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Avant garde cooking and El Bulli

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#1 Jonathan Day

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 09:49 AM

A central premise of the TDG essay "Eight at El Bulli" (click here) is that the restaurant represents a tradition of its own, a break with existing culinary traditions: neither French, nor Spanish, but in some sense encompassing and going beyond both. Following cues from chefs and writers, we have called this phenomenon "avant garde cooking".

Do you agree with our assertion that El Bulli is in the vanguard of a genuinely new culinary tradition? How do Adrià's innovations compare with other recent "revolutions" such as the advent of nouvelle cuisine?

How should one define the culinary avant-garde? Notions such as "deconstruction", "displacement", "transformation"and "reconstitution" come to mind.

What other practitioners (chefs, restaurants, critics, etc.) would you place in the forefront of this movement?

Many observers have noticed perversions or imitations of Adrià's cooking, such as meals with foams in every dish, or counterintuitive pairings of ingredients that, unlike those at El Bulli, have no gastronomic integrity and merely shock rather than creating a refreshing surprise to the eye and palate. Some argue that we are worse off for Adrià and El Bulli, since it has spawned so many vapid or gimmicky imitations. What is your view?
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#2 Bux

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 10:57 AM

Some argue that we are worse off for Adrià and El Bulli, since it has spawned so many vapid or gimmicky imitations. What is your view?

I think it's a non question for me. Some of the most banal office buildings in America, if not the world, have been spawned by misunderstanding or at least poorly derived imitations of Mies and and the most god awful housing projects attempt to rely on inept understanding and poor implementation of Corbu's theories. Bad food is more easily avoided and does less harm to the social fabric.

I am intrigued with your opening statement "that the restaurant represents a tradition of its own," When I first tasted the food, so much of it seemed without connection to any food I knew and yet it seemed right. I wanted to think I was eating in an experiemental laboratory, but somehow it all worked so well that I felt I was dining on traditional food of a sophisticated society, but one from a far away place whose culture was too different from mine to fully evaluate with my own perspective. With a second meal under my belt and the chance to read more about Ferrran and Alberto, and to meet Alberto in Paris, the more I realize I was eating in a laboratory and the more I have respected El Bulli for making me feel otherwise.

I have great respect for, and great fascination with, creative and intellectual work, though I'm not sure if it exceeds my interest in having a good meal. The danger of the succes of El Bulli, and this may address your topic, is that it's fostered an interest in what I may describe as avant garde cooking. One need not equal Adria to produce a dinner that both creative and rewarding, but there's a fine line, that if not crossed, can make for a disaster. There are those who do not understand the fundamental nature of El Bulli's success and who do not understand why a dish works or doesn't work and there will be more of them who will do outlandish and misguided things in the name of El Bulli and there will be those who ape the techniques without understanding how and why they worked when Adria used them. Would they cook any better if inspired by tired old dishes? Probably not, but they'd not come to our attention as quickly via the media.
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#3 Ruth

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 11:19 AM

Wonderful report on El Bulli which brings back fond memories. My husband and I were there three years ago for an extraordinary luncheon. I really do not recall any misses. Every dish (and there was only one foam) worked beautifully. The service was gracious and faultless. We spoke at length to Sr. Adria both before and after the meal. He has a disciple in Madrid (Serge Arola at la Broche) who trained with both Adria and Pierre Gagnaire. His food, more based in Spanish tradition than Adria's, is equally wonderful and spectacular. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Spain is now more of a culinary destination than France and Feran Adria's influence has been huge.. We are returning next month to try some of the new restaurants in the San Sebastian and Rioja areas and another treat at La Broche. :biggrin:
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#4 Lord Michael Lewis

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 11:19 AM

Many observers have noticed perversions or imitations of Adrià's cooking, such as meals with foams in every dish, or counterintuitive pairings of ingredients that, unlike those at El Bulli, have no gastronomic integrity and merely shock rather than creating a refreshing surprise to the eye and palate. Some argue that we are worse off for Adrià and El Bulli, since it has spawned so many vapid or gimmicky imitations. What is your view?

Agree completely.

