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José Andrés' Minibar


John W.
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Sorry I couldn't make it, Tarka. It was the only night last week that I had to spend at home with my esteemed spouse, so he won out. I'm sorry nobody else came. :sad:

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Sorry I didn't make it. Is pneumonia a good enough excuse? Been pretty sick-- good news tho, I quit smoking!

I'll have to go back to minibar to celebrate (and taste the food with a cleaner palate).

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My wife Karen (mnfoodie) came with me to Washington DC this weekend, so I went back to some favorite restaurants. Which is why--not two months after my last meal at Jose's Minibar--I was back again.

I didn't take notes.

Most of the menu was the same, but there were a few new dishes:

We had "Egg 147 with Caviar." I had this last time; it's a quail egg cooked at 147 degrees for a long time, such that the white is the same consistency as the yolk. For this meal, it was served with banana and passion fruit. The fruit tastes blended interestingly with the egg and caviar. I thought this better than last time.

"Sea urchin with pomegranate." A simple dish: fresh raw sea urchin topped with pomegranate foam. A tasty combinatino of flavors.

"Frozen mango soup with oysters." A small bowl with mango sorbet on the bottom, then oysters, then mango slices, then cilantro shoots and a few small nasturshim petals. Very very yummy.

Note the many fish/fruit combinations? Definitely a good idea.

Another new dish was "baby peach with yogurt." Three small green peaches--no pits--on a bed of yogurt and a bunch of other flavors I can't recall right now. Delicious.

A lot of my favorites from last time were there: "Sushi 2003," "cauliflower in textures," "caesar salad," and "New England clam chowder." And many other dishes I remembered.

Again, it was a really fun time. I don't think there is a better food value anywhere: $65 for something like 32 courses. That's $2 per course. The six people at the minibar have the full-time attention of at least four cooks, plus some of Jose Andres's. Why isn't the waiting list years long?

Bruce

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  • 3 weeks later...

i'd had high hopes for the mini bar. having read how excited everyone on here has been and having a bit of a penchant for innovative food, i gave it a go during my trip to DC last month.

and i was bitterly disappointed.

i'm not going to dissect the menu. but i really wanted to share my thoughts.

i understand what they are trying to do and i love the concept. i especially love the sushi bar style; it could make for a really interactive and thrilling experience. i love my time in kitchens chatting with chefs after eating their food, so of course i'm going to jump at the chance to interact while the food's being prepared. and if the chefs are preparing food of a style that i love...then hell yes.

but i didn't expect my questions to be met with crossed arms and defensiveness. i didn't expect to ask "why do you think this place doesn't get the same press as trio" twice and each time be told that jose is a great guy to work for. i didn't expect my attempts to chat about el bulli,gagnaire and fat duck to be knocked right back at me.

i didn't expect our wine waitress to repeatedly mix up our wine flight. and it would have been nice if there had been some attempt to match the wine flight with the courses that we were on.

it would have been nice if instead of thinking what they're doing is at the forefront of gastronomy, they'd realise that they are, in fact, terribly derivative. i was told they're starting to do "great stuff" with liquid nitrogen. i said "like at the fat duck" and was a shot a look of hatred.

i don't expect everyone to be endlessly inventive. culinary movements have to start somewhere and it's great that we're leaping free of the starter, main, pudding movement (or the canape, amuse, starter, main, pre desert, pudding, petite fours that i prefer :-) ) but i don't expect people to pretend they don't owe a debt of innovation to other people. in fact, where i come from we call it copying.

and perhaps i wouldn't mind people copying if, just once or twice, i hadn't seen a glimpse of skill and invention that proves they do have thrilling ideas of their own.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Wow. "Hi, how are you?" to "I hate you!" in only 34 courses. That's quick work.

I don't know you, or the guys at Minibar, but is it possible the local accent got in the way of the nonverbal communication here? Maybe it was just a look of: "How about you shut up about all the other avant-garde restaurants you regularly dine at and just try our food already?"

"Mine goes off like a rocket." -- Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, Feb. 16.

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I found the chef I dealt with in February incredibly condescending. I came away with the impression that the chef a) thought he knew more than I did, b) was paid for every time he complimented Jose and c) was tired of answering questions.

Both my mother and I were thrilled with the chance to be able to talk with the chef as he was preparing our meal. The sous chef at Tosca was wonderful when we ate in the kitchen. The experience was not duplicated. If you don't want to interact with the customers, why work at minibar?

