Jump to content


Welcome to the eG Forums!

These forums are a service of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancement of the culinary arts. Anyone can read the forums, however if you would like to participate in active discussions please join the Society.

Photo

Avant garde cooking and El Bulli

Modernist

  • Please log in to reply
67 replies to this topic

#31 docsconz

docsconz
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 9,806 posts
  • Location:Upstate NY

Posted 22 April 2003 - 02:49 PM

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.

I would have to say yes - something can certainly become an acquired taste. There are many things I enjoy eating now, that I didn't at some point in the past. All of these things, however, have some reference point as being pleasureable, perhaps to a certain culture or a chronologic age. I would think that if a cuisine was based on total novelty and tasted such that one would need to be experienced to enjoy it, it probably would not reach the point that enough people would be willing to get experienced for it to become a gastronomic factor.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."
- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

#32 robert brown

robert brown
  • legacy participant
  • 2,239 posts
  • Location:New York/Nice

Posted 22 April 2003 - 06:58 PM

Here is one truth that is irrefutable: Even if Adria's cuisine fizzles out, he should be remembered for creating new ways of talking about the nature of cuisine. I really don't think that many of the concepts and insights that we are knocking around here would have been possible as recently as ten years ago.

I want to test the notion here that chefs operate on two, and, arguably, three levels. Goals are universal, and in the cooking profession they can be as humble as the means to earn a living or as lofty as making every morsel as flavorful as one can make-- the latter being the privilege and purvey of the relative handful of history's greatest chefs. No one can argue about the applicability of that. It is when, however, we try to discuss the narrower concepts of approaches and style that the argument heats up, probably returning to the frequent debate we have, "Can food be art?"

I contend that before circa 1990, it was much more difficult to describe the work of the great chefs (95% or so of them French) in terms of style. With the chefs of "La Nouvelle Cuisine", the primary goals were to create a meal that was significantly lighter than the classic French cuisine (although as one who ate more than his fair share, I can vouch that this wasn't always the case) and to cook with freshest ingredients possible. To achieve this, the chefs used certain approaches such as shorter cooking times for fish and vegetables and using less butter, flour, cream, fat and alcohol. Nonetheless, attempts at analysis become less clear-cut when one started to think of a chef's "style". Even though there were a few times I could correctly guess where a young chef served some his apprenticeship, I don't think I would be a high-percentage shooter if someone in theory arrayed a large group of freshly-made dishes and asked me which "Nouvelle Cuisine" master prepared it.

The problem, I think, is that the primary function of cooking at any level is to provide nourishment. It is the major impediment as to why cooking is, at best (and even this may be stretching the point in some people's minds) an applied (or functional) art. In the interest of brevity, let us just recognize that there are too many intervening factors that permit cooking to be what the Europeans like to call "free" art. To a certain degree, however, Adria brings cuisine at least a step closer to cuisine as at least an applied art. The most salient factor about him is that he begins to allow us to talk about cooking in artistic terms. We can surely say that his work is artful and creative and that he has created an artistic-like revolution (the universal spreading of which is a goal) by turning topsy-turvey historic assumptions in the theory and practice about the way food should be prepared. But even so, it is about approaches and not about style, since Adria's work is not about style, even though he tempts us to think about it. There may be an element of style in what he is doing, but it is style in the sense of a cook who makes collard greens, yams, and fried chicken into a "Southern-style" meal.

#33 chefg

chefg
  • participating member
  • 243 posts

Posted 22 April 2003 - 07:20 PM

But even so, it is about approaches and not about style,

Am I the only one who feels "approaches" define a "style"?
--
Grant Achatz
Chef/Owner
Alinea

#34 vmilor

vmilor
  • participating member
  • 345 posts

Posted 22 April 2003 - 07:44 PM

Thanks Robert and Jonathan for a flowing nice report. The amount of detail on each dish is just right. More than this would bore me.
Let me raise 2 contriversial issues:
1. Is Adria really modest?? In a way it is not important issue since it is the work that matters. But a few years ago he had struck me as a colossal ego. He thought that those who criticize his cuisine were either stupid(maybe so) or evil intentioned. Well, to pursue a unique course so singlemindedly, the man has got to be a bit of a zealot. But he is very bright and can play on your expectations. Maybe you guys should have talked to him after the performance.

2. A perfunctory comparison with the Adria of yesteryear and today shows that he may be caring less and less about the integrity of the products. Apart from the cigalas, nothing is what it seems at the first glance and dishes are always re-constructed(which I called post-modern in a different thread). The amusing thought just appeared to me that the man may not after all enjoy to eat. I remember what my mother told me about her own growing up. She could not eat anything and felt like throwing up seeing many things like a whole fish or leg of lamb, etc. Her grandma then literally disguised everything as something else that was more palatable, often transformed the texture to make them more soft and sweet and prepared at least 20 dishes each time(she had some help) to make sure that her beloved granddaughter would at least consume one or two dishes.

I am looking forward to make the pigrimage myself next year!

#35 robert brown

robert brown
  • legacy participant
  • 2,239 posts
  • Location:New York/Nice

Posted 22 April 2003 - 08:49 PM

Grant, think of an approach as an entry ramp of a highway in which every one slowly moves forward, single file, in a unity of purpose to get onto the highway, and then each of them going off on their own driving in different ways and at different speeds according to their style of driving.

Vedat, can you share some of your conversations and even experiences with Adria and El Bulli?

