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Is eating at El Bulli bad for your health?


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Controversy was stirred up in Spanish gastronomic circles when Santi Santamaria, himself a 3 Michelin Star holder, criticized Ferran Adria of "unethical" cooking practices related to his extensive use of gelling and emulsification agents.

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Would be interesting to see what Harold McGee might say about this.

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"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

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I have a lot of respect for Santamaria, however this criticism seems utterly off base and without foundation. For one thing, elBulli is simply not responsible for the introduction of additives to the food supply. Industrial food producers are responsible for 99.99999% of chemical use, and molecular gastronomers for maybe the other .00001%. For another thing, as with any fancy restaurant, a meal at elBulli is a special -- perhaps once in a lifetime -- event. Claiming it's hazardous to your health is no more rational than claiming that an abundant meal at, say, Santamaria's restaurant, is going to make customers obese. And for still another thing, Santamaria's health claims are clearly just a surrogate for his real concern: he doesn't think food should be art ("Cooks should not be preoccupied with creating sculptures or painting pictures with their work. A table is not an art gallery") and he's opposed to most modern culinary creativity. Well, that's fine. He doesn't have to be a creative artist. His food can be delicious in its own right. But that's no reason to slander Ferran Adria.

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)

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Santamaria has certainly brought attention to himself with his latest diatribe. He has, however, received a number of rebuttals in the Spanish media from various chefs organizations as well as scientists. I'm not sure what he is basing his claims on, but I have not seen or heard much support for them from the scientific community.

While I am not asserting cause and effect, it is ironic that a number of travelmates along with myself got sick within a day after an otherwise wonderful meal at Can Fabes.

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

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To each their own, but his 'accusations', besides being damaging, reveal that he does not know much about Adria's and others style of cooking or ingredients.

No one wants to stop anyone from eating morcilla and eggs. Everything has it's place.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Well said, Elie.

Santamaria's book and remarks have been widely criticized throughout Spain. While he received some positive recognition for his remarks at Madrid Fusion in 2007, that appears not to be the case this time as he has distanced himself not only from the tecnoemotionalistas, but also from the mainstream of the Spanish culinary world. It smacks of envy and pettiness that he tries to drag down his competition and peers through unsubstantiated innuendo. I greatly respect Santamaria's cooking, though I have lost respect for the man.

Edited by docsconz (log)

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

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While I am not asserting cause and effect, it is ironic that a number of travelmates along with myself got sick within a day after an otherwise wonderful meal at Can Fabes.

First, the entire NY Times piece, which is a lot more comprehensive, can be read here...Sunday NY Times Piece I submit that it is a more well-rounded discussion of the chef's complaints, which did not solely focus on additives, etc.

Second, sorry, but you are certainly asserting cause and effect. It's okay that it may have happened, just odd that it comes up now when you happen to disagree with the chef's statements. If you have posted elsewhere about attributing illness to a meal at Can Fabes, then I apologize. Otherwise, it's the same kind of slander.

Additionally, what got lost here, is the following...

He is "accusing them of producing pretentious food they would not eat themselves." And also that " he accused them of cooking for snobs." This is not a new kind attack on cuisine of any kind, but there certainly may be a ring of truth to it. Just because Ferran Adria calls himself on artist, doesn't mean his food creations are above criticsim. Quite the opposite, and even moreso. Just ask Jackson Pollack, whose later work was vilified.

Perhaps he raises a good point when he asks, "How can we, the defenders of natural, local products, include unnatural products in our cooking?” Although he doesn't state what he means by "unnatural", methylcellulose is certainly not 'natural' in any sense of the word, although of course it is not toxic. It is just the main ingredient in a popular laxative. That actually might save one some time before bed, so how can anyone complain?

Edited by Miami Danny (log)
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Define 'Natural'.

When companies compose flavorings, they either list natural or artificial flavorings. But do you know the difference? In the final product absolutely nothing. It is a chemical equation that is matched each and every time, wheather they go through petroleum or strawberries to get it, so what exactly is 'natural'.

People have understood hydrolysis and hydrogenation long before the idea of 'natural' ever came around. Fermentation is as 'naturally' derived as hydrolysis. Would one consider guar gum an unnatural chemical? If so you better consider sucrose unnatural as well. Too me, unnatural is eating something like carnauba wax, even though I am tempted to use it once in a while. Same as parrafin.

