Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Jonathan Day

Avant garde cooking and El Bulli

Recommended Posts

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?


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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:


Ruth Friedman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


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)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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,

Claude Kolm

The Fine Wine Review

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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?


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)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[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.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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"

"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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Similar Content

    • By WackGet
      Recently I picked up a few different types of emulsifiers in bulk powder form when I saw them in passing at a catering wholesaler.
       
      Having never used powdered emulsifiers before in cooking or baking, I figured I'd find pretty comprehensive instructions for their use on the web - but I can't.
       
      I'm not a stranger to food science but nor am I a chemist. I understand that emulsifiers are at least sometimes prepared by pre-mixing them into a (heated?) liquid or fat and then using the resulting solution in the actual recipe, which may explain why a lot of commercial emulsifier mixtures are packages as tubes of gel or paste. I've also checked several industry-level textbooks about emulsifiers and while they are fantastic for in-depth explanations of the chemistry behind each emulsifier, they do not (as you might imagine) provide guidance on how a lowly baker or cook would actually use a powdered form.
       
      So does anyone know how to prepare and use a dry powdered form of any of the following in a real recipe?
       
      Specifically I am most interested in enhancing baked goods and adding stability to sauces, but would also like to know how to use them for other processes such as sausage-making too.
      E471 Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids E481 Sodium stearoyl lactylate E482 Calcium stearoyl lactylate E472e DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides)
        Thanks.
    • By mjbarnard
      I cooked two turkey breasts sous vide. This year had access to the Meater+ thermometer probe which I managed to vacuum seal in the bag without difficulty (it is small). Since it works wirelessly I was able to monitor and it records the internal temperatures at the thickest part of the breast.
      I thought the results were interesting. I cooked at 60C for 8 hours. I have always used https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/a-better-way-to-turkey-cook-that-bird-sous-vide-for-the-best-feast-ever which gives long cooking times at lower temperature. I have found that as according to this page https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/11/sous-vide-turkey-breast-crispy-skin-recipe-thanksgiving.html that 55C gives turkey which is just a little too pink for most tastes. Over the last few years have increased the temperature up to 59/60 and I find it perfect - very moist and tender, but pale not pink.
      See attached images. I changed my mind a couple of times and started at 58 then 60 then 59 again, so ignore the slight variations. The thing I found interesting was that the thickest part (of a large breast) reached 55C in around 1 hour 40 mins and target of 59 in 2 hours 30 mins. Now I appreciate that sous vide is a combination of temperature and time or duration, but the data make me think that around 4 hours would be sufficient, as per the seriouseats table. I have previously used the chefsteps 55-58 for their much longer advised times, up to 12 hours and the meat is still quite pink at the end, so I dont believe 55 for 12 hours would effectively be the same.
      From now on I will watching the internal temperatures with interest. This has always been the (relative) unkown for sous vide amateurs. 


    • By chefg
      I have to say designing the Alinea kitchen has been one of the most exciting experiences thus far in the opening of this restaurant. I have been fortunate to have been “raised” in some of the best kitchens in the country. When I arrived at the French Laundry in August 1996 the “new kitchen” had just been completed. Often times you would hear the man talk about the good old days of cooking on a residential range with only one refrigerator and warped out sauté pans with wiggly handles. When I started about 50% of the custom stainless steel was in place. The walls smooth with tile and carpet on the floors. I recall the feeling of anxiety when working for fear that I would dirty up the kitchen, not a common concern for most cooks in commercial kitchens.
      The French Laundry kitchen didn’t stop, it continued to evolve over the four years I was there. I vividly remember the addition of the custom fish/canapé stainless unit. Allowing the poissonier to keep his mise en place in beautiful 1/9 pan rails instead of the ice cube filled fish lugs. Each advancement in technology and ergonomics made the kitchen a more efficient and exacting machine.
      When I returned to the Laundry this past July for the 10th anniversary I was shocked that it had metomorphisized once again. The butcher room was now a sea of custom stainless steel low boys, the pot sink area was expanded, the walk-in moved, and an office added to the corner of the kitchen. The kitchen as I left it in June of 2001 was beautiful and extremely functional, of course it is even more so now. It is the relentless pursuit of detail and concise thought that allows the French Laundry kitchen to be one of the best for cooks to execute their craft…..16 hours a day.
      This was good motivation.
      When it came time to design my kitchen I drew on experiences at Trio, TFL and other kitchens I was familiar with to define the positives and negatives of those designs. We were faced with a 21x 44' rectangle. This space would not allow for my original kitchen design idea of four islands postioned throughout the kitchen, but ultimately gave way for the current design which I think is actually better than the original. But most the important aspect in shaping the final design was the cuisine. Due to the nature of food that we produce a typical layout with common equipment standards and dimensions do not work. Here is where the team drew on our experiences from Trio. By looking at the techniques we utilized we came to several conclusions.
      1. A conventional range was not our main heat source. We do need the flat tops and some open burners for applications such as braising and limited stock work. But our overall use of this piece of equipment is somewhat low. Given that we wanted four open burners and two flat tops with two ovens I began to source out a reliable unit. We settled on the Molteni G230.