#36 chefg

chefg
  • participating member
  • 243 posts

Posted 22 April 2003 - 09:16 PM

Grant, think of an approach as an entry ramp of a highway in which every one slowly moves forward, single file, in a unity of purpose to get onto the highway, and then each of them going off on their own driving in different ways and at different speeds according to their style of driving.

Robert:

That example is one I can't live with. That being said all chefs would be driving down the same expressway, heading in the same direction, with the same destination in mind? I have a hard time with that.

Maybe we need to go backwards and ask ourselves what style is? To me, and all of the chefs that I know, it is personality. The food we create is a direct result of each chef's personality. It is what Adria wants his food to say to you and me that makes his food what it is. And that is a direct result of his mind.

There has to be a style to every artistic expression. He is painting, signing (whatever analogy you want to use) every plate without doing it intentionally. His food is him, he is his personality, his personality is his individualism as a person ...as a chef. To me that is style. An individuals' expression in an artistic medium. It is impossible to not have one.
--
Grant Achatz
Chef/Owner
Alinea

#37 Elissa

Elissa
  • participating member
  • 731 posts
  • Location:nyc

Posted 22 April 2003 - 11:06 PM

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.

Bravo.

May I suggest, however, that what you seem to want to call style I rather read (or taste or see or hear or feel) as voice.

While Miles Davis played many styles - from BeBop to Cool to fusion and more - his voice never changed. The bands he assembled and surrounded himself with changed, in style and in approach, but Miles was always Miles. Voice makes a raconteur's stories viable rather than rote, voice enriches vicarious or direct experience with credibility, character, vitality and verve. For me at any rate, voice is what addicts me to all my favorite artists, the best of whom - and Theloniuos Monk in particular - seem unencumbered and unmasked with 'style.'

Edited by lissome, 23 April 2003 - 07:17 AM.

Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons: That is all there is to distinguish us from the other Animals.

-Beaumarchais

#38 Elissa

Elissa
  • participating member
  • 731 posts
  • Location:nyc

Posted 23 April 2003 - 04:50 AM

It is when, however, we try to discuss the narrower concepts of approaches and style that the argument heats up, probably returning to the frequent debate we have, "Can food be art?" ...


Andre Malraux, in his book The Voices of Silence, lends some interesting ideas to this discussion. He begins with a history of the museum: a sort of institution that nowhere exists without the influence of modern Europe's civilization. Even within that civilization - mine and presumably (?) yours - museums have been around a mere 200 years. "The reason why the art museum made its appearance in Asia so belatedly (and, even then, only under European influence and patronage) is that for an Asiatic, and especially the man of the Far East, artistic contemplation and the picture gallery are incompatible." Enjoyment of a painting in China involved ownership. Paintings were things one unfurled privately at home, in a state of grace, and their function was to enhance communication with the universe. Paintings were not objects made to be crammed eighty to a wall in the Louvre, then sweated and sneezed over by every tourist (and poet) under the sun.

So it occurs to me that perhaps western aesthetics offer a skewed view of art, its function and more importantly its perception, and that this perverse take may be best illustrated by the conundrum of fine dining. Regarding not only presentation, but how food's would-be eaters accept and appreciate things made to be eaten, haute Japanese cuisine in particular has long been more nuanced than West's. The El Bulli experience would seem to address this, with as much playfulness as seriousness, not least by the rhythms with which plates arrive.

But since my private cook and his three assistants have the day off, not only will I have to make due with what ever I can scramble up now, but I imagine that it will also fall to me to find whatever I'll need to sate me later. Think I can come up with something new? How about just palatable? Let us pray. Lettuce spray? Which reminds me:

Does the El Bulli menu play with words and language? Are there linguistic puns in addition to the culinary ones?
Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons: That is all there is to distinguish us from the other Animals.

-Beaumarchais

#39 marcus

marcus
  • participating member
  • 629 posts

Posted 23 April 2003 - 06:26 AM

Vedat -- Although I didn't participate in your thread regarding the classifications of cooking, your use of the term post-modern continues to drive me crazy, so I have to say something. Post modernism is the retreat from modernism, harking back to earlier forms, but also absorbing many of the techniques of the modernist movement. As I recall, modernism, the great movement of the first half of the 20th century, was totally unmentioned in your thesis. The AT&T building in NY with its overall massive modern proportions, but with a stone facing and a broken pediment on top suggesting the Chippendale, is the essence of post-modernism as opposed to say Mies' Seagram building which is modernist. To me Robuchon and Ducasse represent post modernism, the synthesis of classic and nouvelle cuisine, and Adria is a neo-modernist. After the resting perios of post modernism, there typically arise attempts to move forward in new directions. Most fail, because no matter how brilliant the practitioner, the work needs to resonate with major forces that are changing the society as a whole. New foaming devices are not a sufficient basis. Modernism for example arose out of major changes in human self-perception arising out of the absorption into our culture of science and technology and associated ways of thinking. Whether Adria is on a valid road to new territory or a dead end is unclear at this time. I will form my opinion after my, de rigor, meal at El Bulli next month.

#40 robert brown

robert brown
  • legacy participant
  • 2,239 posts
  • Location:New York/Nice

Posted 23 April 2003 - 01:22 PM

Grant, there weren't any chefs in the cars getting on and driving down the highway. I used the comparison simply to try to illustrate diffeence between approach and style. I will have (unless someone else comes along) my last word about style in making food: I am still waiting to eat something that tastes stylish.