#5 Fat Guy

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 11:28 AM

Many observers have noticed perversions or imitations of Adrià's cooking, such as meals with foams in every dish, or counterintuitive pairings of ingredients that, unlike those at El Bulli, have no gastronomic integrity and merely shock rather than creating a refreshing surprise to the eye and palate. Some argue that we are worse off for Adrià and El Bulli, since it has spawned so many vapid or gimmicky imitations. What is your view?

Has there really been widespread perversion of Adria's cooking? More widespread and perverted than all the bad versions of Escoffier's cooking? Or is this more of a theoretical concern than a real one? I haven't personally been offended by the use, for example, of the ISI Profi-Whip device in many restaurants -- it usually produces something no worse or better than the overall cuisine at a given restaurant. At the same time, we can easily point to concrete examples -- Jose Andres, Grant Achatz, etc. -- of Adria disciples who are doing serious food.

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#6 Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 12:48 PM

Jonathan and Robert -- Thank you for the complete report. I have never been to El Bulli, but it sounds very much in the Spanish tradition of Gaudi, Dali, Miro, and Bunel in the taste for deformations (maybe with earlier tracing to the taste at the Spanish court for certain eccentiricities). As with the others that I name, it sounds as though this experience is singular, cannot have effective followers because it is so personal, and thus will ultimately prove to be outside the mainstream.

Best regards,
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#7 robert brown

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 01:09 PM

Two interesting aspects of Adria are of interest to me. First, his culinary experience before he arrived at El Bulli appears hazy and contradictory. In the lengthy article about Adria in Esquire a few years ago, he told the writer that he blocked out earlier memories, which was, of course, putting the guy on. Second, I don't think he is at all interested in the restaurant business. It is not that the restaurant makes no money (which it doesn't), but rather it appears that chefs are given priority and do not have to e-mail the restaurant on a certain date (and only a certain date) to get a table. In a way,as Bux wrote, you do eat in an experimental laboratory. Furthermore, every dish is codified, photographed and fully explained. One question I regret having not asked Adria is if all the dishes served during each season have already been conceived, documented and photographed during the six months the group works at the laboratory in Barcelona. I will have to find this out with an e-mail unless someone out there knows.

It is clear that Adria views himself as the Pied Piper of the new cuisine. He keeps no secrets and does all possible to disseminate his concepts, particularly through his series "El Bulli Cookbooks" that are beginning to be published. The ironic aspect is, however, that visiting El Bulli is making a trip to virtual perfection. It evokes the same sense of awe, integrity and admiration that one felt being at Alain Chapel, Les Freres Troisgros and Michel Guerard, and what Thomas Keller strives for and, in many eyes, also attains. Every dimension of El Bulli is what a discerning diner dreams of. The locale is breathtakingly rare, close to being unequalled in luxury dining; the attitude of everyone who works there is humble, down-to-earth and amiable; the architecture and decor are refined; the prices are gift-like and the cuisine is mind-boggling. It is why I wrote the sentiment that avant-garde cuisine,as represented by my meal, begins with roses and ends in Roses, at least until shown to me otherwise. Adria can reveal his culinary roadmap and keep no secrets, but there's no way of exporting his enormous abilities and the delicious house by the sea.

Edited by robert brown, 21 April 2003 - 07:31 PM.


#8 Jonathan Day

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 01:28 PM

Has there really been widespread perversion of Adria's cooking? More widespread and perverted than all the bad versions of Escoffier's cooking? Or is this more of a theoretical concern than a real one? I haven't personally been offended by the use, for example, of the ISI Profi-Whip device in many restaurants -- it usually produces something no worse or better than the overall cuisine at a given restaurant. At the same time, we can easily point to concrete examples -- Jose Andres, Grant Achatz, etc. -- of Adria disciples who are doing serious food.

Part of the outrage that some experience at imitations of Adria's cooking stems from the fact, as Robert noted, that the real thing is so gripping, in every way (setting, waitstaff, menu composition, execution, etc.) that attempts to borrow some of his techniques seem pale.