      2. Upon analyzing our other heat source needs we decided to place a large focus on induction. By utilizing portable induction burners we are allowed the flexibility to give as much power as needed to a specific station in the kitchen. Obviously induction’s radiant heat is very low, and this allows us to keep the temperature in the kitchen reasonable, yet the power is quite high. 31,000 BTU's of highly controlable heat. But the main reason for choosing this flexible source of heat is the fact that each chef typically employed at least four different cooking applications on a given night. This huge flux in technique and the realization that the menu would change entirely in 8 weeks time meant that we had to design a kitchen that could evolve on a nightly basis. And last, we are very specific with temperatures; induction makes it easier for us to hold a liquid at a predetermined temperature for long periods of time without fluctuation. They operate between 85 and 500 degrees farenheit. We did a great deal of research on the different producers of induction and favored Cooktek. The fact that they are the only U.S manufacturer of commercial induction cooking equipment and located in Chicago made the decision easier. Their innovative approach to induction may prove to be even more exciting as we are already talking about new product development in the future.

      3. a. The complexity of the presentations and a la minute plate-ups of the food require a great deal of surface area devoted to plating. This was one of the most critical factors in determining the basic shape of the kitchen. The size of some of today's popular plates, the amount detail in each composition, coupled with the fact that producing tasting menus vs. ala carte means sometimes large waves of same dish pick ups made it necessary for us to have over 44' of linear plating surface.
      b. Virtually nothing goes vertical above the 36” counter top in the space. All food, plates, equipment, and dry good storage are contained by under counter units. There are a few exceptions such as the infrared salamanders, the three-door refrigerator, and the hood. This allows all the cooks a clear line of communication between each other and the front staff. It allows me an easy sight line to survey the entire kitchen’s progress with a quick glance.
      Given these two points it seemed obvious that we needed to combine the two and create custom pieces that would fulfill both needs. Large spans of plating surfaces with all food and equipment storage below. As you can see we ended up with two 22’ long units. Each function as a pass and under counter storage.
      The building is 21’ wide wall to wall. This allowed us just enough space to create two lines on each exterior wall with their passes forming a 60” corridor for the pick up of plates and finishing of dishes.
      4. We decided to add a station to the kitchen. At Trio we had five including:
      a. pastry
      b. cold garde manger
      c. hot garde manger
      d. fish
      e. meat
      Now that we had more space, and the ability to give each station multiple heat
      sources regardless of their location in the kitchen, we could spread the workload even further. We also realized it doesn’t make much sense to identify each station by classic French Bragade terms. A saucier did not solely cook meat with classic techniques and prepare various traditional stocks and sauces…in fact quite the opposite. This holds true with most of the stations, with the exception of pastry, but even they will have very unconventional techniques, menu placement and involvement in the kitchen systems. We will add a station that will be responsible for a large majority of the one-bite courses both sweet and savory.
      5.Given the size constraints of the building we realized a walk-in would not be possible in the kitchen. If we were to have one it would be in the basement. Having experienced this at Trio we decided to design the kitchen without a walk-in, making up for the space in various lowboy locations and a three-door reach-in. I experienced the walk-in less environment when I worked at Charlie Trotter’s. It is certainly different, but as with most things if done properly it provides a very efficient environment. It works best in situations where fresh products are brought in daily for that days use. And prevents ordering in large quantities. It also provides us with very specific units to house different items. We will utilize the 3-door refrigerator to store the majority of the vegetables and herbs along with some staple mise en place, and items that cannot be made in very small quantities like stocks. Raw meat will have it’s own lowboys as well as fish, dairy, and all frozen products.
      6. At Trio we found ourselves using the salamander a great deal. It is very useful for melting sugar, bringing on transparent qualities in things like fat and cheese, cooking items intensely on only one side, and it is a highly controllable non-direct heat source. Due to the air gap between the foodstuff and the heat elements the cook can control the degree of heat applied to the dish based on the technique he is using. It becomes a very versatile tool in the modern kitchen, so much so that we will install three Sodir infrared salamanders.

