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Voyage into Creativity

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Wonderful reports about wonderful foods in one of my favourite countries.

Although not strictly a food comment I can't let this quote pass without comment.

The situation was exacerbated as the country slipped further into poverty.

This is referring to the Franco era. Nothing could be further from the truth. Say what you like about his politics, but Franco brought Spain from impoverishment after the civil war to modernity by the time he died and he stage managed a transition to democracy before his death.

By the way, the culinary scene in Spain was pretty hot even in the 60's when I lived there.

Keep up the good work.

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Wonderful reports about wonderful foods in one of my favourite countries.

Although not strictly a food comment I can't let this quote pass without comment.

The situation was exacerbated as the country slipped further into poverty.

This is referring to the Franco era. Nothing could be further from the truth. Say what you like about his politics, but Franco brought Spain from impoverishment after the civil war to modernity by the time he died and he stage managed a transition to democracy before his death.

For some time in the late 70's and into the 80's I lived with a man who grew up in post-Civil War Spain, in Galicia. Franco was responsible for not alleviating years and years of starvation in that country. My friend's family nearly got wiped out by hunger in the 50's. Depending on which side you'd been on, you either did or did not get rations of flour, eggs, and other basics. As for the transition to democracy, this was not Franco's doing nor that of his cronies, but rather that of King Juan Carlos. Franco thought he'd created a puppet in his young protege, whereas in fact Juan Carlos risked everything when he stood up to the fascist generals in February of '81 to put down their attempted coup. Spain nearly fell back into civil war during the era of the transition and had it not been for this brave king and the will of the people, Franco's cronies would have been running a fascist state all over again. Read the reviews and even the book, Juan Carlos: Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy to get an idea. Yes, Franco did much to improve the infrastructure in Spain, at times at tremendous cost to the environment, and it sure was safe there, like it is in many police states. Democracy is messy, and that's not what Franco had in mind.


"It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all of the answers." --James Thurber

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An interesting discussion could certainly be had on what Franco and his politics meant for Spain as a whole and its constituent parts, however, to continue it is beyond the scope of this discussion. In the context of food and the discussion in this thread, however, it is clear that the Franco years were a bane to artisanal cheese production in Spain as many forms were either extinguished or nearly so. An interesting study would be to examine what kinds of cheeses and their qualities were available prior to the Spanish Civil War and how that compares to what is available today.


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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Voyage into Creativity, part five

Friday: Aduriz and Petras

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1166469141/gallery_29805_3926_19093.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">By John Sconzo

As far as I was concerned, Friday afternoon belonged to Llorenc Petras and Andoni Luis Aduriz. Both were participants in the post-prandial General Session on “Spain’s Vegetable Kitchen: From Artichokes, Piquillo Peppers and Chickpeas to Mushrooms and Other Forest Botanicals”; the second half of the title involved these two. I also attended two breakout sessions after the general sessions. Both involved Aduriz; the second involved Petras as well.

Teresa Barrenechea, former chef/owner of Marichu restaurant in New York and now a cookbook author living back in her native Spain, oversaw interesting demonstrations using vegetables by Pedro Moran, Francis Paniego and Enrique Martinez in addition to the mushrooms of Petras and the woodland botanicals of Aduriz. Martinez, from the restaurant Maher in Navarra, cooked vegetables by a technique that he called “condensation.” He used the broth a number of ways, including as a gel. In the Marketplace later, I had a gelled piquillo pepper broth of his that was both delicious and beautifully presented.

Aduriz, from the restaurant Mugaritz (the name means “the oak next to the border”), gave an account of his interest in woodland botanicals. He credits his inspiration to Michel Bras, who is renowned for his intimate knowledge and use of the wild botanicals in his region. In homage to Bras, Aduriz created his own version -- accompanied by a video -- of one of Bras’ most well-known dishes, using 60 to 80 native botanical ingredients.

Friday afternoon and Saturday featured a few general sessions interspersed several breakout sessions. Each session required a ticket and was available for pre-registration prior to the conference. My wife and I got our first choices, although almost any of the sessions would have been interesting.

Although I have not yet had the pleasure of dining at his restaurant, I am intrigued by Andoni Anduriz and his work. I turned in my ticket for his Kitchen workshop at the door of the massive work-kitchen, the gateway to all the kitchen workshops. I soon found myself one of about thirty other admirers, squeezing into a small space in front of Aduriz' work area, craning for a view. (This is my only significant criticism of the entire event. Since tickets for all the workshops were collected at the door, it didn’t necessarily matter which ticket was originally held. I will give credit to the organizers, though, as they learned their lesson for the following day’s demonstration by Ferran Adria.) I was obviously not the only one intrigued by Aduriz as the audience consisted of a number of his peers such as Dani Garcia, Oriol Balaguer, Jose Andres, Harold McGee and Ferran Adria amongst others.