Let me say how grateful I am to you in writing, "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." because you describe a subject Adria is obsessed by, which is "sensibility". I know this from seeing him on France's Gourmet TV in which he goes into a long monologue about it and, on a personal note, his signing the El Bulli: 1998-2002 book I bought at the restaurant, " For Robert Brown, wishes for a good 2003. Thank you for your sensibility." What have you heard from Adria on the subject, if anything?

Lissome, do you think there's a relationship between what you wrote about Asian art museums and Adria wrote below?:

"I have no doubt that art can manifest itself in gastronomy, as much in the creation as in the perception of the diner. In my view, the true artists are the diners who are able to experience emotion as they confront a plate, to touch something that is difficult to conceive without resort to metaphor, or (and why not?) to bright ideas like that of a good Andalusian friend of mine: "Art is the experience of a shiver down the spine."

#41 RyneSchraw

RyneSchraw
  • participating member
  • 74 posts
  • Location:chicago

Posted 23 April 2003 - 02:12 PM

The problem, I think, is that the primary function of cooking at any level is to provide nourishment. It is the major impediment as to why cooking is, at best (and even this may be stretching the point in some people's minds) an applied (or functional) art. In the interest of brevity, let us just recognize that there are too many intervening factors that permit cooking to be what the Europeans like to call "free" art. To a certain degree, however, Adria brings cuisine at least a step closer to cuisine as at least an applied art.

This is definitely the traditional perception of food -- that it's basic function is to keep us alive -- however, I feel the highest level of cooking should, in fact, serve a completely different purpose. The food that Adrià, Achatz, Keller, etc. are doing is really only successful if it can entertain, bring forth emotions and connections and "touch something that is difficult to conceive without resort to metaphor," and finally send "a shiver down the spine." Obviously the food will also provide nourishment, but to chain the idea of cooking and eating down as only ever being "functional art" at best seems awfully unfair. Can we only ever use our senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch for the most basic purposes of survival? What about paintings, perfumes, music, and physical contact? Certainly these things all shift from the primary, base functions of those senses into something much more pleasureable and intellectual. There were a a few great ideas from josephreese's extraordinary review of the French Laundry that I think really touch on what Adrià was getting at in his quote about art:

Glazed Cloverdale Farms Rabbit Shoulder with Granny Smith Apple Coulis, Roasted Cippolini and Glazed Pearl Onions
This dish was perhaps the most rustic in concept. The rabbit was very tender, and its inherent game tones were in nice contrast with the sweet glaze and coulis. The cippolini and pearl onions rounded the country feel of the dish. While this was my least-favorite serving, it was also one that seemed to carry the most history, as if I were taken back in time and place to a empty countryside.

Robiola Vecchia Valsassina with Eggplant Parmesan and Micro Arugula Salad
This cheese was soft and bold, the eggplant tender and mellow. A refreshing young green flavor was added through the salad. It's a bit esoteric, but sometimes I find it best to describe a dish according to a thought or feeling experienced while eating. For me, this dish was a foggy room with small, focused beams of light from above.


There you have what it's all about-- the ability for a plate of food being served at The French Laundry, or Trio (I've gotten this same sort of feeling about a lot dishes Chef Achatz has served me), or El Bulli to transport you to a place or image of somewhere you've never been, yet one which feels so familiar. For me that does a lot more than what most museum-worthy "modern art" could ever hope to do...

#42 RyneSchraw

RyneSchraw
  • participating member
  • 74 posts
  • Location:chicago

Posted 23 April 2003 - 02:57 PM

As for the question of style/approach/voice/personality (all heavily related in my opinion) among chefs working in the avant-garde, I feel these things all do exist very heavily and defined. Lets just take Ferran Adrià and Grant Achatz for example-- while the two are similar in their usage of modern techniques, very large prix fixe menus, and small courses throughout the meal, that is where the similarities end. Adrià was born and grew in Spain, giving his cooking a perpective that is uniquely Spanish and uniquely his. His menu is practically devoid of anything which comes close to a traditional meat course (rabbit brains don't count!), and rather has a strong base of seafood, tapas, and Mediterranean flavors. I remember reading in the sorta famous Esquire interview how Ferran views a prawn head that is "intimidating, scary, and prehistoric" to the reporter, as just being plain "normal" to him--something his people have been eating for generations and generations. Achatz on the other hand grew up in the American Midwest (Michigan), and on his menus you will find the food he is familiar with: cheese and crackers, milk shakes, rootbeer, pizza, bacon and eggs, etc. It's a case of a chef cooking what he is comfortable with. No matter what techniques or similarities the two share, they are distinctively different chefs with very different food personalities. Which leads me to this interesting question: what would a review of El Bulli read like from someone who grew up in that region of Spain and who views eating prawn's brains as being a normal everyday thing as well. To an American the whole meal is foreign -- from location, to food, to technique, to format -- and for that matter seems to be more extraordinary, but would a Spanish person eating there find several "footholds" they could relate to along the way?

#43 vmilor

vmilor
  • participating member
  • 345 posts

Posted 23 April 2003 - 08:27 PM

Vedat -- Although I didn't participate in your thread regarding the classifications of cooking, your use of the term post-modern continues to drive me crazy, so I have to say something.  Post modernism is the retreat from modernism, harking back to earlier forms, but also absorbing many of the techniques of the modernist movement.