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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Maybe it was just a look of: "How about you shut up about all the other avant-garde restaurants you regularly dine at and just try our food already?"

maybe i'm just one of those people who loves to learn and grow from other people's expereinces. i love to talk and debate with people who know about things that i am interested in.

you'd think that the chefs at the minibar might be interested in speaking with someone who so obviously loves the type of stuff they do.

and btw, i don't know about you, but i'm not really the type of person who would tip up to a restaurant and boast about where they've eaten. molecular gastronomy is a particulary intellectual approch to food (IMHO) and one that i've found most practicioners more than happy to chat about. but then, i'm also not the type of person who insults another community member online :-)

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Without wanting to heat this up again (For what it's worth, I was intemperate, regret it and will never again post under the influence of Brooklyn Brown Ale, I swear) someone over on the other board has compiled the mother of all Minibar slideshows for the enjoyment of those who don't yet have an opinion one way or another. Click.

"Mine goes off like a rocket." -- Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, Feb. 16.

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It certainly sounds as though the Minibar staff needs a refresher course in guest relations. Because they are going to get a lot of people going through there who have dined at El Bulli, Fat Duck, Trio, et al., and they need to be equipped to discuss those interdependencies.

It would be neither possible nor desirable to separate the personal-interactive experience of Minibar from the culinary one. Indeed it is the personal-interactive element that is unique in this tiny subset of gastronomy, whereas the cuisine itself is part of an established style albeit one practiced by only a handful of people in any given nation -- I'd be interested to hear a worldwide head-count of chefs who are this far along the avant-garde curve; I suspect the number would be less than a dozen.

While I think the style is certainly derivative, I also think that if you're part of this movement and you're not Ferran Adria then this can always be said of you. We have heard it incessantly about Heston Blumenthal, and I assume we'd hear it about Achatz if a higher percentage of his customers were within striking distance of Spain. Of course Jose and Kats come out of the El Bulli system so it's not as though they don't look to Adria for inspiration -- I'd actually say they think Adria is a god of sorts -- but "terribly derivative" strikes me as an overstatement, given that we can point to so many unique dishes and some unique methods. There's also an extent to which Minibar derives its uniqueness from its pace and price point -- nobody else is, as far as I know, making this sort of cuisine available in such an accessible format. That is very much a kind of innovation.

In any event, Tarka, given the impossibility of separating the personal from the culinary in an environment like Minibar where the interaction is even more intimate than at any sushi bar I've visited, what did you think of the 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)

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i'll get my menu faxed over from london and will report back. it was the food that found terribly derivative though. but then, i'm a londoner in the us at the moment and i think i'm expressing my britishness more when i am writing...so perhaps i can recant and say "very derivative"?

i thought your point about blumental being slated for being too like adria interesting. didn't see it myself at all. i also don't recall reading too much saying this. perhaps you can point me in the direction of the thread/article? i'd be really keen to find out more.

cheers

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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I'm still digesting this and find the comments here very interesting on many levels, so thank you Suzi and everyone for having the courage to share some of your thoughts. Good food and good chefs can stand up to scrutiny.

"It certainly sounds as though the Minibar staff needs a refresher course in guest relations. Because they are going to get a lot of people going through there who have dined at El Bulli, Fat Duck, Trio, et al., and they need to be equipped to discuss those interdependencies."

On one hand, yes, Steve, almost certainly learning how to answer or more likely deflect potentially distracting questions with charm and aplomb is a continual challenge at elite levels of food, it's a challenge to re-orient interesting and engaged diners back to what we both know should be their primary focus--experiencing the food for what it is not what a given diner expects it to be or hopes it will be or wants it to be, helping them engage and then enjoy it, and all the while doing it within a given time frame--all the while not making it seem like you are being re-oriented and kept to a schedule. That's kind of the unwritten "contract" between chef and diner.

And then on the other hand, no, I don't think the guys behind the counter do need to be able to discuss these chefs and restaurants and interdependencies in any detail--nor should they--that isn't their job, they haven't eaten there, they're there doing a tough intricate job serving you, under a much higher profile than much more experienced chefs never subject themselves to. Do you ask this much of your sushi bar chef as he's slicing the toro for the next dish in your omakase? I can't speak for anyone but myself here, but you're there for a specific, individual and personal culinary experience, the "minibar" experience, you're not there to interview the guy wrapping the jicama ravioli that night at length on what he knows of the history of who used liquid nitrogen first and in what culinary context. As a diner, you're there to experience and taste a $65 parade of intricate and often complex little dishes--to take the journey Jose created and approved, in other words. It's appropriate to expect a little hand-holding along the way, as one's hand would be held during an omakase, but I think the majority of reasonable diners, regardless of supposed international experience, will deem it inappropriate and possibly even unseemly to bring too much baggage to the "bar." That's not necessarily included in the $65 price tag--enough already is included--and it risks ruining the experience for what it is.