      Again, this is to insure that all the cooks have access to all of the techniques in the kitchen. As I said before it is important for our cooks to be able to sauté, simmer, poach, fry, grill, salamander, and freeze at the same time and sometimes for the same dish.
      We have a few unusual pieces of equipment in the kitchen; the most is probably a centrifuge. A few months ago Nick and I were driving home from a design meeting and ended up talking about signature dishes and menu repetition. Of course the black truffle explosion came up and he asked if I would have it on the menu at Alinea. I replied a firm no, but shortly thereafter said I would enjoy updating it. We threw around some tongue and cheek ideas like White Truffle Implosion, and Truffle Explosion 2005….I said it was a goal of mine to make a frozen ball with a liquid center….but then dismissed it as nearly impossible. Within a few minutes he said …”I got it…we need a centrifuge” His explanation was simple, place the desired liquid in a spherical mold and place on the centrifuge…place the whole thing in the freezer. Within days he had one in the test kitchen. I guess this is better suited for the kitchen lab topic that we will be starting in a few weeks…
      We are working on a upload of the kitchen blueprints. When those post I plan on going into more detail about certian aspects of the design. Doing so now would be pointless as the viewer does not have a reference point.
    • By ronnie_suburban
      It’s the first day of cooking in Alinea's Food Lab and the mood is relaxed. We’re in a residential kitchen but there’s nothing ordinary about it. Chef Grant, along with sous chefs John Peters and Curtis Duffy are setting up. The sight of the 3 steady pros, each in their chef’s whites, working away, does not match this domestic space. Nor does the intimidating display of industrial tools lined up on the counters. While the traditional elements are here in this suburban kitchen: oven, cooktop, sink, so too are the tools of modern restaurant cookery: pacojet, cryovac machine, paint stripping heat gun…wait, a paint stripping heat gun?
      In the physical realm, the Food Lab is a tangible space where the conventional and the unconventional are melded together in the quest for new culinary territory. With Alinea’s construction under way, the team must be resourceful. This meant that renting a space large enough to house both the office and the kitchen aspects of the food lab was out of the question.
      The decision was made to take over a large office space for the research and administrative aspects of Alinea and transform a residential kitchen into the Lab. Achatz and the team would work three days per week at the office researching all aspects of gastronomy and brainstorming new dishes, while managing the project as a whole. The remaining time would be spent in the kitchen executing the ideas formulated at the office. “At first I thought separating the two would be problematic,” says Grant “but in the end we are finding it very productive. It allows us to really focus on the tasks at hand, and also immerse ourselves in the environment conducive to each discipline.” The menus for opening night—containing as many as 50 never-before-served dishes--must be conceived, designed, tested and perfected. The Alinea team does not want to fly without a net on opening night.
      On a more abstract level, the Food Lab is simply the series of processes that continually loop in the minds of Chef Grant and his team. While there is no single conduit by which prospective menus--and the dishes which comprise them--arrive at Alinea, virtually all of them start in Chef Grant's imagination and eventually take form after brainstorming sessions between the Chef and his team. Menus are charted, based on the seasonality of their respective components, and the details of each dish are then laid out on paper, computer or both and brought to the kitchen for development. In this regard, the Food Lab provides something very special to the Chef and his team. “We consider the food lab a luxury,” says Grant. Once Alinea is open and the restaurant’s daily operations are consuming up to 16 hours of each day, time for such creative planning (aka play) will be scarce. Building a library of concepts, ideas and plans for future menus now will be extraordinarily valuable in the future. Otherwise, such planning sessions will have to take place in the 17th and 18th hours of future workdays, as they did when the Chef and his team were at Trio.
      Today, several projects are planned and the Chefs dig into their preparations as soon as their equipment setup is complete…
      Poached Broccoli Stem with wild Coho roe, crispy bread, grapefruit
      Stem cooked sous vide (butter, salt, granulated cane juice)
      Machine-sliced thin bread
      Dairyless grapefruit “pudding”
      Dried Crème Brulee
      Caramel orb shell made with bubble maker and heat gun
      Powdered interior made with dried butterfat, egg yolks, powdered sugar & vanilla
      PB&J
      Peeled grapes on the stem
      Peanut butter coating
      Wrap in brioche
      Broil
      Micro-grated, roasted peanuts
      Instant Tropical Pudding
      Freeze Dried Powders of coconut, pineapple, banana
      Young coconut water spiked with rum
      Muscovado Sugar
      Cilantro
      Candied Chili
      Jamaican Peppercorn
      Vanilla Bean
      The steps required to comprise each dish are, as one might imagine, intricate and numerous. For the Poached Broccoli Stem, Chef Grant begins by separating the broccoli stems from the florets. The stems are stripped of their fibrous exteriors and pared down until they are uniform in size. Grant comments on the use of the second hand part of the vegetable: “This dish started with the roe. Every year we receive the most amazing Brook Trout Roe from Steve Stallard, my friend and owner of Blis. Typically, we serve the eggs with an element of sweetness. I find it goes very well with the ultra fresh salinity of the week-old roe. This time around we wanted to take a savory approach so I began looking into complimenting flavors in the vegetal category. About the same time, our group had a discussion about secondary parts of vegetables and the stem of broccoli came up. I had a past experience with the stem and found it to be very reminiscent of cabbage. Knowing that cabbage and caviar are essentially a classic pairing, I felt confident that we could work the dish out. Now I'm struggling to decide if this is a broccoli dish or in fact a roe dish, I think they really battle for the top position and that helps makes the dish very complex."