Marcus--partially our misunderstanding is one of semantics but it is also due to the baseline we select. In architecture I suppose the PM school had to build on the modernist school because there is a science of civil engineering which underlies the activity and certain parameters had to be respected for the buildings not to collapse. In humanities and philosophy post modernists, such as Derrida, made an attempt not to absorb any preceding ideology but to "deconstruct' preexisting claims for attaining the truth. Adria's playfulness, his tongue of cheek approach to cuisine, his experimentation with cubes, tubes, essences and gelatins and foams, etc., may be likened to the iconoclast approach of PMism. I also do not think that PMism is associated with Science and Techonology in a linear way. On the contrary, it was the exaggerated claims of positivistic-modernist traditions to objectivity that attracted the (often) well argued objections of the PM school.

I doubt Ducasse will see himself as a culinary avantgarde. He is very respectful of tradition and his style radically differs from the PM chefs. He will focus his efforts to perfect a traditional sauce, say sauce Albufera or perigourdine, rather than "invent" a pasta without flour.

In the end I agree with you that the PM school(call it something else) has to resonate with major forces which are changing society as a whole to become rooted. But this is precisely the case. It just costs less to serve mini portions of less expensive ingredients and to present expensive ingredients in miniscule portions than to prepare Robuchon style truffle pizza or Pacaud style truffe en croute. Besides very few people now know what a spring lamb tastes like, esp. if it is from say the Kivircik breed in Trakia or the Chiurra(?) breed in Castille. Most people do not like lamb or eat red meat anyway. If you serve them 30+ course of mostly non-offensive ingredients, they will mostly be happy even though you may insert one or two offals there to please the gourmets. At any rate what I am afraid is that, given the Winner-Take-All dynamics at work in modern life(please see Jonathan Day's lucid expose in the "In Extremis" symposium--being computer illeterate I do not know how to insert the link) the PM chefs, aided and abetted :smile: by professional guides will drive the classical ones away from the market. I am also afraid that because the emerging chefs mostly ape Veyrat and Adria and are less interested in preparing the time tested recipes, we will enjoy less and less a good daube de boeuf, or queue de boeuf or a grilled rock langouste with aioli in the future.

At any rate, thanks Marcus for giving me the opportunity to express my qualms. We really need responses like yours which are honest and direct in our forums to move the debate forward. My only caveat is that you have not shared your recent Piemonte exploits with us and I am sure many of us will appreciate your guidance.

#44 robert brown

robert brown
  • legacy participant
  • 2,239 posts
  • Location:New York/Nice

Posted 23 April 2003 - 09:41 PM

Lissome, to try to answer your questions about Adria and word play or linguistic puns, here are a few dishes from last year that we had at restaurant. I took them from my report of that meal in the Spain forum. In truth, it was more a case of clever titles for certain dishes that were not literal renderings of their names. I also believe this aspect was more present then than it was at our meal of three weeks ago.

4. “Pistachulines" de Yogur (2001): Adrai transformed yogurt into a crispy packet that resembled a crescent-shaped dumpling. This, too, dissolved and released or “revealed” a whole pistachio nut.


6. “Philopizza” (2000): A long, narrow rectangle of herb-infused phylo dough that was topped with shredded cheese-flavored flakes and intensely flavored powder of tomato. The cheese aspect of it brought to my mind Eli Zabar’s Parmesan toast; but there the resemblance ended to anything we had ever eaten except, of course, to the taste of pizza that Adria had captured in his unique way.


13. Tagliatelle de Consome a la Carbonara (1999): Consomme that was re-formed into long jellied strands about the size of fettuccini. It was served like a Carbonara. It had an egg and butter liquid sauce with tiny cubes of cheese (possibly Gruyere) and ham. We found this to be better in conception than in taste.

#45 Chef/Writer Spencer

Chef/Writer Spencer
  • legacy participant
  • 1,042 posts

Posted 24 April 2003 - 05:42 AM

Lissome, to try to answer your questions about Adria and word play or linguistic puns, here are a few dishes from last year that we had at restaurant. I took them from my report of that meal in the Spain forum. In truth, it was more a case of clever titles for certain dishes that were not literal renderings of their names. I also believe this aspect was more present then than it was at our meal of three weeks ago.

4. “Pistachulines" de Yogur (2001): Adrai transformed yogurt into a crispy packet that resembled a crescent-shaped dumpling. This, too, dissolved and released or “revealed” a whole pistachio nut.


6. “Philopizza” (2000): A long, narrow rectangle of herb-infused phylo dough that was topped with shredded cheese-flavored flakes and intensely flavored powder of tomato. The cheese aspect of it brought to my mind Eli Zabar’s Parmesan toast; but there the resemblance ended to anything we had ever eaten except, of course, to the taste of pizza that Adria had captured in his unique way.


13. Tagliatelle de Consome a la Carbonara (1999): Consomme that was re-formed into long jellied strands about the size of fettuccini. It was served like a Carbonara. It had an egg and butter liquid sauce with tiny cubes of cheese (possibly Gruyere) and ham. We found this to be better in conception than in taste.

ROBERT,

And this isn't just in reference to your breakdown quoted above....


I have yet to get through reading one interpretation of an experience of an El Bulli meal that doesn't include a "better in presentation than in flavor" like commentary. While true (and I know this retort will come) it may be only one dish out of twenty may be less than perfect, I don't think it's fair to put Adria on an unattainable pedestal. Is it a generality that Adria's food may be smoke and mirrors to some small extent? I'm not trying to demean what he has done for the world of food but at the end of the day isn't food more about flavor than magic tricks and presentation. To me, and I know not to a lot of people in this forum, I'm more concerned about taste than vapors and the benefits of 3-D sensory devices. Are some of us sycophants unable to point out when a trend, a style, an approach, a metier, a direction, a movement, what ever you want to call it has been played out?