Having said that, I can point to several examples of over-use or unthoughtful use of techniques like the ISI foamer. The one star Lou Cigalon in Valbonne, for example, serves a foam with virtually every one of the courses in its menu gastronomique; after a few courses, you don't know whether to eat the food or shave with it. Thyme, in South London, uses the foaming technique in a seemingly random and ultimately not very pleasant way.
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#9 sumac

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 01:31 PM

To answer your question about other chefs in the avant garde cooking movement, I do not think there is another chef doing the amazing things with food that Adria is doing. However, there are many who are doing very creative and nontraditional things that are also very exciting. I would list the group as:
Arzak, Berasategui, Subijana, Santamaria, Veyrat, Gagnaire, Bras, Loubet, and I am sure I've left out many. In the States I barely know where to begin, but for sure Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter and a whole host of others.
Thank you for the great report. It was so comprehensive.

#10 Fat Guy

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 02:08 PM

Having said that, I can point to several examples of over-use or unthoughtful use of techniques like the ISI foamer. The one star Lou Cigalon in Valbonne, for example, serves a foam with virtually every one of the courses in its menu gastronomique; after a few courses, you don't know whether to eat the food or shave with it. Thyme, in South London, uses the foaming technique in a seemingly random and ultimately not very pleasant way.

Just to be clear: These places are using the ISI device to make all these foamlike things? Or are there other kinds of foams and emulsions and such in play here? The immersion blender and good-old-fashioned incorporation of air with a whisk are also techniques that produce foamy results but that predate and are not connected to Adria or avant-garde cuisine. The larger point -- since these specifics aren't that important anyway -- is that just as we shouldn't be so quick to say "Adria equals foam" we shouldn't be so quick to say "foam equals Adria." Not even ISI foam, because, after all, the device was invented by ISI, not Adria, and Adria was probably not the first person to say, "Hey, I can use this for stuff other than cream." Or was he?

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#11 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 02:30 PM

Foams? Fettucine consomme? Tricks? Gimmicks? Surrealism? When will all of this hocus pocus subside....

#12 chefg

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 02:46 PM

Foams?  Fettucine consomme? Tricks?  Gimmicks?  Surrealism?  When will all of this hocus pocus subside....

These techiques and the mindsets that produce them are the future of fine dining. Evolution.
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#13 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 04:25 PM

Foams?  Fettucine consomme? Tricks?  Gimmicks?  Surrealism?  When will all of this hocus pocus subside....

These techiques and the mindsets that produce them are the future of fine dining. Evolution.

Understood. And I'm a proponent of forward thinking chefs and their cuisines. I guess I'm worried that this approach, however ahead of its time it seems now, will, in a couple of years, become as ridiculed and bastardized as tall food was in the early 90's. I'm worried that the substance will get lost in the mix. One French master chef that I soused for was so concerned with creating the newest movement that he forgot about the basics of flavor, contrast and substance. He had exhausted every conceivable angle in his cerebral cortex and started creating fucked up things like "Salmon Burger (basil and salmon chiffonade) with Mango Chutney (Mango Brunoise with Cayenne), Fried Dill Pickles (Tempura battered Vlasics) and Carrot Broth." And the worrysome "Rabbit Leg with Harrissa Fettucine and Coriander-Wasabi Beurre Blanc." He stuck Gaufrette in everything. Like Portale everything had to look like Mt. St. Michel. Since then he's gone back to the classics he learned at Bocuse. I don't want this movement to become a caricature of itself. That's why I side with Keller instead of Adria, though I think Adria's a genius. I'm just a devil's advocate....

#14 docsconz

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 07:10 PM

I guess I'm worried that this approach, however ahead of its time it seems now, will, in a couple of years, become as ridiculed and bastardized as tall food was in the early 90's.  I'm worried that the substance will get lost in the mix.  One French master chef that I soused for was so concerned with creating the newest movement that he forgot about the basics of flavor, contrast and substance.  He had exhausted every conceivable angle in his cerebral cortex and started creating fucked up things like "Salmon Burger (basil and salmon chiffonade) with Mango Chutney (Mango Brunoise with Cayenne), Fried Dill Pickles (Tempura battered Vlasics) and Carrot Broth."  And the worrysome "Rabbit Leg with Harrissa Fettucine and Coriander-Wasabi Beurre Blanc."  He stuck Gaufrette in everything.  Like Portale everything had to look like Mt. St. Michel. Since then he's gone back to the classics he learned at Bocuse.  I don't want this movement to become a caricature of itself.  That's why I side with Keller instead of Adria, though I think Adria's a genius.  I'm just a devil's advocate....