Despite the tight quarters, Aduriz’s discussion and demonstration were fascinating. He spoke through a translator while several assistants nimbly performed the tasks set out for them. Young, with an intensity behind his eyes that belied his age, Aduriz spoke about the benefits of systematization in the professional kitchen. He said that “all recipes are subjective until systematized and made uniform with a common language.” He felt that systematization is vital to do things correctly and consistently and to "filter out prejudices that everyone has." This reminded me a lot of the philosophy of the Italian chef, Davide Scabin of 0.Combal in Torino, who spoke strongly about his desire to systematize such things as salinity within specific dishes by using defined salt solutions and volumes rather than a simple shake or imprecise pour over a dish. The biggest question, according to Aduriz though, is “Why?” He feels that above all, when cooking, one must ask “why” as in "why does a particular technique or ingredient work" or even "why do X at all?" Under his direction his assistants used starch from kudzu, the common roadside pest, to make “gnocchi” flavored with Idiazabal cheese. An interesting element of this neutral starch is its ability to change texture at varying degrees. Like “butter” at 73 degrees C, the texture changes to a pasta like consistency with boiling. Aduriz served it with a tasty pork bouillon with "contrasting" vegetables.

Aduriz also demonstrated several other techniques. He prepared an intense chive soup by impregnating the herbs in liquid and cooking them in a pressure-vacuum cooking device. Using lecithin powder, xantham gum, salt, juice and fish tank pumps, he prepared flavored “bubbles.” Aduriz mentioned that he is currently working on a dish with smoke-filled bubbles called “Vanity.”

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1166469141/gallery_29805_3926_3679.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Next I attended “Of Mushrooms, Botanicals and More: Cooking from the Spanish Forest." involving both Aduriz and Llorenc Petras, with Petras initially describing and showing various woodland mushroom species. He was amazed at the variety and quality of cultivated mushrooms available here, though it's not just the US that has shown an increased interest in the tasty fungi. Spain has seen a 20% increase in mushroom consumption in the last ten years alone. It seems likely that Llorenc Petras has had a hand in that.

For this second workshop, Aduriz shifted gears and focused more on ingredients than technique. Describing his style of cooking as “Techno-emotional Cuisine,” Aduriz prepared an oxalis salad in a special see-through bowl. The salad consisted of herbs from a beech forest (wood sorrel and ground ivy) and wild mushroom slices on a bed of ratte potatoes cooked in a truffle and yeast stock. He also did a demonstration of potatoes cooked (meant to evoke small stones) in gray clay, with a light cream of garlic confit and farmhouse egg yolks. A unique aspect of this dish is the insulating quality of the clay, which kept the potato quite hot. The clay is eaten, but not digested. Finally, Aduriz showed that Joan Roca was not the only chef with “earth’ on his mind and palate. He finished with a fun demonstration of deconstructed scents, passing six different scents on smelling sticks around the room, asking us to identify them. The scents, easily identifiable, were not necessarily pleasant. One was, in fact, cat urine. He then sent the six scents on a second round -- this time joined together. The joint scent turned out to be that of sweet basil -- an interesting exercise in the effects of combining disparate components. I had the pleasure of being able to speak to Aduriz for a time after the session. He is a very, warm and accessible man eager to discuss food. He is also as big a fan of eGullet Society member Judith Gebhart as she is of him.

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All photos by the author.

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A few "people" shots:

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Jose Andres and Llorenc Petras having fun.

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Marilyn Tausend and Nancy Harmon Jenkins, two of my very favorite trip leaders. Nancy led my trip to Spain with CIA/WOF back in 2004 while Marilyn co-led my trip to Mexico this past March along with Rick Bayless.

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Joan Roca and Andoni Aduriz relaxing before a demonstration.

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Marcos Moran, Enrique Martinez and Dani Garcia doing the same.

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Carles Gaig being interviewed during the Friday lunch.

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Rafael Anson, Jose Andres, Ferran Adria and yours truly.


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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Actually the food was prepared by the Napa Culinary Institute, and they did a great job serving over 900 people, following my cookbook recipes, plus a pintxo from Patxi Bergara with Boquerones..................

Thank you for the clarification, Jose. They certainly did do a wonderful job. The food was fabulous. It didn't hurt that they had some pretty good recipes to begin with. :wink: I was amazed at the quality of the food that was prepared for so many people - not just at the Tapas lunch, but throughout the conference.

Here is a photo of the people primarily responsible for the Tapas lunch.