#46 marcus

marcus
  • participating member
  • 629 posts

Posted 24 April 2003 - 07:07 AM

From Webster's online dictionary. Other dictionary definitions are essentially similar.

Main Entry: post·mod·ern
Pronunciation: "pOs(t)-'mä-d&rn, ÷-'mä-d(&-)r&n
Function: adjective
Date: 1949
: of, relating to, or being any of several movements (as in art, architecture, or literature) that are reactions against the philosophy and practices of modern movements and are typically marked by revival of traditional elements and techniques
- post·mod·ern·ism /-d&r-"ni-z&m/ noun
- post·mod·ern·ist /-nist/ adjective or noun

Postmodernism is a return to the past, not a break with it. The concept of postmodernism in and of itself, without a prior modernist movement to which it is reacting, is really a non-sequitor. If one is looking for a modernist movement in cooking, it would have to be nouvelle cuisine. Thus, Robuchon and Ducasse as synthesizers of nouvelle cuisine with prior approaches are the postmodernists. I would propose that Adria is a neo-modernist, and placing him in the postmodern category will lead to confusion.

Edited by marcus, 24 April 2003 - 07:24 AM.


#47 Jonathan Day

Jonathan Day
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 1,730 posts
  • Location:London and Mougins, France

Posted 24 April 2003 - 08:41 AM

I have yet to get through reading one interpretation of an experience of an El Bulli meal that doesn't include a "better in presentation than in flavor" like commentary.

A few comments, admittedly based only on one meal at El Bulli, but also made after reading both the new book and the 1997 Secrets of El Bulli.

First, let me say that I am in no way arguing for "giving Adria a break". He has chosen to play at the highest international level, and he should be held to the highest possible standard. (That comment, by the way, has nothing to do with the prices at El Bulli, which are astonishingly low).

Second, our meal was not perfect. It was very slow, especially at the end, and a few of the dishes could have been improved. The "caviar de ceps", for example, though wonderfully presented, didn't quite work either as caviar (it was too warm and the "eggs" didn't have the requisite texture) or as ceps (the flavour was slightly muddied).

Having said all that, I am amazed by what Adria did, for a number of reasons.

First, all of the dishes arrived in a relatively simple and unadorned state. We are all familiar with overcombined, overgarnished dishes, stacked, twizzled with sauces, adorned with fried dingbats, X-with-Y-with-Z-with-A-with-B-with-C. None of that here. Very few dishes combined more than two things (e.g. the oysters with fresh almonds), and in general each of the 30 dishes was highly focused and clear as to what it was supposed to be. Most of these dishes represented a kind of high wire act, with little to hide behind. And with one or two exceptions (out of 30) not only the presentation but the flavours were stunningly good. And even the exceptions were not bad, just not astonishing in flavour.

Second, Adria's techniques, as far as I can see, look deceptively simple but must be devilishly tough in their execution; here I would include the gelatins, as but one example.

Third, the kitchen cranked out 30 of these amazing dishes during our meal, plus several for those who couldn't eat pork or cheese or whatever.

So I am left with an enormous (and unanticipated) sense of respect for Adria's mastery, not just as an innovator but as a cook.
Jonathan Day
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

#48 Chef/Writer Spencer

Chef/Writer Spencer
  • legacy participant
  • 1,042 posts

Posted 24 April 2003 - 11:01 AM

I'm just totally diggin' me some fried dingbat. Thanks for that!!!

#49 vmilor

vmilor
  • participating member
  • 345 posts

Posted 24 April 2003 - 07:31 PM

From Webster's online dictionary.  Other dictionary definitions are essentially similar. 

Main Entry: post·mod·ern
Pronunciation: "pOs(t)-'mä-d&rn, ÷-'mä-d(&-)r&n
Function: adjective
Date: 1949
: of, relating to, or being any of several movements (as in art, architecture, or literature) that are reactions against the philosophy and practices of modern movements and are typically marked by revival of traditional elements and techniques
- post·mod·ern·ism  /-d&r-"ni-z&m/ noun
- post·mod·ern·ist  /-nist/ adjective or noun

Postmodernism is a return to the past, not a break with it.  The concept of postmodernism in and of itself, without a prior modernist movement to which it is reacting, is really a non-sequitor.  If one is looking for a modernist movement in cooking, it would have to be nouvelle cuisine.  Thus, Robuchon and Ducasse as synthesizers of nouvelle cuisine with prior approaches are the postmodernists.  I would propose that Adria is a neo-modernist, and placing him in the postmodern category will lead to confusion.

Marcus, Please note that in the definition that you give, the Webster dictionary uses the word "typically". In the humanities and social science, the modernism encompases both Marxist and Positivistic theories. Postmodernism is a rejection of this, and they do not try to revive any traditional techniques. Post-modernists in humanities will not even admit the notion of the past because they will challenge a linear narrative. In this sense Adria is more post-modern than the other two chefs. But the bottomline is that they are all great chefs or forces in comtemporary cuisine to reckon with. Our difference seems semantic to me. How about reporting on your new exploits instead.....

P.S. Your Webster dictionary give the definition: "of or relating to a movement that is in reaction against the theory and practice of modern art or literature." There is no mention of a return to tradition.