Just because another artist can't quite copy the smile on the Mona Lisa doesn't make Da Vinci any less of a genius. If Adria gets it right and others try to follow, but can't, that doesn't lessen his artistry. I've never eaten at El Bulli, though I dream to. It doesn't matter to me if others attempt to copy his style. If they succeed and it works, great. If not, he's still doing his thing and apparently doing it amazingly well.
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#15 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 07:49 PM

I guess I'm worried that this approach, however ahead of its time it seems now, will, in a couple of years, become as ridiculed and bastardized as tall food was in the early 90's.  I'm worried that the substance will get lost in the mix.  One French master chef that I soused for was so concerned with creating the newest movement that he forgot about the basics of flavor, contrast and substance.  He had exhausted every conceivable angle in his cerebral cortex and started creating fucked up things like "Salmon Burger (basil and salmon chiffonade) with Mango Chutney (Mango Brunoise with Cayenne), Fried Dill Pickles (Tempura battered Vlasics) and Carrot Broth."  And the worrysome "Rabbit Leg with Harrissa Fettucine and Coriander-Wasabi Beurre Blanc."  He stuck Gaufrette in everything.  Like Portale everything had to look like Mt. St. Michel. Since then he's gone back to the classics he learned at Bocuse. I don't want this movement to become a caricature of itself.  That's why I side with Keller instead of Adria, though I think Adria's a genius.  I'm just a devil's advocate....

Just because another artist can't quite copy the smile on the Mona Lisa doesn't make Da Vinci any less of a genius. If Adria gets it right and others try to follow, but can't, that doesn't lessen his artistry. I've never eaten at El Bulli, though I dream to. It doesn't matter to me if others attempt to copy his style. If they succeed and it works, great. If not, he's still doing his thing and apparently doing it amazingly well.

What's up doc? My friend I think you missed the point. It doesn't necessarily begrudge either--the genius or the masses that ride his coattails--to cook this "advanced" fare, to hold themselves to a culinary ideal that throws tradition to the wind. I, for one, am still milking my French Laundry visit for all it's worth. If you could see my tasting menus---I think I've exhausted butter poached lobster a million times over, cones stuffed with obscure things etc. If Keller set foot in my kitchen he would surely know how much of an influence he's had on me. No, it's not about the strive, the unavoidable copy cats and their interpretations of the movement. It's about the movement itself. I don't want Achatz to get so esoteric that his reputation faulters. I don't want to hear about Adria serving fish stick popsicles in hollowed out television sets, with tartar sauce torches brought out tableside so the diner can get the whole Captain D's experience. Foams were revolutionary, no doubt. But now they're jokes. Yes, some are doing them right, using them as subtle accents--maybe doing the honorable thing and leaving the word "foam" off the menu---but the thing has basically played itself out. Food as theatre, as a five and a half hour trek into the subliminal instead of the sublime is the trend that I'm afraid we're edging towards with all of this surrealism. Evolution, as Achatz so properly points out, is where the minds of these forward thinkers exist. But when does evolution in food become like in the automobile industry? I see these forward thinking restaurants like I see the prototypical cars that they show at autoshows. They really look cool sitting there on a trade show pedestal all Buck Rodgers looking and sleek but how many of them have you seen stuck with you in traffic.

#16 robert brown

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 08:38 PM

You can also ask if we are looking at Adria as the smile on the Mona Lisa or the moustache. In other words will he become the Leonardo of the kitchen or the"one and only" aberration (but what an aberration!!), Marcel Duchamp?

Other than making the dishes, the most important work Adria is doing is codifying and documenting his "oeuvre". The element that makes this unique is that this activity also is a record of what he has served at El Bulli, not simplified or simple dishes for publication in cookbooks. It must be the first time that a chef has done this. I remember asking Pierre Gagnaire in 1989 if he ever used recipes, to which he laughingly replied that he did not. Clearly the "record" of what a chef makes and serves resides almost entirely in titles preserved in old menus and in the heads of those who made them.

In a perishable creation such as a plate of food, the notion of systematic notation and photography is decades overdue. I am afraid that not unlike the plundered art and cultural objects that were in the institutions of Iraq, we have "lost" the evolution and dynamic of the connecting links of great cuisine. This is why no one has been able to write a credible history of "La Nouvelle Cuisine". (As far as I know, no one is even engaged in creating an oral history by recording the recollections of chefs in their 70s and 80s that would facilitate such a endeavor, or at least help create a repository to cater to the growing field of culinary history).