There are a lot of things the body doesn't digest that is still useful, mainly consider soluble and insoluble fiber. The hydrocolloids that everybody instantly refers to as "chemicals" are polysaccharide forms or also known as soluble fiber, and yes they will help you with your bowel movements, which can be a good thing especially with all the white bread people eat.

I am sure many years ago people were opposed to sodium hydroxide on there pretzels, who the hell would want to eat sodium hydroxide? But as people started to realize sodium hydroxide converts to different properties such as sodium bicarbonate after cooking then they probably backed off a little. Of course the incredible taste of a freshly made soft pretzel stuffed with ham and cheese is like nothing else in my mind, so that may have had an impact.

I dont know why they say they dont eat their own food, they have to taste it. Is he saying that they won't sit down and eat a bowl of apple caviar for sustinence? I sure as hell hope not. But in a classic french restuarant I wouldnt want to dine on escargot, brioche and foie gras every night either. Once in a while you have to throw in a pizza or something. There is a reason why its expensive, it is an event to eat like that, not even a king would want to do so every night. As discussed by chris in a topic not far from this one, its also a challenge on the mind, and granted we just have so many mental challenges every day as it is, food is typically one of those things we dont have to think about to make life easier on us. Thank god we have come to the point in life (for most of us) that we can consume our minds on something other than what we are going to eat tonight, or better yet, are we going to eat tonight.

These discussion are a product of our evolution and one even in devout argument should turn their head and smile remembering our blessings that we even have the opportunity to bicker over who cooks better food, that is always available.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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While I am not asserting cause and effect, it is ironic that a number of travelmates along with myself got sick within a day after an otherwise wonderful meal at Can Fabes.

First, the entire NY Times piece, which is a lot more comprehensive, can be read here...Sunday NY Times Piece I submit that it is a more well-rounded discussion of the chef's complaints, which did not solely focus on additives, etc.

Second, sorry, but you are certainly asserting cause and effect. It's okay that it may have happened, just odd that it comes up now when you happen to disagree with the chef's statements. If you have posted elsewhere about attributing illness to a meal at Can Fabes, then I apologize. Otherwise, it's the same kind of slander.

Additionally, what got lost here, is the following...

He is "accusing them of producing pretentious food they would not eat themselves." And also that " he accused them of cooking for snobs." This is not a new kind attack on cuisine of any kind, but there certainly may be a ring of truth to it. Just because Ferran Adria calls himself on artist, doesn't mean his food creations are above criticsim. Quite the opposite, and even moreso. Just ask Jackson Pollack, whose later work was vilified.

Perhaps he raises a good point when he asks, "How can we, the defenders of natural, local products, include unnatural products in our cooking?” Although he doesn't state what he means by "unnatural", methylcellulose is certainly not 'natural' in any sense of the word, although of course it is not toxic. It is just the main ingredient in a popular laxative. That actually might save one some time before bed, so how can anyone complain?

It so happens that I did mention the issue when I posted on my meal at Can Fabes back in 2004 and no, I am not asserting cause and effect, however, suggestive the coincidence may be. My point is that people can get sick at any restaurant regardless of choice of cooking techniques. Apology accepted.

The Spanish press is even more detailed about the situation than the NYT. I have read much of that press about the situation. Santamaria is a great cook. It is a pity that he is sullying his reputation by resorting to trying to tear down his colleagues.

Ferran Adria is not above criticism, but please, be real about it and not base it on unsubstantiated innuendo. As for not eating the food themselves, that is patently false. I have eaten at dinners with Ferran and other chefs, who have eaten this very cooking. It should come as no surprise that Ferran and other technoemotional chefs also enjoy traditional cooking. Why shouldn't they? The only people who seem to feel that the two approaches are mutually exclusive are ardent tradionalists.

Ferran hasn't called himself an artist. Others have including many from the world of art. He didn't ask to be included in the German art show last year. He was asked.

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

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Ferran hasn't called himself an artist. Others have including many from the world of art. He didn't ask to be included in the German art show last year. He was asked.

And he accepted. He is an artist. He took part in Documenta for that reason, flying individuals to his restaurant every day of the 100 day festival. If that's not art, I don't know what is. He loves to be coy about it, which I find charming, if a little silly. Like technoemotional. No one should be defensive about being called an artist.