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
      Grant is still displeased at the dish's appearance. "The dish tastes as I envisioned it....texturally complex, with the crispness of the bread, the soft elements of the floret puree and stem, and the pop of the eggs. The buttery richness from the bread gives the stem the flavor of the melted cabbage I loved at the [French] Laundry. And the hot and cold contrasts from the roe and broccoli …I like it…..I just don’t like the way it looks.” Another attempt and the group agrees, it is better but not “the one.” The use of the thinly sliced cross sections of peeled grapefruit energizes the group. In the next rendition, they make small packets with the ultra thinly-sliced grapefruit containing the roe...

      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
    • By ronnie_suburban
      Sometime this week, at an undisclosed location in the city of Chicago, Chef Grant Achatz begins the next leg of his journey to open his new restaurant, Alinea. Grant will christen the 'food lab' where the menu for Alinea will be developed. eGullet will be trailing Grant and his team throughout the process -- not just in the food lab but through every facet of the launch. Over the next six months, we will follow the Alinea team as they discover, develop, design and execute their plan. We'll document behind-the-scenes communications, forwarded directly to us by the Alinea team. We will be on the scene, bringing regular updates to the eGullet community. And Grant will join us in this special Alinea forum to discuss the process of opening Alinea. eGullet members will have the opportunity to ask Grant, and several other members of the Alinea team, questions about the development of the restaurant.
       