For purposes of the current discussion, I think it is reasonable to ask (since I don't really think we know) who is in the culinary avant-garde, what are its roots, and what are its precedents. To answer this we must rely on the partial record gleaned from recollections of inveterate diners, writers and restaurant professionals. Might Pierre Gagnaire in his "crazy" days in St.-Etienne during the 1980s done work in his kitchens that suggest a path to today's avant-garde? Only recollections in his head can tell us. Did the avant-garde also germinate in the hands of Michel Bras and Marc Veyrat over a dozen years ago, or were their creations made from products too local to have a universal impact? These are just a few of the questions that an increasing number of people want to study. Right now Adria's work seems like a quantum leap, cuisine's equivalent of Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" or Ludwig van Beethoven's "Grosse Fugue". That Adria is creating a precise record of his artistry is an overdue step in the right direction. Unfortunately. it is long overdue one.

Edited by robert brown, 22 April 2003 - 09:37 AM.


#17 Bux

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 10:24 PM

You can also ask if are we looking at Adria as the smile on the Mona Lisa or the moustache. In other words will he become the Leonardo of the kitchen or the"one and only" aberration (but what an aberration!!), Marcel Duchamp?

Well both are in the museum and that cuts two ways. One can say that being in the museum is being in an honored place or one can also say that's the repository of dead culture that was once live and vibrant. Is there not a creative movement that does not at some point run it's course and look old fashioned, until it's re-examined by a later generation and appreciated in a different way?

it is true that Spanish genius is often an independant sort, but there is much going on in Spanish kitchens today that assures cross pollination and other chefs who are having a similar influence. I would not be so suprised to find Adria having an influence in the mainstream a decade or two from now.
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#18 Elissa

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Posted 21 April 2003 - 10:24 PM

robert, i like your duchamp reference for several reasons.

7) if we are indeed discussing an avant garde, then by definition we are talking about a collective: Weimar, DaDa, Constructivism, the Situationist International etc. were not individuals changing the course of things to come, but creative collaborators. so it would follow that of course adria is documenting his ideas and sharing his secrets and inviting chefs sans reservations

4) it's intersting that el bulli's prices are so low and that profitability seems to be of so little interest, as historically avant gardes have been understood as attempts to alter institutionalized commerce with art. AGs cannot be confined to means-end rationalities and profit-minded intentions; AG goals are to the contrary the exchange of ideas and experiences, shared ways of thinking and, in this case it would seem, new paths along which to associate ideas, emotions, reflections and flavors.

3) his dishes' verisimilitude seems to evade a style, foams aside, and as you (or was it Jonathon?) said, nothing was repeated from earlier visits and in fact there was only one foam this go 'round. adria is not making a style of food, just as avant garde movements never developed styles. however defamiliarization and surprise were two traditionally mined AG techniques that it seems adria is using too.

Edited by lissome, 22 April 2003 - 10:20 PM.

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#19 chefg

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 09:40 AM

[I guess I'm worried that this approach, however ahead of its time it seems now, will, in a couple of years, become as ridiculed and bastardized as tall food was in the early 90's.  I'm worried that the substance will get lost in the mix....

It puzzles me as to why everyone is quick to jump to this conclusion about new techniques brought forth recently. Was there such a backlash in the early stages of the current style that you can find in nearly every restaurant in this country? How many restaurants can you find a "torchon" of foie gras, butter poached lobster, braised pork belly, and the list goes on and on....They are all the same. It's boring. Of course they will always be situations where people lose focus or never understand the focus to begin with, and food styles will get a bad wrap. But tell me how recieving a flavorless bone marrow foam that is so broken it looks like cottage cheese is different than being served an oxidizied piece of torchon, or overcooked butter poached lobster? It's not a question of the wand ...it's the wizzards that are at fault. What style they are cooking in is irrelevant. As I said before the ones that do it well, with integredity, will be successful.....the others will just look silly.
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#20 chefg

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 10:33 AM

3) his dishes' verisimilitude seems to evade a style, foams aside, and as you (or was it Jonathon?) said, nothing was repeated from earlier visits and in fact there was only one foam this go 'round. adria is not making a style of food, just as avant garde movements never developed styles. however defamiliarization and surprise were two traditionally mined AG techniques that it seems adria is using too.