#50 Chef/Writer Spencer

Chef/Writer Spencer
  • legacy participant
  • 1,042 posts

Posted 25 April 2003 - 05:59 AM

This is becoming an endless shell game of semantics and definitions. Where's the point, under this shell--nope, shuffle, shuffle,under this one, nope--[/I]shuffle, shuffle. Is the world of food better off with what Adria has done. HELL YES. Are the rip offs flies buzzing in his ear. GOTTA BE. Are they any less of a force to reckon with because they like to make consomme into pappardelle...HELL NO. As long as there are chefs pushing themselves--even if they rip the masters off---then the dining public is more than likely going to benefit. And the excitement these guys create will ensure that gastronomy will remain a vibrant aspect of modern culture. (YES, I am bi-polar).

#51 Jonathan Day

Jonathan Day
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 1,730 posts
  • Location:London and Mougins, France

Posted 25 April 2003 - 10:15 AM

In Secrets of El Bulli, Ferran Adria sets out 27 observations that others have made on his cuisine. I have translated his introduction to this section and the observations themselves. Some of them are clearly very personal (e.g. number 14) but others apply more broadly to avant-garde cuisine.

* * *

What people have said about my cuisine

It is difficult to analyse the nature of my cuisine, because among other reasons it is hard to separate my ideas from my personal preferences. For this reason I have taken advantage of the great cooks and lovers of fine cuisine who have attended the courses we have given over the last four years at El Bulli, by compiling a series of their observations and hence providing a vision that complements my own. Naturally, observations that appear to some as a virtue will appear to others as a defect.

1. The element of surprise is very important.

2. We should bring something new to almost every dish, not just offer a mixture of ingredients.

3. Sometimes I use many ingredients (elementos) in a dish, sometimes far fewer.

4. To really understand this cuisine, it must be eaten in a tasting menu.

5. Almost every dish is served in small quantities

6. There are no second-class products; we get as much from a sardine as from caviar.

7. Nothing must be superfluous: everything must have a reason for being.

8. The complexity of simplicity.

9. This is a provocative cuisine, one that should lead people to think, rich in irony and humour.

10. It is also a transparent cuisine.

11. The cold savoury dishes (foams, jellies, ices, sorbets, soups) are without doubt what make our cooking distinctive; another differentiating element is the combination of many textures in a dish (menestra en texturas)

12. Nobody should really know where the "meal" ends and where the "desserts" begin.

13. We constantly search for new techniques…

14. … and new ingredients

15. We don't use fish fumet.

16. Temperature contrast is important…

17. …as is textural contrast.

18. We rarely follow the basic structure of "ingredient plus garnish". Garnish and sauce should be combined.

19. We have little interest in plates of meat.

20. But we have a passion for tapas, snacks, petits fours -- that is to say, for "little bites".

21. We look for consistency, for minimising technical faults as dishes are being cooked, seasoned, etc.

22. We use relatively few systems of cooking.

23. We respect the basic ingredients. Although we constantly transform ingredients, our point of reference is always the primary taste of the product.

24. Sauces that are soups, soups that are sauces. It is rarely possible to describe our dishes using the vocabulary of classical cuisine.

25. A passion for flavoured oils and vinaigrettes.

26. Almost every dish is matched to the rhythm and harmony of the meal. Each is carefully thought through.

27. Taste is the most important factor; cookery, before anything else, is about making things delicious.
Jonathan Day
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

#52 Chef/Writer Spencer

Chef/Writer Spencer
  • legacy participant
  • 1,042 posts

Posted 25 April 2003 - 10:32 AM

In Secrets of El Bulli, Ferran Adria sets out 27 observations that others have made on his cuisine. I have translated his introduction to this section and the observations themselves. Some of them are clearly very personal (e.g. number 14) but others apply more broadly to avant-garde cuisine.

* * *

What people have said about my cuisine

It is difficult to analyse the nature of my cuisine, because among other reasons it is hard to separate my ideas from my personal preferences. For this reason I have taken advantage of the great cooks and lovers of fine cuisine who have attended the courses we have given over the last four years at El Bulli, by compiling a series of their observations and hence providing a vision that complements my own. Naturally, observations that appear to some as a virtue will appear to others as a defect.

1. The element of surprise is very important.

2. We should bring something new to almost every dish, not just offer a mixture of ingredients.

3. Sometimes I use many ingredients (elementos) in a dish, sometimes far fewer.

4. To really understand this cuisine, it must be eaten in a tasting menu.

5. Almost every dish is served in small quantities

6. There are no second-class products; we get as much from a sardine as from caviar.

7. Nothing must be superfluous: everything must have a reason for being.

8. The complexity of simplicity.

9. This is a provocative cuisine, one that should lead people to think, rich in irony and humour.

10. It is also a transparent cuisine.

11. The cold savoury dishes (foams, jellies, ices, sorbets, soups) are without doubt what make our cooking distinctive; another differentiating element is the combination of many textures in a dish (menestra en texturas)

12. Nobody should really know where the "meal" ends and where the "desserts" begin.

13. We constantly search for new techniques…

14. … and new ingredients

15. We don't use fish fumet.

16. Temperature contrast is important…

17. …as is textural contrast.