Bringing the baggage to eG, however, is very appropriate and I hope everyone can discuss those issues calmly and respectfully: the issue of derivation is certainly valid. So why don't you begin there Suzi: Jose Andres and his "minibar" experience for you was derivative of what and whom exactly? (I, like Shaw, regret your first comments didn't include how a single dish actually tasted--because how things taste, at least for me, trumps everything else--within any meal, really, let alone within this context of extended multiple themes, flights and concepts. And as any chef knows, taste is subjective.)

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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When I visited the Minibar earlier this year my experience with the guys behind the bar were much different. I only interacted with one of the chefs and he was more than willing to answer questions that I had. Kats even made a brief appearance during the meal and answered a couple of questions that we had. Maybe they were just having an off night?

And I too would enjoy hearing about your thoughts on the food.

Wearing jeans to the best restaurants in town.
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ok, i'm just trying to convert the acetate they gave me with the menu on into a file so i can post it and then i'll go through the entire menu telling you which bits are derivative.

steve, i really wish i could just launch in with some comment on what the food tasted like. but i can't. even with the menu and my photos there's no distinctive flavour trail.

and before i'm accused of not having a good palate or memory ;-) i want to make it clear this is one of the main reasons why i didn't rate my experience. i can remember ONE SINGLE flavour from the meal. it was the foie gras cotton candy. and i remember it well because it really did taste like foie gras and because the concept was lifted entirely from el bulli's curry flavoured cotton candy with tamarind. which i ate 18 months ago and can still taste.

i also just remembered another thing that really made me smile. one of the chefs was telling me that jamie oliver had been there recently and had been hanging out in the kitchen with them....i'm just saying....

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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but i didn't expect my questions to be met with crossed arms and defensiveness. i didn't expect to ask "why do you think this place doesn't get the same press as trio" twice and each time be told that jose is a great guy to work for. i didn't expect my attempts to chat about el bulli,gagnaire and fat duck to be knocked right back at me.

i've encapsulated this idea better.

they're stepford chefs.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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[Lifts head]I notice from thhe pics that they seem to be using the same cotton candy machine as Ferran did at the demo in London.[/ducks]

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Some background Suzi to one very interesting component to your posts--unlike some of the currently inventive and/or the relatively johnny-come-lately molecular gastronomist/chefs--some of whom I believe sought a media advantage by mentioning "molecular gastronomy" a little more prominently on their websites, especially after that "Gastronauts" article in Gourmet magazine a few years ago or saw an advantage in mentioning a "stage" usually of indeterminate length at El Bulli almost as a rite of passage into 21st Century cooking (and an easier road to media credibility) but then that's the last time they mention the "influence" of Ferran on what they do--Jose hardly can be said to hide the fact that he worked for 3 years under Ferran before coming to the US, that he returns each and every year to collaborate with Ferran and his team, that Ferran still is his spiritual and culinary mentor and has helped shape the chef which he has become, that he feels Ferran is perhaps the single greatest artist in Spain let alone clearly the most significant chef worldwide, etc. They're both humble best of friends and who do Ferran and Albert visit and travel with in the US each and every year? Jose. Who does Jose send all his best cooks and chefs to train under and to learn how to think about food? That's right, Ferran and Albert. Jose, unlike some "celebrity" chefs, has given credit where credit is due loudly and often in the countless articles written about him or interviews he gives. When another American chef or someone like an Amanda Hesser or a magazine like Gourmet or Saveur or a Food & Wine or Food Arts wants to know who to write about in Spain or how to process what is going on "in" Spain who do they turn to? That's right--Jose is a tireless promoter of others--and then they go and report the "scene" over there right and write about the chefs doing good work over there because they got good self-less advice.

That said, don't you think it's a little unreasonable for Jose or any talented chef who came up through Adria and El Bulli, say like the fantastic Sergi Arola of La Broche, not to have the right and expectation to be assessed on their own terms? Do you find Sergi Arola "terribly derivative" as well? If you haven't dined there when you were in Spain then flip through the pages of his "Como quieras, cuando quieras, donde quieras: En la cocina de Sergi Arola." Did you taste or can you determine any distinctions between how his dishes are composed and Adria's? What about Oriol Balaguer--is he derivative of Adria as well? Is so, is that a bad thing in your eyes?