I disagree. Because el Bulli avoids repetition of dishes does not make them void of a style. It is impossible to be void of style in cooking. Because of the uniqueness of his food it is very easy to spot at the moment. Give Keller, Gagnaire, Adria, Trotter, and Bras a mystery basket of the same ingredients I would bet most people on this site would be able to correctly match each chef to their dish. The signature is apparent in the food. As time goes on it will become more difficult to identify, as more and more chefs use bits and pieces of it. After the release of the French Laundry cookbook every chef and their brothers had and have butter poached lobster, torchon and corents on their menus. This makes Thomas' style easier to identify for those that know his food well, but for a newcomer they may assocciate the cornet with some other chef that happens to be doing it. Everyone seems to focus on the foams, as soon as you pick up a N02 gun you are cooking in the style of Adria. Let's identify chefs' styles by their food personality not the techniques they use. It's more about the minds and less about the tools.
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#21 docsconz

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 10:35 AM

It's about the movement itself.  I don't want Achatz to get so esoteric that his reputation faulters. I don't want to hear about Adria serving fish stick popsicles in hollowed out television sets, with tartar sauce torches brought out tableside so the diner can get the whole Captain D's experience.  Foams were revolutionary, no doubt.  But now they're jokes.  Yes, some are doing them right, using them as subtle accents--maybe doing the honorable thing and leaving the word "foam" off the menu---but the thing has basically played itself out.  Food as theatre, as a five and a half hour trek into the subliminal instead of the sublime is the trend that I'm afraid we're edging towards with all of this surrealism.  Evolution, as Achatz so properly points out, is where the minds of these forward thinkers exist.  But when does evolution in food become like in the automobile industry?  I see these forward thinking restaurants like I see the prototypical cars that they show at autoshows.  They really look cool sitting there on a trade show pedestal all Buck Rodgers looking and sleek but how many of them have you seen stuck with you in traffic.

Whether it be Adria, Achatz, Keller or anyone else doing unique, unusual or esoteric food, the bottom line is it needs to work on a sensory level, not the least of which is taste. If the food ultimately doesn't make sense and doesn't taste good, it will fail and that Chef's reputation will suffer. That is the downside risk of the artist on the cutting edge. They could fail. But, if they don't fail, if they succeed, we have an Adria, a keller, etc. and their reputation is enhanced all the more and their place in history is secured. Of course, tastes change and favorites come and go, whether it be in the art world or the food world. My point is that the genius should not be held accountable for lesser lights that may follow and distort, bastardize or cause the work to be turned into a cliche. Just because I can throw paint on a canvas a la Jackson Pollock doesn't make me an artist (or him less of one), even though the net result may be visually similar to his. On the other hand if I could somehow find a way to take the influence of Pollock's work in a new, interesting direction, than perhaps I could be considered an artist (fat chance :smile: ). It is an extremely difficult thing to do, and very few can ever really hope to be successfully original, and of those, as in art, their genius may not be recognized until much later.

Chef/Writer Spencer, you express admiration for Adria (you acknowledge his genius), yet you fret over overexposure and trivialization of his cuisine or that one of your favorites may get burned by delving too deeply into the avant-garde. I'm not concerned about that. The "market" will take care of poor imitators or even good imitators if the food ultimately doesn't stand up on its own merits after its initial novelty. If that happens someone else (or perhaps still Adria) will be there pushing the envelope.

My conclusion is that no matter what others do with Adria's Cuisine, we are not worse off for what he is doing.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#22 Steve Klc

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 10:49 AM

Elsewhere I presented the hypothesis that one reason why Ferran would come to be seen as the most significant chef in history is because he is the first chef to break free of the yoke of the "signature dish"--some brilliant, oft-repeated, career-defining dish upon which a chef could hang his hat and which haute-y diner and food media alike could readily embrace. That Adria, with his extraordinary record of creativity in essence transcended the mere notion of a signature dish.