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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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Photos from Spain's Vegetable Kitchen: From Artichokes, Piquillo Peppers, and Chickpeas to Mushrooms and Other Forest Botanicals

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Teresa Barrenechea doing the introductions.

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Andoni Aduriz Onstage. He is watching his video presentation on a monitor.

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Photo taken from a video monitor of Aduriz' Forest Botanicals Salad inspired by Michel Bras.

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Enrique Martinez working with his "Condensation" technique.

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Martinez' Asparagus with Truffles

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Pedro Moran explaining an Asturian Fabada.

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Francis Paniego of Echaurren in Ezcaray, Navarra, Spain demonstrating the use of Spanish peppers.

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Llorenc Petras discussing characteristics of a boletus mushroom while Teresa barrenechea looks on.


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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Photos from the first Aduriz demonstration, Signature Flavors of Spain's Top Chefs: Andoni Luis Aduriz:

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An overview (literally) of the Aduriz demo. Ferran Adria, Jose Andres and Dani Garcia can be discerned in the background.

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Ruben Garcia and Oriol Balaguer looking on.

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Harold McGee taking notes

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Aduriz discussing his philosophy with the assistance of a translator. Ferran Adria is looking on.

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Aduriz' assistants putting together small bowls of samples of previously made kudzu gnocchi.

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Thickened kudzu starch.

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Pouring the warm starch into a piping bag.

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Making the kudzu gnocchi by piping the malleable warm starch into an ice-cooled bath.

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Aduriz pouring the idiazabal broth around the gnocchi.

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Aduriz using a pressure-vacuum cooker to make Chive Soup.

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Making flavored bubbles using fish tank pumps, juice, eggwhite powder, xantham gum and salt.


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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Photos from Of Mushrooms, Botanicals, and More: Cooking from the moderated by Maria Jose Sevilla and featuring Llorenc Petras and Andoni Aduriz.

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Sevilla and Petras.

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Cultivated Mushroom varieties available in Napa Valley- an impressive array to Petras.

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Andoni Luis Aduriz

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...with translator.

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Cardboard display stand and bowl for his dish "oxalis salad."

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Construction of the Oxalis salad, a representative dish of Aduriz' "Techno-emotional" style using products of woodland origen. When making this dish at his restaurant he uses actual woodland foraged produce.

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Scent on a stick.

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Six disparate scents that when combined create the scent of sweet basil.

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Mixing the "clay" to coat the "pebble" potatoes

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Dipping the potatoes into the clay.

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Marcos and Pedro Moran congratulate Aduriz on a job well done.

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Aduriz and yours truly after his demos.


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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Voyage into Creativity, part six

Saturday morning

By John Sconzo

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1168614496/gallery_29805_3926_8554.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">My wife and I arrived early at the conference, for a leisurely breakfast and good seats. In fact, we got front row seats. They would come in handy.

The day started with an impassioned talk (In Pursuit of Flavor, Culture and Authenticity: Bringing Spain Home) by Colman Andrews, cookbook writer, former editor of Saveur and Gourmet staffer. According to Andrews, Spain has become a hotbed not only in the US, but also the rest of Europe and indeed much of the rest of the world. He cited examples:

  • Gazpacho avec 'quelque chose'” is “one of the hottest dishes in France” of late.
  • It wasn’t too long ago that no Spanish chefs were known by name in the US.
  • Likewise, few dishes other than paella were known.

What changed? As others had said earlier in the conference, Franco’s death opened the way for a resurgence of regional character and creativity that became obvious to the rest of the world during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, followed by the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the ascendancy of Ferran Adria and his culinary disciples.

Andrews explained what it all meant for the US: Spanish food products such as pimenton, piquillo peppers, olive oil, rice and various conservas are making huge inroads, with other foods -- like iberico ham -- now following; an upsurge of new “Spanish” restaurants, like Tia Pol in New York City in which the food is highly authentic (though its owner is from New Orleans), as well as others that are Spanish in name only. He implored the attendees “to give your audience a chance” and not assume that they don’t want what is right. He said that instead of “taking a variety of items from across Spain, mixing them up and thinking ‘they won’t know the difference’” that it is “better to focus on a few things” and to “trust simplicity.” He continued: don't learn “the wrong lessons” such as “foams are everything;” don't let Calcium Chloride become the “new balsamic vinegar.” He said that Ferran Adria has taught chefs to question why things are done certain ways and whether there may be other ways of doing things. Andrews finished with “don’t try to bring everything home -- leave some things in Spain.”