One thing I can tell, from admiring your posts on eGullet, is that you've had a special year dining in 2003/2004--you've hit Trio, Moto, WD-50, Fat Duck, El Bulli, Gagnaire--and that you are an engaging, impeccably perceptive writer. I'm envious! You summed up your recent El Bulli experience elsewhere on the site by saying: "I ate at el bulli earlier this year and found the experience frustrating in that only 3 of the courses delivered a "wow" factor for me, many were simply good or interesting and 5 were, to my palate, horrible," so with that assessment you'll probably end up on the minority opinion side. Your negative experience at minibar will likely also be balanced by many more over time who were able to better distinguish and appreciate tastes on the night they dined. On this we likely can't go further nor need to. You had meals you didn't like. But in order to make the claim on eG that what Jose has created at minibar is "terribly derivative"--merely saying "derivative" is perhaps the most egregious charge one could level against a serious chef--the onus falls to you, the person leveling the charge, to demonstrate some grasp of historical perspective, some depth behind how and why you feel the way you do based on what you've read, tasted and dined at that level or in that spirit before. So how far back before this 2003/2004 season does your awareness and appreciation of dining on this creative level go? Or does your assessment begin with feeling Jose is just too much like Adria?

Since you didn't like the way the dishes tasted at minibar and didn't think they were flavorful or prepared with sufficient care--that opinion, that assessment, can not be challenged: taste is subjective, and your subjective opinion would then fall in or out of line with all the others who have dined and tasted and ultimately we'd see how many other diners agreed with you over time. You didn't post about how anything tasted originally, for all we knew you had a cold coming on and everything tasted flat. That's always going to be an inherent problem with a single visit as well and I'm glad you followed up. I'm sorry you didn't have a better sensory or customer service experience. What you did post, though, jumped intellectually right to derivation of ideas and concepts and "copying"--which interests me more and I suspect we might discover in the end says a little more about our awareness of and approach to food than it does about the quality and distinctiveness of Jose as a chef or what he offers at minibar. On the other side, people like Shaw and me and anyone who has had incredible experiences at the hands of Jose have to continue to keep our perspective from drawing in too close as well.

You live in the UK, Suzi, so I'm curious when you first dined at the Fat Duck? (for those in DC who don't read outside this board this is Britain's most adventurous restaurant.) Do you recall when you become aware of Herve This or his relationship with Christian Conticini or Pierre Gagnaire or when you first became aware of Grant Achatz? Was it before eGullet was founded? When did you first have a Wylie Dufresne dish (pre-WD-50?) or "hear" about the action going on down on Clinton Street or of Paul Liebrandt or Will Goldfarb or Blais down in Atlanta whose restaurant just closed? Do you recall when you first heard the term "molecular gastronomy?" When did you first come across Albert Adria's mind-blowing "Los postres de el bulli?" which came out in 1998? OK--realize I don't actually expect you or anyone to answer those questions in some kind of third degree litmus test--my point is some of those specific answers might help develop a kind of personal timetable when it comes to assessing what might be termed this creative or inventive food, and hopefully a few of those answers predate the past 18 months. (I fear the average diner tends to have shorter memories when it comes to chefs and their creativity. Much of their awareness is media-driven--which is in constant pursuit of the new--and many food media types recycle rather than research and probe.)

Moving on--I think Jose came to the US and took over Jaleo in like 92, he had cooked under Ferran for 3 years prior to that. Jaleo is more traditional, though over the years Jose has found devilish ways to work very creative presentations and ideas into his supposedly traditional tapas there, which cost like 5 or 6 bucks. I wish you could have eaten there. But for the sake of argument let's say what he does there is traditional and not sufficiently "creative." Let's say there is little of creative value at Zaytinya as well. We won't even touch whether anything is good or represents a good value. We won't even address what it means to be a successful, significant or influential chef. Just creativity and innovation as specific notions. That said, many of the exploratory concepts and little experimental techniques or creative riffs you had at minibar recently--in 2004--and which opened only in late Summer 2003--were actually developed by Jose for Cafe Atlantico and their "Latin dim sum brunch" back in 1998 when Jose agreed to serve at the helm of both Jaleo & Cafe Atlantico. A huge Food Arts article on Jose the chef (Food Arts is the most significant culinary magazine in the US when it comes to the professional food scene) detailing his creativity there then ran in September 1999--and which is still worth checking out, it's framed on the wall of Cafe at the top of the first flight of stairs--so it was the 1998 season when many American chefs and foodies were first exposed to Jose and these creative dishes and concepts. That's 6 years ago.