      A Perfect Pairing?
      By the time he was 12 years old, Grant Achatz knew that he would someday run his own restaurant. The story of Alinea is the story of Grant's personal development as a chef and a leader. Grant was brought up in a restaurant family. He bypassed a college education in favor of culinary school, after which he ascended rapidly to the position of sous chef for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, California. In 2001, Grant took the helm of Trio in Evanston, Illinois, which had previously turned out such noted chefs as Gale Gand, Rick Tramanto (Tru) and Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra). In 2003 Grant won the James Beard Foundation's "Rising Star Chef" award, and other prestigious awards followed. By 2004, Grant was recognized as one of the most influential and unique voices on the international culinary scene.
       
      In January 2004, Grant met Nick Kokonas, a successful entrepreneur who was so obsessed with haute cuisine that he had traveled the world in search of it. After globe-trekking specifically to eat at such culinary meccas as Alfonso 1890, Taillevent, Arpège, Arzak, and the French Laundry, Nick was in near disbelief when he realized that the "best food in the world was 10 minutes from my house." Nick had not previously consideredbacking a restaurant, even though he has both relatives and friends in the industry. But in Grant, he saw an opportunity to help create something great.
       
      Through Grant's cuisine, a bond formed between the two men. So inspired was Nick by Grant's culinary ideas that he returned to Trio almost monthly. Finally, he challenged two of his friends, one from New York and the other from San Francisco, to fly to Chicago and experience Trio. He wanted to prove definitively to his skeptical, coastal buddies that Trio was the best and most important restaurant in the country, assuring them that "if the meal at Trio isn't the best meal you've ever had, I'll pay for your meals and your flights." Nick won his bet: his friends were blown away.
       
      Later that night, after service, Grant joined Nick and his guests at their table. The men chatted about a variety of topics and in the '14 wines' haze of the late evening, they discussed Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure, Joseph Wechsberg's gastronomic memoir. The next day, Grant emailed Nick to ask again about the title of the book they had discussed. Not only did Nick remind him, but, within a few days, sent Grant a copy of Wechsberg's book. A friendship was born.
      Shortly thereafter, Grant sentNick his business plan for Alinea, sending an email after evening service. By the following morning Nick had read it and replied with his own enthusiastic amendments. With a burgeoning friendship already in place, trust developing between the two men and proof they could work together crystallizing before their eyes, it became clear that they would become a team. Says Grant, "I think most people, in a lot of ways, look for themselves in other people in order to match with and I think to a large degree, the reason why we get along so well is that our personalities align very well."
       
      Nick felt the same way. "It's one of those situations where everything just lined up right. I had the interest, I'd started a number of different businesses and I felt like it would be an opportunity to work with someone who I'd get along with very well. I wouldn't want to build a restaurant just to build a restaurant and I doubt I'll ever develop some other restaurant. I think this is the right situation at the right time."
       
      Grant adds, "I think we're both very driven and passionate people. So for me, it was about finding someone I could trust, someone that I knew was going to think like me, be as motivated or more motivated than me. Those things were very, very important--and something I hadn't seen--or something I didn't believe in--that I saw in Nick." Nick continues, "I think a lot people come to a chef with their pre-existing vision of the restaurant they want to build. I didn't even want to build a restaurant before I saw his vision, so it wasn't like I was saying 'I'm building this restaurant and I want you to be my chef' -- it was more like 'I think you should build a restaurant, what can I do to help you build it?'" Grant would have the additional supportive backing he'd need and Nick would have another venture -- and one he solidly believed in -- in which to direct his business acumen.
       
      It's All About The Container
      Anyone who's eaten Grant's cuisine at Trio knows that he is intensely concerned with food and the optimal ways to prepare and serve it. His dishes innovate in flavor; they challenge, tease and delight the senses. But Grant is also driven to innovate in service and technique, constantly seeking new vehicles to deliver sensations to the diner. He works closely with a trusted collaborator, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail in San Diego, CA to create original service pieces for many of his dishes. And as Grant has searched for additional ways to expand the continuity of the dining experience, it has become clear to him that it starts before the diner even gets to the restaurant's front door.
       
