational effect but for depth of gustatory enjoyment  for a thinking diner.

Since this is a blog, I am not going to go into a in-depth analysis of his iconic techniques. I encourage everyone to read his books but quite frankly you will not even have to find his books. For above all, Ferran is a missionary.  He wants to share his knowledge and so his partnership with Telefonica is a perfect fit.  He plans to put all his research online so that every chef or cook in the world can have access to his methods as well as his mind.  He is committed to helping people with food restrictions to eat better, to find ways to deliver wholesome food more efficiently and work in his ingenious way  either whimsically or practically to a more delicious world.

Ferran at his book signing October 2010, The International Culinary Center

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Ferran Adria

Last Tuesday, The International Culinary Center hosted the book party for Colman Andrew’s “Ferran”. Talk about intimidation!  Not only was one of the greatest chefs in the world visiting the school but other great chefs/food world stars would be coming to visit him. Jose Andres, Mario Batali, Tim and Nina Zagat, Drew Nieporent to name a few. The school was abuzz. Ferran Adria is truly a generous chef. He shares all his recipes and techniques freely. He also wants to inspire young chefs. Despite his packed schedule he came to the school two hours early. He signed books for our students in the library and then spent 45 minutes being interviewed by moi so we could share his thoughts with all students, past and future. The interview is posted on YouTube (scroll down to watch a couple of the clips and go to our YouTube channel to see more). What did he talk about?

Well, first of all, read the book. I found it a page turner. I was reading it while getting a spa pedicure. When it came time for the leg massage the Chinese woman doing an excellent job began scolding, “Put down the book! Massagee! Massagee!” I told her I couldn’t, I really couldn’t. Colman Andrews has written not a biography but an educated prospective of whom Fernando (Ferran is his Catalan name) Adria is in today’s world of uber cuisine. With just a glance at his childhood and present private life, Andrews reserves most of the book to delve into the evolution of the creative mind of Ferran. This is a book for any budding chef who thinks they can follow in his footsteps. Those footsteps are as large, talented, wild yet disciplined as Rudolf Nureyev or Michael Flatley. His evolution had as much to do with serendipity, locale and various characters as it does with Ferran’s innate intelligence and intensity.

Ferran and Colman Andrews

When I started my YouTube interview I reminded him that I met him in 2006 at Madrid Fusion. I said that back then I thought I knew who he was, but after reading this book I realized that indeed, I had no idea who he was. This book made me realize that the world has put labels on him that are neither true nor appropriate. He does not “do” molecular gastronomy. He is not a scientist and does not consider his work to be scientific experiments. What he is, is someone who thinks outside the box. When I gave him my rendition of what I thought the book revealed he smiled from ear to ear. He said,  “Yes! Yes!  After this book, people will really understand me!”

I couldn’t possibly capture the book in a few paragraphs but here are a few facts to whet your appetite to read the book or view the YouTube interview:

  • Ferran went to business school for three years.
  • He never wanted to be a chef.
  • Before meeting Jacques Maximin, a 2-star Michelin chef in Nice, France,  at the age of 24, Ferran never thought that chefs were “allowed to be creative.” Maximin said to him, “creativity is not copying.”
  • Ferran’s work from that time forward is to think of ingredients and tools that can be put together to make combinations that are creative, dishes that are surprising and challenging to the senses. Like an artist, they have foundation in serious thought. Some combinations are failures. Others are triumphs.
  • They originally closed El Bulli for five months over the winter because it could not make money in those months. Those five months proved vital to allowing Adria to be creative and work through the variations of dishes so he could bring them back to the restaurant for customer reaction.

Ferran in the amphitheater

In the amphitheater Ferran shared his plans for the future. As most of the world knows now, he is closing El Bulli in June 2011. He will reopen it in 2014 as a foundation. His interest is to bring together many elements to create a cuisine that further pleases, nourishes and stimulates us. Ferran is only 46 years old…can you imagine what he will be doing 20 years from now?

Mario Batali

Michael Laiskonis, Executive Pastry Chef, Le Bernardin

Ferran and Jose Andres at the reception

Colman sharing a laugh with Mario Batali and Jonathan Waxman

Tim Zagat

Drew Nieporent

Ferran, Jacques Torres

Michael Lomonaco, Andre Soltner, Alain Sailhac

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