With an opening like that, the Illy Cafe man could have simply sat down -- additional caffeine would hardly be necessary. Nor would it be necessary with the panel discussion that followed: a veritable who’s who of culinary experts including moderators Richard Clark, Richard Wolffe and Greg Drescher, and panelists Clara Maria Gonzalez de Amezua, Jose Andres, Colman Andrews, Michael Batterberry, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Thomas Keller, Karen McNeil, David Rosengarten, Dr. Tim Ryan, Gabino Sotelino, Norman Van Aken, Anya Von Bremzen and Clark Wolf. The topic was “Spanish Flavors, American Kitchens: Appetites for Change.” The discussion was dedicated to R.W. “Johnny” Apple, who would have been leading the panel had he not passed away shortly before the conference.

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1168614496/gallery_29805_3926_12465.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">The opening question to the panel was "How much of the creative energy now in Spain is a reaction to it having been closed for so long?" Clara Maria Gonzalez de Amezua, who has lived through those years of closure simply stated that in Spain there always has been "a creative spirit." Anya Von Bremzen added that the current creative surge is not due to "just a bunch of people who happen to be in Spain at the same time." She added that it is "very much (due to) an 'open door' policy" with the exchange of ideas and that the culinary community of Spain is very well organized as exemplified by conferences such as "Madrid Fusion" and "Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia." Indeed she noted that other European countries are picking up on that and holding conferences of their own.

Jose Andres addressed the balance of traditional and creative cooking in Spain. He noted that he started making traditional Spanish cuisine in the US so that the creative cuisine could be understood. He also jokingly said he used Washington political correspondent Richard Clark to write his book so that he could have greater influence in D.C. politics on behalf of Spanish cuisine. Clark answered that that was all well and good, but the "President doesn't like 'wet' fish," a reference to the lightly-cooked fish recipes in Andres's book. David Rosengarten wished that what Jose Andres did was actually happening more in the U.S. as "there is a notorious lack of traditional Spanish food here." He felt that the historical reasons have been a dearth of real Spanish ingredients, but noted the current efforts to change that. Clark Wolf chimed in that just as important as bringing in Spanish ingredients is "bringing in Spanish foodways and style such as 'tapas.'" Nancy Harmon Jenkins mentioned that in Spain, the King "understands cuisine" and that "in every restaurant, the King of Spain has always 'just been there,'" evidence that strong culinary culture begins prior to the restaurant. Jose Andres elicted chucles by offereing to share the King of Spain with the US.

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1168614496/gallery_29805_3926_2659.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">"What is the future of modern cooking in Spain?" Clara de Amezua pointed out that Spanish cuisine is the product of centuries of culture, with various adaptations added along the way, and that its evolution will continue that way. Thomas Keller, who considers himself "a true francophile" asked "what is real 'Spanish food' vs 'inspirational food?'" He added that "Basque is neither French nor Spanish -- it is Basque." He opined that modern cuisine is more "personality cuisine" that "goes beyond borders" and that "inspiration is more important than creation." He said that "this forum (was) a great way to find inspiration" and that after the inspiration comes evolution.

More discussion ensued on the interplay of traditional and vanguard cooking in Spain. Jose Andres noted that the creative chefs are the ones with the vast majority of the limited number of Michelin stars seemingly available in Spain, and that they were necessary to support everyone else. Moreover, it is the vanguard chefs who have been pushing for quality, artisanal produce. Richard Clark noted that when he visited the Adria's Taller in Barcelona everyone ate tortilla Espanola, at which point Norman van Aken asked, "Why not have it both ways?" He said that it was fun to play with tradition and turn it around and likened the process to having both acoustic and electric Bob Dylan. Dr. Tim Ryan stated that the interplay between tradition and innovation was really only pertinent in Spain and Europe right now. He listed obstacles on the path to a higher profile for Spanish cuisine in the US, most the Spanish immigration necessary to create demand for the cuisine; the innovations of Ferran Adria are largely what has captured the US imagination to date.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins asked what the audience could take away from the discussion. David Rosengarten replied: tradition tweaked with personal idiosyncracies is something of value. Karen McNeil noted that the dichotomy discussed is not really felt in the world of Spanish wine -- that there is "a harmony between alta expresion and tradition, as the Spanish are very insular about their varietals." She asked, "What if the greatest wines in the world have yet to be discovered?" (The resurgence of the Spanish wine industry is a major reason for this question.) Anya Von Bremzen agreed that modern vs traditional "is not an either-or situation" so long as they are used appropriately." This theme recurred throughout the conference; indeed, I had heard often in Spain as well, where at El Bulli, Ferran Adria had said that his cooking was based on traditional Catalan cuisine.