      According to Grant, "You can pull it back as far as you want. The experience is going to start before someone even picks up the phone to make a reservation to this restaurant. It's going to be about their perceptions; why are they picking up the phone to make a reservation? What did they see? What did they read? What's leading them up to that point? They call to make a reservation, that's another experience. The drive to get to this neighborhood is another experience. The minute they open their door and take one step out of their car, now they're surrounded by another experience."
       
      Advancing the functional elements of how food is served is an innate part of the cooking process for Grant, who seeks to render the traditional boundaries of dining obsolete. When asked what he will be able to accomplish at Alinea that he couldn't accomplish at Trio, Grant says, "the obvious is to create the container in which we create the experience. I think that's the very exciting thing for me that I've never been able to have a part in." For Grant, a restaurant's physical space represents the ultimate container and the ultimate personal challenge. The result should break new ground in the world of fine dining.   Grant and Nick are intense and competitive. In both their minds, "crafting a complete experience" is the primary focus of Alinea. According to Nick, "the whole idea is to produce an experience where the food lines up with the décor, which lines up with the flow through the restaurant and from the moment you get, literally, to the front door of the place and you walk in, your experience should mirror in some respects--and complement in others--the whole process you're going to go through when you start eating." Grant takes it a step further. "It's about having a central beacon from which everything else emanates and therefore, it's seamless. The whole experience is crafted on one finite point and if everything emanates from that point, then there's no chance that the experience can be interrupted."
       
      The search for Alinea's space further reflects not only their shared philosophy but also their separate intensities. Says Nick, "One of the things we felt really strongly about, and we both came to it, was that we wanted it to be a 'stand alone' building because if you're in something else you can't help but take on some of that identity. And it's really difficult to find the right size building in the right kind of location, with the right kind of construction that was suitable for the identity of Alinea."
      Nick and Grant drove down every street within a chosen geographical band, armed with a giant map and a set of green, yellow and red markers. Once they had found a set of acceptable streets, they asked a realtor to show them every space available on them.
       
      "Once we did find the building," says Grant, "whichever space we would have chosen, we would have analyzed and considered each different aspect to provoke a certain emotion, a very controlled emotion depending on how we wanted it arranged. But I also think that we wanted the neighborhood to feel a certain way, the street to feel a certain way. Is it like Michigan Avenue where I have people 4-deep, walking straight down the sidewalk, non-stop, all day and all night or is it more of a tranquil environment outside? All those things were spinning around and once you identify the golden egg, then you have to go find it."
      While they would probably never admit it, each innovation, each step they take together in building their venture serves as yet another a opportunity for the Alinea team to challenge the restaurant's competitors. Their attention to all the details provides countless opportunities to distinguish Alinea from other restaurants.
       
      Here the two men can share in the creation, combining their diverse skills and experiences into a unified and shared vision. Alinea will be their baby. They want it to be the best --not just the best food -- but the best everything. They even want the experience of calling for a reservation to be a memorable one.
       
      The Path From Here
      In that spirit, the Alinea food lab opens this week. Grant refuses to promote even one of his legendary creations to 'signature dish' status. Instead of populating Alinea's menu with previous favorites from Trio or 'trial' dishes that have been only roughly tested, Grant and his team will take six months to devise, develop and perfect the dishes and delivery modes that will appear on Alinea's opening menu. When the idea of maintaining a kitchen staff for six months before the restaurant's opening was presented to its investors, in spite of the additional expense, "it seemed like a no-brainer" according to Nick. Grant is an equity partner--a true chef/owner--in the venture and there is a solid consensus among all the backers about the priority of his vision.
      * * * * *
      In addition to being one of today's foremost chefs and culinary innovators, Grant Achatz is a long-time member of eGullet, and a lively, provocative contributor to our discussion forums. Read his March, 2003 eGullet Q&A here.
      Photos courtesy Alinea
       
      eGullet member, yellow_truffle, also contributed to this report
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...