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Jonathan Day

Avant garde cooking and El Bulli

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

There is the truth.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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

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

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

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

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


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.

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

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

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

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

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


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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

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

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

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

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

Am I the only one who feels "approaches" define a "style"?


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Thanks Robert and Jonathan for a flowing nice report. The amount of detail on each dish is just right. More than this would bore me.

Let me raise 2 contriversial issues:

1. Is Adria really modest?? In a way it is not important issue since it is the work that matters. But a few years ago he had struck me as a colossal ego. He thought that those who criticize his cuisine were either stupid(maybe so) or evil intentioned. Well, to pursue a unique course so singlemindedly, the man has got to be a bit of a zealot. But he is very bright and can play on your expectations. Maybe you guys should have talked to him after the performance.

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

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

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

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

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

Robert:

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

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

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


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Let's identify chefs' styles by their food personality not the techniques they use. It's more about the minds and less about the tools.

Bravo.

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

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


Edited by lissome (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

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

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

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

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

Does the El Bulli menu play with words and language? Are there linguistic puns in addition to the culinary ones?


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

-Beaumarchais

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

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

Let me say how grateful I am to you in writing, "Let's identify chefs' styles by their food personality not the techniques they use. It's more about the minds and less about the tools." because you describe a subject Adria is obsessed by, which is "sensibility". I know this from seeing him on France's Gourmet TV in which he goes into a long monologue about it and, on a personal note, his signing the El Bulli: 1998-2002 book I bought at the restaurant, " For Robert Brown, wishes for a good 2003. Thank you for your sensibility." What have you heard from Adria on the subject, if anything?

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

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

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

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

Glazed Cloverdale Farms Rabbit Shoulder with Granny Smith Apple Coulis, Roasted Cippolini and Glazed Pearl Onions

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

Robiola Vecchia Valsassina with Eggplant Parmesan and Micro Arugula Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROBERT,

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

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

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

Main Entry: post·mod·ern

Pronunciation: "pOs(t)-'mä-d&rn, ÷-'mä-d(&-)r&n

Function: adjective

Date: 1949

: of, relating to, or being any of several movements (as in art, architecture, or literature) that are reactions against the philosophy and practices of modern movements and are typically marked by revival of traditional elements and techniques

- post·mod·ern·ism /-d&r-"ni-z&m/ noun

- post·mod·ern·ist /-nist/ adjective or noun

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


Edited by marcus (log)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I am left with an enormous (and unanticipated) sense of respect for Adria's mastery, not just as an innovator but as a cook.


Jonathan Day

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

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

Main Entry: post·mod·ern

Pronunciation: "pOs(t)-'mä-d&rn, ÷-'mä-d(&-)r&n

Function: adjective

Date: 1949

: of, relating to, or being any of several movements (as in art, architecture, or literature) that are reactions against the philosophy and practices of modern movements and are typically marked by revival of traditional elements and techniques

- post·mod·ern·ism  /-d&r-"ni-z&m/ noun

- post·mod·ern·ist  /-nist/ adjective or noun

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

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

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

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

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      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
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