Talk turned to the situation of artisanal food products in the US. Thomas Keller called the situation against foie gras "abominable" and that the industry happens to be an "easy mark," upon which Dr. Ryan wondered if we were "at the dawn of a new era of dietary prohibition," asking "what's next?"

The panel finished with Ariane Broadbent stating from the audience that "everything is fusion and evolution over and over again." Gerry Dawes, returning to the theme of modern vs. traditional in Spain, noted that "one of the most important movements in Spain is 'modern traditional.'" Jose Andres concluded by noting that "tradition of today was yesterday's avant-garde and today's avant-garde will be tomorrow's tradition -- the good stuff will survive!"

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"the dawn of a new era of dietary prohibition"

That's so depressing. Why prohibit when the media does such a find job of promoting fear? So much of the commercial packaging includes the word, "No."

By the way, what a nice surprise to see that there is yet another chapter to this wonderful thread. Thank you again.

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This is not really the right place for this post but since this is an active thread on new technique:

Anyone going to Madrid Fusion V next week?

Registration just closed (it is full): does anyone know of someone registered who cannot go?

Thank you.

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Voyage into Creativity, part seven

Saturday afternoon

By John Sconzo

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169056788/gallery_29805_3926_21247.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">I spent the remainder of Saturday morning at a breakout session. The options were excellent, many and varied, including Joan Roca with Colman Andrews presenting “Tasting the Unexpected: Science, Technology, and the Experimental Spanish Kitchen, in which Roca prepared his “earth” and oyster dish using the local terroir; Canelons and the Catalan Kitchen: Re-inventing a Spanish Pasta Tradition’ with Carles Gaig and Nando Jubany (Gaig’s canelons were one of the most delicious dishes I had eaten over the entire conference); “Of Roasts and Stews: The Live Fire Cooking of the Spanish Interior” with Marco Antonio Garcia and Candido Lopez Cuerdo; “Tapas: Bringing Spanish Inspiration to American Menus” with Carles Abellan, Patxi Bergara and Norman Van Aken; and “The Rice Cooking of Mediterranean Spain: A Live Fire Workshop” with Rafael Vidal and Clara de Amezua. Nevertheless, when my wife and I had the opportunity to choose from amongst these and one other, it was an easy choice. We chose and got tickets for “Tasting the Unexpected: Science, Technology and the Experimental Spanish Kitchen” with Ferran Adria and Harold McGee. I will finish my series with this in the next installment.

Lunch followed the breakout session with another feast in the World Marketplace. This one was bittersweet; it would be the last of this conference. A feature of each of the World Marketplace sessions were author book signings. At this particular session Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller, Colman Andrews and Peter Kaminsky were all signing their books. (Previously, authors Jose Andres, Harold McGee, Andoni Aduriz, Joan Roca, Michael Ruhlman, Anya Von Bremzen, Dani Garcia, Max McCalman, Oriol Balaguer, Janet Mendel, Teresa Barrenechea, Guy Buffet, Joyce Goldstein and Carles Abellan sat for book-signing sessions.)

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169056788/gallery_29805_3926_9979.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">My post-prandial depression following the Marketplace feast was balanced by the continued buzz from the morning sessions. It didn’t hurt that the ever-energetic Jose Andres was amongst the presenters for the first general session of the afternoon on “Tapas: Renewing Traditions, Re-imagining Possibilities,” which also included Patxi Bergara and Carles Abellan, and was moderated by Michael Batterberry. Bergara and his wife Blanca, who hail from one of San Sebastien’s most heralded pintxos bars -- Bar Bergara -- prepared a number of different pintxos, which is the Basque version of the Spanish tapas. Carles Abellan, most well-known for his Spanish vanguard restaurant Comerc24 in Barcelona (and who has also recently opened a traditional tapas bar in the same city, as has Albert Adria), presented his take on tapas, including his version of the Arpege egg, which he calls “kinderegg.” But it was left to Jose Andres to sum it up, as he invited everyone to find his “own meaning as to what tapas are.”

The last general session before Adria’s showed the influence of Spanish cuisine elsewhere in the world. Entitled “Spain and the World table – Perspectives from Latin America and Asia,” it featured presentations from Maricel Presilla, chef-owner of Zafra and Cucharamama, pan-Latin restaurants in Hoboken, N.J.; Arturo Rubio and Marilu Madueno from Lima, Peru’s Huaca Pucllana; and Kiyomi Mikuni, chef-owner of Hotel de Mikuni in Tokyo, Japan.