There are also points that Santi raises about snobbery that may ring true with a lot of people. Although he did not do himself any favors by trashing a fellow Spanish chef (see the Charlie Trotter/Rick Tramonto fiasco-which I'm pretty sure has blown over by now). I think this controversy will be good for MG, and for traditional chefs as well, as more light is shed on different cooking methods.

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Ferran hasn't called himself an artist. Others have including many from the world of art. He didn't ask to be included in the German art show last year. He was asked.

And he accepted. He is an artist. He took part in Documenta for that reason, flying individuals to his restaurant every day of the 100 day festival. If that's not art, I don't know what is. He loves to be coy about it, which I find charming, if a little silly. Like technoemotional. No one should be defensive about being called an artist.

There are also points that Santi raises about snobbery that may ring true with a lot of people. Although he did not do himself any favors by trashing a fellow Spanish chef (see the Charlie Trotter/Rick Tramonto fiasco-which I'm pretty sure has blown over by now). I think this controversy will be good for MG, and for traditional chefs as well, as more light is shed on different cooking methods.

As they say, "there is no such thing as bad publicity."

To me, Ferran is an artist. While he very much believes in what he is doing, he remains very approachable and down to earth. He may believe that he is an artist, but when it comes to proclaiming the fact, he prefers others to do it rather than himself.

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

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He is "accusing them of producing pretentious food they would not eat themselves." And also that " he accused them of cooking for snobs." This is not a new kind attack on cuisine of any kind, but there certainly may be a ring of truth to it. Just because Ferran Adria calls himself on artist, doesn't mean his food creations are above criticsim. Quite the opposite, and even moreso. Just ask Jackson Pollack, whose later work was vilified.

Perhaps he raises a good point when he asks, "How can we, the defenders of natural, local products, include unnatural products in our cooking?” Although he doesn't state what he means by "unnatural", methylcellulose is certainly not 'natural' in any sense of the word, although of course it is not toxic. It is just the main ingredient in a popular laxative. That actually might save one some time before bed, so how can anyone complain?

Cook or Artist. It really doesn't matter in this context. Do you honestly believe Santi's remarks are 'criticism'? Nothing is wrong with criticism, and no one should be above it, but like Doc mentioned it should be grounded in reality and should be specific and based on experience and knowledge. otherwise it is a plain and simple attack and looks nothing other than petty! How does he know they do not eat their own food? He DOES not! It is clear (from shows like Decoding Ferran Adria and diners posts here and elsewhere) that chefs like Adria and Achatz are very proud of their food, would love to share it with guests and at the same time they love traditional homey dishes. Their restaurant food is not for every day or every occasion, but neither is most of the 3 star establishments' food.

At best his comments are simply a matter of opinion, but he does not phrase them like that. Nothing wrong with speaking ones own opinion as in 'I really dislike Ferran's cooking'. Unfortunatley he goes beyond that and accuses these chefs of serving harmful food to snobs! Hey, I guess he did get the publicity he apparently craves, but it is not via valid criticism.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I received a press release from Madrid Fusión this morning which states:

madridfusión REPORTS

In response to the recent largely futile discussion concerning the alleged unhealthy conditions of avant-garde cuisine which have led to a ridiculous confrontation between creative and traditional cuisine, madridfusión is anxious to fully clarify its opinion on this matter: 

  1. The fact is that chef Santi Santamaría is simply not telling the truth with his recent statements in light of the fact that the additives and emulsifier products on which he has been recently casting doubt are vegetal, and completely harmless ingredients. This statement of fact has been endorsed by scientists from both national and international institutions as well as teachers from the University of Granada, the Institute of Chemists and the Chemist Association of the Basque Country, among others.

  2. These products are in every day use among the artisan patisseries; in addition to being a product used by Santamaría himself,  they have been in use for more than 50 years by the best chefs and pastry makers from all over the world to obtain light textures and to replace the out dated stodgy food of yesteryear.

  3. The whole Spanish cuisine sector – whether traditional or creative – without exception is united in its defence of healthy, high quality products.

Next madrifusión 09, thrilling as ever, will once again ratify the positive relation that exists between science and cuisine. In addition to demonstrating the favourable results these investigations bestow on today's food, that by the day is ever more focused on the boosting dietary issues.

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

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