Not many people in the US back then even knew who Ferran Adria was. In 1998 did you Suzi? In 1998 Heston Blumenthal had not even been awarded his first Michelin star yet. Was he on your radar then? Here, after that Food Arts article, and after people had experienced what Jose was doing at Cafe then, the floodgates opened around the US. A cavalcade of American chefs and writers proceeded to Rosas but many savvy European chefs had already heard of this mad scientist Adria guy even earlier--French chefs, presciently, had already begun to rouse (sp?) fear of him and had begun a not-so-subtle campaign to disparage him and his cooking which continues to this day. To put things in historical perspective for those reading along--I believe 1999 was when the UK's Heston Blumenthal (a darling of the current "molecular gastronomy" acolytes) and the Fat Duck in Bray was awarded its first Michelin star. That year 1999 was when Jose was nominated for the James Beard Rising Star chef award for his creative work at Cafe & Jaleo (which he did not win--Marcus Samuelsson did that year--but still, in a market as vast and diverse as the US you're honored just by being nominated.) 1999 is still two years before Grant Achatz debuted any creative dish of his own at Trio. Jumping ahead, in 2003, the irrepressibly talented Grant Achatz wins his Beard Rising Star Chef award, Jose wins the Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award after his third nomination while his most recent restaurant, Zaytinya, was one of 5 restaurants nominated nationally for the Beard Best New Restaurant. 2004 then saw Heston awarded his third Michelin star--the youngest chef ever I believe?--but for the purposes of this thread--and Suzi's derivative/copying charges which she has yet to address--it is less important what Blumenthal is doing now or even what he's done recently but what he WAS doing--what he WAS creating--back in 1998. And certainly not only Blumenthal but the other likely chefs Suzi might be referring to.)

For a specific instance, take that deconstructed American clam chowder dish--which the NYTimes Magazine just "discovered" in 2004 but which Jose has been doing since at least 1998--it was featured in the Washington Post Food section maybe 5 years ago--what's that dish derivative of? What dish did any eGulleteer have during their world travels (or reading) circa 1998 that this was copied from? Does it flow from the Adria culinary spirit and tenets? Undoubtedly, as I think Shaw explains well. But, Suzi, how does it seem to you that this very personal deconstruction, this very individual re-interpretation of a classic American dish--which Jose was the first to do so in such a unique way that I'm aware of or that, say, someone much more experienced than I, Michael Batterberry of Food Arts magazine, had yet to see at the time--a dish which is (usually for the rest of us who have had it over time) absolutely delicious, true in spirit and taste to the original yet also imperceptibly complex (practically raw clam, clam juice turned into a gelee and brushed on the clam, crisply fried tiny dice of potato, with espuma, confit, oils drizzled, et al)--how was this "copied" or "derivative" given that you now know when it was first created and served?

Or is this deconstructed/re-constructed classic dish a strong example of exactly why you feel Jose's work is derivative and copying?

I think that's going to be a tough case for you to make stick. This as just copying Adria. You're also going to be hard-pressed in general to name another American or British chef doing "more creative" work than this at the time. I'm weak on what Heston was doing in 1998 but there you might be able to help. (I do so hate thinking in terms of these inherently false comparisons--and always try to appreciate chefs for the personal statement they're making at the time--but I'll make an exception here because Suzi you seem focused mainly on valuing creativity as ideas and concepts in time--an intellectual exercise if you will--hence the use of the terms derivative and copying. We won't get anyhwere focusing on how the dishes tasted differently to us or on the quality of those dishes apart from creativity and originality and that's ok.) In the US some other upstarts breaking through at the time were Rocco DiSpirito (yes that Rocco,) Marcus Samuelsson, and outside of NYC Rick Tramonto in Chicago or a Ken Oringer of Clio in Boston were doing some very creative stuff which you might have found (or did find) "inventive," this was around their own visits to El Bulli, and later which they were going to incorporate more into their cooking and go on to garner much deserved praise (Beard Best Chef awards for all, in Oringer's case in 1999 I think) but the list globally--and certainly within the US for 1998 for chefs which might meet your "glutton for the new" creativity/inventiveness/molecular gastronomy test is pretty short. Many of our most creative younger chefs today were still finding themselves and finding their styles back then. Many of the more established older generation of chefs in that day had just made their own trips to El Bulli--Keller, Trotter, Norman Van Aken, Bouley, etc.

Let's do another creativity timecheck: Do you know what dishes Grant Achatz was creating and serving in 1998? My bet is he was at the French Laundry cranking out oysters and pearls and coffee and donuts, dreaming of what he might do one day in the future. I wonder what Blumenthal's menu was like then. How far had he transitioned from the very traditional, classic French and European cooking he began doing at the Fat Duck after he returned from his tour of all the top creative restaurants and chefs in Europe like Bras, Roellinger, Santi Santemaria and Adria?