18. We rarely follow the basic structure of "ingredient plus garnish". Garnish and sauce should be combined.

19. We have little interest in plates of meat.

20. But we have a passion for tapas, snacks, petits fours -- that is to say, for "little bites".

21. We look for consistency, for minimising technical faults as dishes are being cooked, seasoned, etc.

22. We use relatively few systems of cooking.

23. We respect the basic ingredients. Although we constantly transform ingredients, our point of reference is always the primary taste of the product.

24. Sauces that are soups, soups that are sauces. It is rarely possible to describe our dishes using the vocabulary of classical cuisine.

25. A passion for flavoured oils and vinaigrettes.

26. Almost every dish is matched to the rhythm and harmony of the meal. Each is carefully thought through.

27. Taste is the most important factor; cookery, before anything else, is about making things delicious.

Is it subliminal that TASTE is no. 27. I know, I know, some you guys want to smack me. It's ok.

#53 Lord Michael Lewis

Lord Michael Lewis
  • legacy participant
  • 909 posts
  • Location:London, England.

Posted 25 April 2003 - 03:23 PM

Early on in his renaissance, Adria mooted his interest Jaques Derrida post-structuralist thinking. To my mind, what Adria does is a result of a misreading of Derrida, but a productive misreading nonetheless. Adria, I believe, sees technique as the grammar of food, and his work is somehow forged in the sparks of a head on collision with the ineluctable classisicism that pervades our expectations of what fine dining should be.

Since then Adria has come up with a grammar all his own, that is to say a new language. It is not surprising then that he has recently cited Noam Chomsky's Generative Grammar as relevant to his work.

#54 docsconz

docsconz
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 9,806 posts
  • Location:Upstate NY

Posted 25 April 2003 - 05:15 PM

HELL YES.  Are the rip offs flies buzzing in his ear. GOTTA BE.  Are they any less of a force to reckon with because they like to make consomme into pappardelle...HELL NO.  As long as there are chefs pushing themselves--even if they rip the masters off---then the dining public is more than likely going to benefit.  And the excitement these guys create will ensure that gastronomy will remain a vibrant aspect of modern culture.  (YES, I am bi-polar).

I agree completely.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."
- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

#55 robert brown

robert brown
  • legacy participant
  • 2,239 posts
  • Location:New York/Nice

Posted 25 April 2003 - 06:58 PM

LML, strictly because he and I used to watch baseball games in the basement of my gallery, I read the poet David Lehman's insightful, even riveting, book "Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man". It told me why Deconstructionism is a crock of shit, as we say. So when Adria talks about it in relation to his food, I think he uses the wrong word. I like the word "displacement" in the music sense in which you take a theme and rearrange its basic components (melody, syncopation, harmony, meter) so that it comes out transformed but recognizable. ("Transformation" is a word I used in the Daily Gullet essay in my succinct description of his cooking). Most of all I like what my brother ( a scholar in the truest sense) said after he told me that food historians were "hot" in academia right now: "They are among those who have "deconstructed" the world and are putting it back together."

#56 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 26 April 2003 - 09:23 AM

Robert, I definitely agree that "deconstruction" is the wrong word -- or, rather, that it is either an unrelated usage of the same word or a misuse based on a misunderstanding.

In the Gastronomy in France in Flux thread, we had a bit of a discussion about this. I'll inject my relevant comment here, if you don't mind:

The use of the term deconstruction in discussions of Adria has always seemed curious to me, because having studied deconstruction -- as in the philosophical and literary work of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man -- I've never seen the connection. The word deconstruction as commonly used in the food media -- and indeed it's a handy word for breaking down anything into its theoretical components -- has little to do with deconstruction. At the most basic level, deconstruction in the literary world is not a way of writing; it is a form of criticism. Without getting deep into the semantics of it all, to me deconstruction in the culinary world cannot come from chefs -- it has to come from critics saying things like, "there is no inherent superiority of Les Crayeres over McDonald's."

The more colloquial use of deconstruction -- meaning to analyze the components of a dish and rebuild them into something that tastes good using the tools available in the kitchen -- is simply what chefs have always done. I don't acknowledge an intellectual distinction between making potato foam and turning wheat into bread. Pretty much all cooking is about transformation. Whether the end result is familiar is a completely different issue. Remember that what Adria is trying to do (and I will use Adria as shorthand for the modernist movement in cooking) is extract the essence of flavor from food and present it in a stimulating form. In other words, he's trying to make food taste good by escaping the prison of form and focusing instead on flavor, texture, and temperature as pure concepts. I think the reason Special K is especially accepting of this approach is that it's much like what pastry chefs do every day. Save for the occasional use of fresh fruit, pastry is all about transformation and the essence of flavor. There's no big piece of animal muscle or a whole bird or an asparagus spear to preserve.

Conservatism in art, music, literature, and as we see here cuisine, plays an important role. It's not just the natural order of things -- society depends on conservatism as a tool of self-perpetuation -- but it's also the best way to make a lot of people good at something. Most chefs would be better off following the formulae of the haute cuisine masters. There are schools to teach it, and the distribution of ingredients and the design of kitchens are aligned to support it. Most chefs lack the skill set to depart in any meaningful way from the orthodoxy while still making delicious food. But some do, and they should be celebrated.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#57 Jonathan Day

Jonathan Day
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 1,730 posts
  • Location:London and Mougins, France

Posted 29 April 2003 - 02:43 PM

Remember that what Adria is trying to do (and I will use Adria as shorthand for the modernist movement in cooking) is extract the essence of flavor from food and present it in a stimulating form. In other words, he's trying to make food taste good by escaping the prison of form and focusing instead on flavor, texture, and temperature as pure concepts.