Between Presilla, Rubio and Madueno, it became apparent that although Spain had provided much in the way of influence and foodways to the cooking of the Americas, it had also taken its share of foodstuffs from the Americas. Indeed, it helped to pass them on to the rest of the world through the Colombian Exchange, which included items like cacao beans and chocolate, chile peppers, tomato, corn, potatoes, beans and other items.According to Presilla, Spaniards preferred sweeter, fleshier peppers; the result is that the hot "padron" is an occasional exception to most of the peppers available in Spain today. Prior to the exchange, large animal meat proteins were scarce in the Americas from Mexico southward. Inhabitants of the Meso- and Southern Americas were limited to venison, fowl such as duck and turkey, the camelids of South America such as the alpaca, llama and vicuna, and smaller mammals, amphibians and reptiles. The Spaniards brought pigs and cattle, as well as horses. While the latter were not used much for food, both of the former items became staples. Maricel Presilla, a restaurateur and chef with an academic background in medieval Spanish history, called "Latin America Spain's greatest creation," noting some particular contributions of Spain to Latin American cuisine, including achiote, which took the place of saffron, and the Moorish-rooted escabeche.

The foods presented showed the influence of Spanish technique, as well as native ingredients, such as a paella-like dish using duck from the Peruvian Madueno. I was particularly curious about this presentation, since Peru is next on my list of destinations. Fortunately, Madueno and her staff from Huaca Pucllana in Lima prepared this and other dishes in the World Marketplace. The cooking was unique and delicious; I am very much looking forward to dining there on my upcoming trip. Like Spain, Peru is also a very fertile area for culinary creativity. With a broad multi-ethnic heritage (the population includes Inca, Spanish, African, Chinese, Italians and Japanese) fusion cuisine is a natural culinary result. Twenty-eight diverse geographical areas, with differrent agricultural products, contribute further to the country's culinary smorgasboard, the end result of which was described as the "revolution" of New Peruvian Cuisine, combining Peruvian flavors in a contemporary way.

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169056788/gallery_29805_3926_11599.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Mikuni showed another side of the influence of contemporary Spanish cooking as he prepared several Spanish-influenced sushi creations that emphasized the similarities of the cuisines of Spain and Japan, two of the most popular in the world today. The cuisines of both countries highlight small plates, rice, seafood and an enhanced sense of umami, spurring the recent rise in interest of Spanish food in Japan (as well as the reverse). Mikuni's creations, including "Paella-Style Sushi with Seafood," "Sushi of Beets with Salmon Chips" and "Red Wine Sushi with Serrano Ham," had also been presented throughout the World Marketplace sessions and were quite tasty.

There was one more breakout session before Adria brought the conference to a rousing close.While I had been enjoying Spanish wines throughout the conference, I had not focused on them at all. I had a great opportunity here to taste a variety of Spanish wines under the heading of "Aromatics, Wine and the Spanish Kitchen: Of Sherry, Albarino and More" with Steve Olsen and Jose Andres. In addition, Jose's D.C. staff (including Ruben Garcia and John Paul Damato, Executive Chef of Jaleo) served some wonderful tapas.Though the wines served focused on aromatic whites, they also included a rose, a red and a dessert wine.The whites included Spain's finest white varietals and regions including albarino (Rias Baixas - Pazo Senorans 2003), Pansa Blanca (Alella - Parxet/Marques de Alella 2005), Manzanilla Sherry (Jerez - La Gitana), godello (Valdeorras - As Sortes 2005) and verdejo (Rueda- Naiades 2004). The rose was a 50:50 blend of tempranillo:garnacha (Rioja - El Coto 2005), the red Mencia (Bierzo- baltos/Dominio de Tares 2004) and the dessert wine a proprietary blend (Malaga - Jorge Ordonez 2004). I must mention that the tasting facilities at CIA/Greystone are exceptional and built to be able to judge the various qualities of wine -- particularly the visual elements that are not often adequately accounted for. We had a variety of foods to taste the wines with, and we were asked for our pairing preferences in an unscientific, fun way. Needless to say, there were a variety of answers. The one constant was that all the wines were good both on their own and paired with the food items, which included oysters, sea urchin with pomegranate, PEI mussel with compote of tomato, garotxa cheese, Ensalada russa, toast with tomato and serrano ham, marcona almonds, olive stuffed with pimiento and anchovy and cabrales with fig. Of course, some of the tastes worked better with specific wines -- though not always intuitively.

This was so much fun that we almost wound up being late for Ferran Adria's closing session.

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Doc,

I just caught back up on your wonderful report. Unfortunately for me, I did not notice that the thread was still going. What was in the kinderegg? Did Aduriz

say why he used the fish tank pump to make the bubbles rather than a Burrmixer?

Molto E


Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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Doc,

        I just caught back up on your wonderful report. Unfortunately for me, I did not notice that the thread was still going. What was in the kinderegg? Did Aduriz

say why he used the fish tank pump to make the bubbles rather than a Burrmixer?