Another for instance, and we each can only draw on our own depth and experiences and then compare them to others, but the first chef I'm aware of to use "pop rocks" in both a sweet and a savory application was...that's right, Jose Andres...I'm limited by my experiences and I first had dishes of his with them in it in the 1997-1998 season. Did Ferran use them first? I don't know. Major culinary statement? Copying? Not to me. Many chefs still feel stuff like that is a gimmick--but it sure can be fun, can't it, when you're a diner and experience something like that for the first time. Whether you like it at the time or not, it makes you stop and think about the nature of food and ingredients. So the first surprise and whimsical nature of pop rocks in food as an ingredient was 7 years ago for me--after that it's just assimilated. Does anyone, for instance, know when that oft-written about chocolate dessert with pop rocks of Heston Blumenthal debuted? Two, three years ago, maybe? Is there a connection? Is this called copying? Is this Heston being "terribly derivative?" (I hope not--I don't think that way--and I hope most diners wherever they come from are happy just to put something tasty in their mouth and perhaps moved to explore further afterward.)

Take the liquid nitrogen thing you reacted to--how many years have to pass after the Herve This/Christian Conticini article first appeared in English more than a decade ago in Scientific American, extolling the virtues of using liquid nitrogen to make ice creams and sorbets, before it becomes just another technique allowed to be put in service of taste or palate--and no longer has to be viewed as proprietary? Likely this is how Heston found out about liquid nitrogen--what's the problem with anyone anywhere saying hey, we're doing some cool things with liquid nitrogen without also laying out the precis or synopsis of its development over time? You think most chefs have time to read eGullet let alone Scientific American? For the extremely rare chef with This or Conticini or a passing interest in science on their radar that's the quivalent now of saying "hey, we're doing some cool ice creams in the Pacojet," isn't it? Guess what, a lot of people can rightly claim to be doing cool things with Pacojets. That's because nascent bits about the science behind the Pacojet have been shared amongst chefs for years and other chefs have reached independent methods of working and achieving results that they want. You think I have to give credit to Gray Kunz (who first gave a Pacojet to Jacques Torres and where I first saw it in use) every time I serve an olive oil sorbet?

The first book on food science and molecular gastronomy by Herve This came out in 1993--and then the inimitably prescient food writer Jeffrey Steingarten wrote an amazing profile of Professor This in Vogue magazine called "Better Cooking Through Chemistry" in March of 1996--so he's been on our radar in the US for some time. His way of thinking and re-thinking tried and true concepts has influenced a lot of chefs and much of this, at the high end, has already been assimilated.

Back to specific dishes--the (usually) fresh, clean, fun Jose dishes anyone who has eaten at minibar since it opened in the Summer of 2003 has had, like his inventive composed salad treatments, the little shots like the potato espuma/caviar/vanilla oil, the raviolis, the foie gras corn nut soup, are all 6+ years "old" and he's been refining and re-interpreting and riffing off them ever since--they've been consumed and enjoyed maybe a hundred thousand times? That doesn't mean they're always going to be served properly. But has anyone seen a composed "salad" rolled up in jicama like a sushi roll in nori and then sliced and served on its side with bleu cheese, corn and pomegranate before Jose did it in 1998? Ask him and I'm sure Jose would say that's no big deal--eat it and enjoy it. Worry about its derivation later. Now drying fruit is all the rage amongst elite chefs and pastry chefs but Jose was the first guy I ever saw using fruit powders in savory dishes as far back as when I met him in 1996 or 97--he served a raw clam on a Vietnamese soup spoon way back for an event at the Smithsonian we did together, glazed with a mix of dessert wine/clam juice and sprinkled with raspberry powder that took the breath away of most in the audience--so simple, so daring, so incongruous for its time yet utterly delicious. Perhaps he ripped this straight off an El Bulli menu from the 1996 or 1997 season, but I doubt it, guess we'll have to wait for the volume which precedes the 1998-2002 volume to come out.

Still, I guess it is possible a strong case could be made about Jose copying or emulating--so brava on the one hand to Suzi for having the courage to raise the issue. On the other hand, now's the time to back that up a bit. Most people realize minibar is an adventure, a bargain, 30+ special tasty dishes, and don't ascribe more to it than what it is. Taste is always going to be one's own--even at the minibar. And likely a small percentage of diners will always go away dissatisfied. Jose has said, though, that one of the reasons he developed it is to help people in the industry maintain a conversation about food and creativity. For others to be stimulated and motivated to adapt what they do or to see things just a little bit differently. This is part of that conversation. Where the pretending "they don't owe a debt of innovation to other people" comes from or where Jose is quoted saying what he's doing at minibar "is at the forefront of gastronomy" are other things entirely.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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steve, i really wish i could just launch in with some comment on what the food tasted like. but i can't. even with the menu and my photos there's no distinctive flavour trail.

and before i'm accused of not having a good palate or memory ;-) i want to make it clear this is one of the main reasons why i didn't rate my experience. i can remember ONE SINGLE flavour from the meal. it was the foie gras cotton candy. and i remember it well because it really did taste like foie gras and because the concept was lifted entirely from el bulli's curry flavoured cotton candy with tamarind. which i ate 18 months ago and can still taste.