Lissome, in a powerful, reflective post, seems to support my sense with her reason 3) when she notes that "defamiliarization and surprise were two traditionally mined AG techniques." I wonder, perhaps, if you could extend beyond Adria defying "signature" dish to say he defies "style?" Chefg perhaps would agree, by saying "What style they are cooking in is irrelevant" to him when considering the effectiveness and skillful preparation of a dish before him.

Robert and Jonathon--did anyone in your party of eight wish they had some familiar dish to wrap their fingers around? Did anyone long for some culinary reference point that legions of followers had waxed poetic about for years? Are either of you more willing to take a step closer to my hypothesis?

Robert--you wonder about universal impact and indigenous ingredients--which reminds me of a previous "transportability of cuisine" thread--but I ask you: would you tend to view this in a different light if you realized Adria still doesn't have any signature dish, and his creativity is in no way limited, within the framework of his "indigenous" ingredient and cultural framework? And I'm not prepared to completely divert this thread--but I would think great talents like Adria, Veyrat, Bras and upcoming-great talents like Grant would be great where ever you dropped them in whichever local flora and fauna. They'd just be great in a different way, develop different signature dishes, or in the case of Adria, transcend the limitations of signature dish or style wherever he ended up.

The smart chefs aren't copying Adria's style--they are copying how freely he thinks about food. And that's the point Robert drives home very well by commending the value inherent in recording and archiving his canon.
Steve Klc

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Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

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#23 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 10:55 AM

[I guess I'm worried that this approach, however ahead of its time it seems now, will, in a couple of years, become as ridiculed and bastardized as tall food was in the early 90's.  I'm worried that the substance will get lost in the mix....

It puzzles me as to why everyone is quick to jump to this conclusion about new techniques brought forth recently. Was there such a backlash in the early stages of the current style that you can find in nearly every restaurant in this country? How many restaurants can you find a "torchon" of foie gras, butter poached lobster, braised pork belly, and the list goes on and on....They are all the same. It's boring. Of course they will always be situations where people lose focus or never understand the focus to begin with, and food styles will get a bad wrap. But tell me how recieving a flavorless bone marrow foam that is so broken it looks like cottage cheese is different than being served an oxidizied piece of torchon, or overcooked butter poached lobster? It's not a question of the wand ...it's the wizzards that are at fault. What style they are cooking in is irrelevant. As I said before the ones that do it well, with integredity, will be successful.....the others will just look silly.

To say they're all the same and boring is totally subjective. If I had worked with Keller and Adria I'd probably feel the same way. If the food is executed well, tastes great, and satisfies the diner and chef's own desires to furthur his knowledge and appreciation of what it means to strive for the pinnacle then so what if the food in question happens to be a torchon--lifted from the pages of TFL Cookbook. I wonder if these ubercreative chefs can still appreciate the simple things. That's really a pointed check made knowing that Keller finds a raw fava bean intellectually stimulating and Adria loves simple Spanish fare. There has got to come a time where the movement implodes on itself and reverts back to the basics. I'd personally rather make the trek to New York solely to try Alex Lee's cooking than to see what Jaleo is doing in Washington. His creativity is going to stand the test of time.

#24 Lord Michael Lewis

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 10:57 AM

What style they are cooking in is irrelevant. As I said before the ones that do it well, with integredity, will be successful.....the others will just look silly.

Of course, there are good imitators and bad imitators, and then there are those who imitate the imitators, some well some badly...

The point is that these wannabees seem bereft of genuine creativity. And, although there are few who would deny them the right to cook, it is frustrating when everyone jumps on an aesthetic bandwagon, because the message is that only the current aesthetic is good. However, the reason it's the current style is because Adria does it so well, not because a flock of copycats have disseminated it to a wider audience. It's convenient to say -- This is the new food and it's what I'm going to cook. But the sad reality is that the style (and the wizardly magic) belong to Ferran Adria.

I wouldn't expect many chefs to be able to what Adria has done, but I do expect them to acknowledge the fact that what they do would never have occurred to them without him. That, it would seem, is integrity.

#25 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 11:57 AM

What style they are cooking in is irrelevant. As I said before the ones that do it well, with integredity, will be successful.....the others will just look silly.

Of course, there are good imitators and bad imitators, and then there are those who imitate the imitators, some well some badly...