Molto E

Elliot, the kinderegg, if I remember correctly contained a light foam, but I will have to check my notes. While they were akin to the Arpege egg, they are not quite the same thing.

I'm not sure what a Burrmixer is, but the relatively inexpensive fish tank pump gave him the effect that he was looking for - very large bubbles as opposed to a fine foam.


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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A photo from one of the book signing sessions.


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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A couple of culinary giants - Ferran Adria and Thomas Keller - chatting after their book-signing session in The World Marketplace.


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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gallery_8158_4021_194569.jpg

gallery_8158_4021_100204.jpg

A couple of culinary giants - Ferran Adria and Thomas Keller - chatting after their book-signing session in The World Marketplace.


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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Rachel and others, thanks for the kind words. Somtimes putting this together has felt like I was writing War and Peace! :laugh:

I actually have more photos that I have been hoping to add, but I haven't had the sustained time blocs necessary for putting them up and I'm not sure at this point how much more they will add.

We are getting down to the end with just one more installment to add. That should hopefully be up within a few days. It will bring us back full circle to Ferran Adria as the installment will focus on his small group breakout session, which I think is even more interesting in light of the just concluded Madrid Fusion 2007.


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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I will add some more photos anyway :wink:

Panelists in Spanish Flavors, American Kitchens:Appetites for Change who were not previously identified in photos associated with the text above:

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Karen McNeil

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Nancy Harmon Jenkins

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Dr. Tim Ryan

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Gabino Sotelino

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Top: David Rosengarten. Below: Anya Von Bremzen, Clark Wolf and Clara Maria Gonzalez de Amezua.

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Norman Van Aken

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Richard Wolffe

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Video tribute to R.W. "Johnny" Apple


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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More Saturday photos:

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Thomas Keller, Andoni Aduriz and Harold McGee enjoy a chat.

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Jose Andres introduces Pintxo-master Patxi Bergara while Michael Batterberry looks on.

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Carles Abellan during his tapas demonstration.

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Jose Andres and Ruben Garcia preparing tapas from mini-bar.

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Arturo Rubio and Marilu Madueño from Lima, Peru's Huaca Pucllana.

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Madueño and Huaca Pucllana pastry chef Andrea Massaro.

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Japanese tapa-sushi master Kiyomi Mikuni from Tokyo, Japan.


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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Photos from Aromtics, Wine and the Spanish Kitchen: Of Sherry, Albariño, and More, the Saturday afternoon breakout session I attended at the marvelous Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies in the Viking Range Corporation tasting Theater. This facility was incredible. I would be happy sitting there all day and all evening tasting wines and nibbling on morsels. It was better equipped than most medical school classrooms in my experience!

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Steve Olson aka "The Wine Geek" led the session with a little help from his friend, Jose Andres.

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The wines we sampled. The specifics are listed in the article above.

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Not that anyone was in danger of starving, but marvelous tapas from mini-bar were provided with which to taste and pair the wines.

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Ruben Garcia passing out tapas.

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Jorge Ordonez of Tempranillo Imports. If Ordonez or Eric Solomon's (also in the tasting audience) names are on the bottles of Spanish wines, it is my experience that the wines will be good and generally fairly priced. That is certainly not to say that they are the only ones importing good Spanish wines, but I haven't been disappointed by any of theirs that I have tried especially at the lower end of the price spectrum where the values are superb. Garcia and John Paul Damato are in the background serving the tapas.

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The tapas: the specific dishes are mentioned in the installment.


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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Voyage into Creativity, part eight

Ferran Adria

By John Sconzo

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169864253/gallery_29805_3926_16180.jpg" hspace="8" align="right">Holding up and peering into a glass of water, Ferran Adria noted that it was without color, odor and flavor; we recognize it as water by virtue of our memory. Yet it is a profound substance necessary to live and also to cook. So started Adria’s small-group breakout session late Saturday morning: Tasting the Unexpected: Science, Technology, and the Experimental Spanish Kitchen, moderated by Harold McGee. The remainder of the workshop was a discussion of philosophy, culinary history and a demonstration of some of the techniques and ideas that have arisen from the spark of Adria, his team at El Bulli and his Barcelona "Taller."