This is really stunning to me because I very often conjure smells and tastes from my Minibar meal last October. Especially the vanilla truffled whipped potatoes--the other night at Public in NYC I had a dish with a distinctive smell to it, my companions and I sat around smelling and smelling and AHA! All of a sudden I remembered where it was from, and we all (who'd also been at Minibar) sat around and smiled. Clearly that dish stayed with me, as did the cotton candy foie gras, the lobster, and much more. I'm so looking forward to my next experience, this coming Wednesday. We'll see if the minibar folk have been reading this thread lately...

Food is a convenient way for ordinary people to experience extraordinary pleasure, to live it up a bit.

-- William Grimes

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I was 23 in 1998 and was scraping living in London.

I'd never heard of molecular gastronomy and wouldn't have known Heston Blumental from a hole in the road.

But most importantly I'd never realised that an encyclopedic knowledge of culinary history was a prerequiste for posting opinion on this site.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Steve, I think you're being less than absolutely generous about Suzi's reaction to someone who's cooking you obviously admire.

Like many of us, Suzi is autodidact in the realm of food. More than anyone I know, she travels thousands of miles, planning months in advance, to be able to experience the work of a chef who she's heard good things about. She doesn't carry around the burden of self-conceit, just an inspiring passion. If she engages someone in conversation, it isn't to trap them or trick them, it's because she has a great desire to learn and experience more.

Obviously she went to this place and had not only a disappointing meal, but also a lack generosity in the service. I think it's not so diffficult to leave it there.

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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And then on the other hand, no, I don't think the guys behind the counter do need to be able to discuss these chefs and restaurants and interdependencies in any detail--nor should they--that isn't their job, they haven't eaten there, they're there doing a tough intricate job serving you, under a much higher profile than much more experienced chefs never subject themselves to. Do you ask this much of your sushi bar chef as he's slicing the toro for the next dish in your omakase? I can't speak for anyone but myself here, but you're there for a specific, individual and personal culinary experience, the "minibar" experience, you're not there to interview the guy wrapping the jicama ravioli that night at length on what he knows of the history of who used liquid nitrogen first and in what culinary context. As a diner, you're there to experience and taste a $65 parade of intricate and often complex little dishes--to take the journey Jose created and approved, in other words. It's appropriate to expect a little hand-holding along the way, as one's hand would be held during an omakase, but I think the majority of reasonable diners, regardless of supposed international experience, will deem it inappropriate and possibly even unseemly to bring too much baggage to the "bar." That's not necessarily included in the $65 price tag--enough already is included--and it risks ruining the experience for what it is.

I disagree. For a number of reasons.

First of all, a large part of the minibar experience for me was the fact that I was able to talk with the chef. As a student of the craft, I looked foward to being able to discuss my meal with the chef. Instead I found a chef who came across as somewhat demeaning and uninterested in what we had to say. I have no problem with chefs not wanting to talk with their customers. That's why they are in the back of the house. And yes, when there is not a language barrier, I do discuss sush and Japanese cuisine with the sushi chef.

I am also surprised that conversing with the chefs is not considered part of the minibar experience. Why bother using the bar seating if not to invite conversation. Jose had to know that there would be people as knowledgeable as eGer's are coming to dine at Minibar.

Second, Minibar is cutting edge cuisine. I would hope that the chefs who are preparing the food have studied it's history. In my job I am often have the latest techniques and toold at my disposal. Part of understanding what I am doing is to know the history of the methods I use. I am better at my job because I understand the foundation of my methods.

tarka, thank you for your posts. Without oposing points of view eG would be a very dull place. :wink:

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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I am also surprised that conversing with the chefs is not considered part of the minibar experience