The point is that these wannabees seem bereft of genuine creativity. And, although there are few who would deny them the right to cook, it is frustrating when everyone jumps on an aesthetic bandwagon, because the message is that only the current aesthetic is good. However, the reason it's the current style is because Adria does it so well, not because a flock of copycats have disseminated it to a wider audience. It's convenient to say -- This is the new food and it's what I'm going to cook. But the sad reality is that the style (and the wizardly magic) belong to Ferran Adria.

I wouldn't expect many chefs to be able to what Adria has done, but I do expect them to acknowledge the fact that what they do would never have occurred to them without him. That, it would seem, is integrity.

OUCH....

#26 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 12:23 PM

I'm going to go to Trio in coming months and hopefully eat my words...There's some surrealism for you...

#27 chefg

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 12:54 PM

I wouldn't expect many chefs to be able to what Adria has done, but I do expect them to acknowledge the fact that what they do would never have occurred to them without him. That, it would seem, is integrity.

There is the truth.
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Grant Achatz
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#28 Bux

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 01:14 PM

3) his dishes' verisimilitude seems to evade a style, foams aside, and as you (or was it Jonathon?) said, nothing was repeated from earlier visits and in fact there was only one foam this go 'round. adria is not making a style of food, just as avant garde movements never developed styles. however defamiliarization and surprise were two traditionally mined AG techniques that it seems adria is using too.

I disagree. Because el Bulli avoids repetition of dishes does not make them void of a style. It is impossible to be void of style in cooking.

Because Adria seems to to evade a style doens't mean they are devoid of a style. I think the above exchange is getting wrapped up in semantics. What might be Adria's style is probably what Klc focuses on when he notes that Adria does not have a signature dish. Picasso's style was to change his style to stay ahead of his comtemporaries.

If the food ultimately doesn't make sense and doesn't taste good, it will fail and that Chef's reputation will suffer. That is the downside risk of the artist on the cutting edge.

There is food that may challenge my palate and my preconceptions of what tastes good, it may or may not taste good to me the first time, but at worst it will leave me thinking about my taste. Then there is food that does not taste good, but doesn't leave me questioning my taste. Can it be good food if it doesn't taste right the first time? This is theoretical and not really in reference to anything I've had at El Bulli or anyplace else.
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#29 robert brown

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 01:55 PM

Steve, I have to say that when I look at the El Bulli cookbook, I don't find myself thinking that the next time I see Ferran Adria that I will say to him,"Can yu make me #s 451, 618, 544, etc." I look at the book as a record of his conceptions, admire the photographs and assume I will never get to eat any of these dishes (although we did have #421 a few weeks ago). In terms of wanting any specific dishes when there were eight of us, my wife and I thought it would be fortuitous if he served again the Golden Egg (I will fill in a description when I get home and have the book to look at). But no, there are really no Adria signature dishes to speak of, and even if there were and you were served one, it would be an insignificant part of the meal. Adria has changed the entire dynamic and resonance of dining and has laid down a new set of goals for the aspiring chef. The problem is, however, that how many chefs who are their own boss have the luxury of experimenting and creating for six months a year without worrying how to feed a restaurant full of customers?

I suspect that Adria's cuisine is more Catalan-based than it appears to the layman and that there are subtleties that escaped people like me. I think that these days chefs are so mobile and move around and away from where they were brought or trained that being wedded to a region is becoming rare. You can sense it a bit when you read a culinary guide book like the Gault-Millau that tells you what the roots are of many chefs. You can see how many chefs from the Southwest are working in Provence-Cote d'Azur, for example. Yet in my dining out career, there are chefs I would have a hard time imagining working in another part of France, let alone the United States, as either they were born where they work or have been in one place so long that it is hard to see them elsewhere. I think only in Italy do you still get a proponderance of chefs working where they grew up. Possibly Spain as well.

You and others raise the matter of style and if it is appropriate to use to characterize or describe a chef. I hope I can join in that discussion later tonight. In the case of Adria and other younger chefs, is it more accurate to speak in terms of approach rather than style? I think the nature of creating cuisine is such that the notion of style is a secondary one.

#30 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 22 April 2003 - 02:07 PM

I say if it tastes like shit the first time, why try to intellectualize yourself into enjoying it.





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