The April-May number of GaultMillau magazine has an article on "impertinent recipes": "Three ingredients, nine recipes to reinvent the classical and give meaning to modernism." (The magazine also has articles on Bernard Loiseau, on food criticism, and on an event that brought Michel Troisgros and Pascal Barbot together to cook endives. But this note focuses on the "impertinent recipes" piece).

In each case, the author (Gilles Choukroun, chef of Le café des Delices) presents a traditional recipe, then two "modernist" variations.

1. Asparagus

Traditional: à l'anglaise (boiled) with parmesan and soft-cooked eggs (oeufs mollets)

Modern: served raw, with a dipping sauce made of olive oil, pastis, chopped peanuts and lemon juice

Hypermodern: served as a purée, with diced raw asparagus, cream, argan oil, red pepper

2. Rack of lamb

Traditional: Roasted, served with chips of Jerusalem artichokes and a coffee-flavoured jus

Modern: "Pot au feu" of lamb with tea and spices ("Asian-Oriental" style)

Hypermodern: a "Hamburger" of roast rack of lamb served with pesto, spinach leaves and ketchup

3. Chocolate (cacao)

Traditional: Hot chocolate served with "soldiers" cut from pain d'épices

Modern: Tagliatelle flavoured with cocoa served "carbonara" style, with a raw egg and chocolate sorbet

Hypermodern: Chocolate tuiles with honey, lemon juice, red pepper, and vache-qui-rit (laughing cow) cheese (in its foil wrapper)

* * *

Apart from the fact that none of these dishes sound or look very appetising, I was struck that their "modernity" was a derivative of traditional dishes, rather as one might set new words to an old song, or present a Mozart opera with the characters wearing spacesuits. Thomas Keller does something similar, taking favourite dishes ("surf and turf", "coffee and doughnuts", "vitello tonnato") and ringing changes on them. This treatment can be valuable in that it may enable the diner to see the dish with fresh eyes, as it were, to taste it anew.

But I am struck that very few of Adria's dishes seem to work this way. Yes, he makes "caviar" out of tapioca, and "tagliatelle" out of gelatin. And he does a few dishes that are in some sense derivative. In Secrets of El Bulli he describes the process of innovation, starting from the concept of "Mar y Montana" (sea and mountains, surf and turf) and ending up with a dish of marrow served with caviar. But for the most part, he seems to follow Maximin's dictum: "creativity is not copying", either other chefs' dishes or traditional recipes. His innovation is more basic, less a matter of taking old favourites and twisting them around then going straight to the essential form or flavour of something and making essential changes to that.
Jonathan Day
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

#58 RyneSchraw

RyneSchraw
  • participating member
  • 74 posts
  • Location:chicago

Posted 29 April 2003 - 03:41 PM

Hypermodern: a "Hamburger" of roast rack of lamb served with pesto, spinach leaves and ketchup

roast rack of lamb with ketchup!? oh god...:shock: i would be concerned even if the "ketchup" were in quotes, but the fact that it is not just scares the hell out of me.

it does, however, bring up the point that even though surprise (relating to texture, temp, combinations, etc.), irony, reference, and humor can all play an equal part in "modern cuisine," it is TASTE that should be the final measure of a dish. and i am sure that Adrià, Achatz, or Keller would agree. so putting ketchup on lamb may be shocking, but not very smart---and lets all hope it's not actually the future.

#59 Chef/Writer Spencer

Chef/Writer Spencer
  • legacy participant
  • 1,042 posts

Posted 30 April 2003 - 05:11 AM

Ryne,

I'm more thrown by a lamb rack hamburger than anything else. Why in God's name would you want to desecrate a nice piece of meat like that? I detest chefs who fool with their food to the detriment of the food itself in the name of hypermodernism or whatever you food theologians call it. That whole menu Jonathan reiterated sounded like it was created by some goobersmootch that just graduated from the Ferran Adria school of hide the salami. It's a sad state of affairs for sure when you've got to weed through a menu to get at the heart and soul of a chef's metier. Everyone is on a collision course with creativity. What happens when everything has been created? I hate to think of what the trends will be when that occurs. Whatever happened to the Mario Batali (simple is better) style?

#60 Jonathan Day

Jonathan Day
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 1,730 posts
  • Location:London and Mougins, France

Posted 30 April 2003 - 09:50 AM

Spencer, the point I was trying to make is that there may be a difference between "deep" creativity (which I think Adria practices) and "surface" creativity -- imitating the trappings of creativity but not really advancing the state of fine cuisine. Any hacker could take a classic dish and ring changes on it -- add toothpaste to boeuf bourguignon, serve a horseradish sorbet with your next roast chicken, take "coq au vin" apart by serving a broiled chicken breast, a glass of wine and a glass of chicken blood. What Adria did was different.

In dining, cooking and reading I am generally more interested in traditional recipes, beautifully executed, and I tend to favour the simple over the baroque. I went to El Bulli with some concern that the meal would be conceptually interesting but neither tasty nor true to the essence of what the ingredients were.

Neither supposition proved out. This food was delicious, first of all; then it was conceptually fascinating; finally, it was surprisingly simple. When you have the option to break the meal into 30 or so small dishes I guess it's easier to make each one more focused and direct. There wasn't a lot of "X with Y with Z".

I have not dined at Trio (though it is high on my list) and I am curious to understand how it plays out on the "deep" vs "surface" creativity.
Jonathan Day
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."





Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Modernist