Who here said it wasn't? When I was last there with my wife we had to do so much chatting about our meal because of all the things she wouldn't eat--foie gras, shellfish, fish. We chatted constantly but briefly about upcoming ingredients and techniques and substitutions and also amongst the other diners. We also knew the chefs had a tough, timed job to do. What I felt, again speaking solely for myself as a diner and chef, is that like so much else about any aspect of the restaurant experience, is that how much is too much and how much is reasonable to expect are valid questions. And I think those answers are always going to be a little different for each of us and different on particular nights. In an ideal customer service situation all questions are handled smoothly and gracefully and all dishes are enjoyed. In reality? You identify and then learn from your mistakes, you keep trying to improve consistency and you move forward. You develop better interpersonal skills over time, you keep trying to instill them, but how many older chefs have them let alone younger chefs? When you say "I would hope that the chefs who are preparing the food have studied its history" I still feel that hope is possibly a little misplaced, it's just a little too abstract and unrealistic, perhaps because I've been around well-trained but less experienced chefs and cooks, perhaps because like many things in food I know that history hasn't been written yet, and perhaps it's because most working cooks can't afford a computer and if they did don't have time to surf. Cooking is a tough, constant process of learning how (first) and why (second) to do things correctly--stepford chefs is actually very apt--and might be taken by some as a compliment. Imagine being the stepford chef on the line of Daniel Boulud or Thomas Keller? You know how to do your job and you do it consistently, quickly and well. You likely can't converse about how Boulud is viewed amongst his peers or whether Keller's oyster and pearls dish shares similarities with any dishes amongst the current Michelin 3 star chefs in Spain. You have time to embrace other things as you evolve and the most passionate and skilled of those cooks do. Most of these guys work and prep, work and prep, they don't spend their very infrequent time off researching culinary history nor can they afford to travel and hit the gastronomic sights. And yes I can also reconcile that with the belief that no guest at any restaurant should be made to feel unimportant or unworthy. Grace under fire has to be acquired. Would the response you get likely have been different if a Kats or Jose or Manuel had been behind or near the bar at that moment? Should it have been different anyway? Guaranteed. Likewise I wish the experiences you and Suzi had were better. I know one thing, though, they'd kill for another chance to undo whatever was not done right the first time and there's enough talent and concern assembled to ensure these remain aberrations.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Likewise I wish the experiences you and Suzi had were better. I know one thing, though, there's enough talent and concern assembled to ensure these remain aberrations.

and likewise i know that should any people have less than positive experiences reports on here about them will remain aberrations as this isn't a supportive environment to post them.

i'm going to bow out of this discussion now.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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There are some really interesting issues to be debated here: how a diner's perceptions of what is new or deriviative, fresh and stale, exciting or dull is influenced by their knowledge and experience; how Molecular Gastronomy's (MG)use of novelty might drive the need for an increased turnover of ideas; how the concept of signature dishes might have been made redundant by the MG movement and Adria's yearly overhall of his menus; how a 6 year old dish, however good it might be, could look, feel and taste dated to someone with recent global experience of MG restaurants, instead of being welcomed as a classic.

But maybe we'll have those debates some other time.

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oie.

Suzi, thank you for identifying and raising the interaction aspect of the minibar!

Steve, thank you for the history. I've never eaten at the other restaurants discussed, never read most of the articles to which you pointed, and know the names only as names, not reference points in a strange and wonderful world.

from my own experience, which was far too many months ago. (at least three :raz: ):

For all the potential of two chefs and six diners, they were slammed, focused on the five, six, 10 aspects of courses they were preparing at once. When ours had a breather, we could ask about the dish that he'd just choreographed and his response was enlightening--he was happy to briefly discuss the tastes, textures, and colors that he'd just painted onto the plate.

Lacking much of Suzi's dining context, it didn't occur to me to ask about the broader philosophy and influence of the art. I'm somewhat sad, but neither surprised nor disappointed that such questions weren't received in the spirit in which they were offered. When I'm writing, I can handle queries specific to the subject matter at hand. But ask me anything, anything else--about the philosophy of the field, what I'm writing next, or what I'm cooking for dinner tomorrow, and I will growl, at best.

But Kats stepped behind the bar while I was there, playing with a new dish--an egg, softly cooked for hours--and that is my lead in recounting the tale of the minibar. While he was there, poking and prodding and thinking as the chefs swirled around him, we could talk. Not about the field, for I didn't know enough to ask, nor about the dish in front of me. The quivering white and yellow, not solid, not liquid, was entrancing, and we asked him why, and how, and what else could you do with an egg, and where was the egg going, maybe, what if you did this? Or that?

and that experience--our journey posted by the jacketed chefs while Kats explained part of the navigation--was what I would happily, happily, pay twice, if not three times, as much money to repeat. He was there for just 15 minutes, playing, and thereby grounded it all. I had a cucumber sandwich today and caught myself wondering--what would Jose and Kats do with this? Because I had seen, a little bit, how they start to play.

The journey alone, without Kats, was, for me, well-worth the $65.

Edited by babka (log)
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and likewise i know that should any people have less than positive experiences reports on here about them will remain aberrations as this isn't a supportive environment to post them.

It will continue to be a supportive environment for dissenting opinions as long as I have anything to say about it.

Continue posting your thoughts, Suzie. You have more supporters here than you might think.

Read back to my first experience at the Minibar. Did it look like I loved it? Well, yes, I did love the experience. But have I been back since then? No. The Minibar is an amusement park. How many times a year do you need to go?

Have you noticed we're talking about "experiences" rather than great meals?

This is Walt Disney more than it is Albert Einstein. Both men were brilliant at what they did, by the way, but make no mistake who matters more.

Stick around,

Rocks.

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