Signature Dish or Signature Meal?
Posted 14 December 2004 - 10:59 PM
There are two types of regionalism: a more conservative one, so to speak a regionalism of restriction, relying on strict traditions, and the regionalism of liberation, whose manifestation is especially in tune with the emerging thought of the time, and which is called “regional” only because it has not yet emerged elsewhere, whose triumph is in extraordinary awareness and freedom, and whose manifestation has significance for the world outside itself.
Your cuisine, abundant with technical and artistic statements, has already been recognized and started slowly altering the very fundamentals of the world of gastronomy. One can clearly see how, little by little, the perception of a three-course meal – with the focus, centered on a main ingredient (its quality and arrangement), and technique, concentrated on enhancing the taste of individual dishes with each bite, so as to keep the diner’s attention intact through the whole period of this one-dish consumption – shifting to multi-course bites with (assuming a chef has talent) stunning visual presentations, which are more oriented toward delivering an overall dining experience, frequently containing an element of surprise, rather than concentrating on the integrity and consistent refinement of single dishes, therefore breaking the whole “signature dish” concept: the whole idea of chefs striving to create individual jewels and preserve them for years on their menu while testing the diners’ tastes over time. Indeed, the thirty-course presentation must be mobile and aggressive enough to keep the senses charged through the whole meal, and concentrating on one dish may tire and wear out the senses.
My question is in regard to your philosophy: is the concept of the signature dish still present in your cuisine with each dish as an independent creation designed to stand on its own, or do you instead create signature meals where each dish represents a piece of a puzzle that can be solved only with the last bite? In the first case, could you give examples of such dishes? In the second case, would it be fair to say that it is impossible to fully perceive your cuisine from only one meal (contrary to the experience with the “signature dish” chef, where several best dishes may well reveal his concept and philosophy as well as his talent), and a series of meals is required to form a definitive picture?
Posted 19 December 2004 - 04:50 PM
Creativity and surprise go hand in hand. The surprise element in consecutive meals is different. The first time you look at a Michelangelo is unique. When the surprising effect is gone, you lose one of the components of creativity. What would happen if you see a goal in soccer twice? The surprise element of the goal is not there. I eat 25 or 30 times elBulli’s menu and it’s always different. Depending on how you’re feeling that day, the sensation left by a dish moves you differently emotionally.
People who come to elBulli come to eat creativity. Because this is the most important fact about elBulli. You take it for granted that it would be good. That something with the level of elBulli is good I find that is hard to argue about. A different matter is that you enjoy it. As we do hard and pure creativity year after year, there’s no room for repetition at elBulli. It’s a kitchen of nuances. We do what we want. Without references. In other cuisines, there are references: if you and I go to have a woodcock, we have reference elements. Not at elBulli.