For Adria there is a distinct difference between traditional and creative cuisine. For the traditional, assuming one has mastery of the appropriate techniques, all one need do is take a book and follow a recipe. Everything is laid out in front with a roadmap to follow. This is not to say that traditional cuisine is necessarily easy or without value; Adria happens to be a great enthusiast of traditional and simple cuisine. Creative cuisine, on the other hand is made without an explicit roadmap. It is uncertain at first what the results will be and how they will be perceived. The inherent risk is large, and Adria believes it must be kept in mind when dining. Since taste memory is a much smaller factor in the experience of creative cuisine compared to traditional cuisine, complete focus and concentration is imperative to ensure a great dining experience. One can only absorb new sensations with that concentration -- the kind of concentration with which Adria reflected on the glass of water. While it may not be possible -- or even desirable -- with every meal, he stressed its importance in the world of haute cuisine if one is to reap maximum rewards.

From holding and examining a glass of water, Adria picked up a potato, and wondered why haute cuisine focuses so much on only expensive products. The question occurred to him back in 1993. He started to peel the potato, asking us to consider how we would deal with this process if the potato was very expensive like a truffle. The peel would be much more respected. His point was that a good product is ultimately what is important, and not the mere expense of the product. (He said much the same during an eGullet Society interview in 2004 by Pedro Espinosa: "a good sardine is better than a not so good lobster.") Adria opined that as far as its culinary potential, "one almond is as good as a caviar." What is important is not the price of an ingredient but its quality -- and extracting the most from that quality.

Culinary history is very important to Ferran Adria. He is exquisitely aware of what has come before him, and is focused on studying it as well as contributing to it. He recalled serving a 1998 El Bulli diner a dish of warm apple gelatin with Roquefort ice cream. Although the concept of warm gelatin is not unusual now, this person was utterly oblivious of the fact that he was the first ever to be served this groundbreaking preparation, of which Adria was justifiably proud. Adria, the student of history, was disappointed that the culinary significance of that moment was wasted.

Ferran moved on to a discussion of the importance of technique and concept in the kitchen. He pointed to the example of puff pastry, an amazing culinary development from the 15th century which is still being used to create new dishes -- dishes that would not be available had that technique not been developed. He ventured the development of a new technique opens up a new culinary world; with the development of 30 to 40 new techniques, a whole new cuisine will develop. In his opinion, the singular importance of modern Spanish cuisine is in the development of new culinary techniques, and that over the last ten years, approximately 90% of new culinary techniques and applications have come from Spain.

Along with his assistant Rafa Morales, chef at the El Bulli/Hacienda Benazuza in Sanlucar la Mayor outside of Seville, Ferran Adria proceeded to illustrate the history of El Bulli with demonstrations of various techniques developed at the restaurant. (The Michelin two-star La Alqueria at Hacienda Benazuza, run by Morales, specializes in the classic dishes of El Bulli, making Morales the perfect assistant to Adria for this phase.)

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169864253/gallery_29805_3926_12470.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Adria noted that in in 1987, all the cookbooks of the time (and before) prescribed that clams be prepared either raw or fully cooked. They were never "lightly" cooked. So Adria decided to do just that. It wasn’t that what came before was "wrong," it was simply an evolution. The "best" method depended solely on the context or the moment.

"One of the most difficult things about creativity is the logic," Adria said as he prepared the 1989 dish "Bisque Sauce Express." It has been customary in Spain to chew shrimp heads to obtain maximum flavor. To make his bisque, Adria lightly sautéed head-on shrimp for approximately 45 seconds to obtain what he considered a "reflection of the product." He and Morales took the lightly sauteed shrimp, squeezed and strained them, and then combined the juice with a vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette. The novel concept with this dish was, as with the clams, cooking lightly. One of the main changes to have occurred over the last twenty years has been a general decrease in the cooking time for all seafood "so that fish taste like fish." This has been more of a conceptual change than a technological breakthrough.

Almost everyone associates Adria and El Bulli with the now ubiquitous "foam" technique. Adria first started making them in 1994 with his "white bean foam with sea urchins." His intent was to preserve the flavor of the ingredient; previously, light and airy presentations depended on making mousses, which necessarily dilute flavor. Adria provided a tip for the home cook. For great whipped cream, he suggested taking the finest vanilla or chocolate ice cream, let it melt and then put it through the siphon.

The next step in the evolution of foams was "air." "Air" lightens a dish without reducing the flavor component. He used carrot juice as an example; because of its natural rich pectin content, he could whip it into a very fine froth. Few ingredients, however, have the necessary amount of pectin to allow this transient effect. A product from the food processing industry came to the rescue -- lecithin. Using this natural stabilizer found in egg yolks, soy beans and elsewhere, Adria was able to make "air" out of anything and it would stay stable. Processes and uses for ingredients like these led to an increased dialogue between science and cooking, though Adria disavows the term "Molecular Gastronomy." Science is a welcome adjunct to the kitchen, but it is still cooking.

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1169864253/gallery_29805_3926_34556.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">Adria continued describing other technical adjuncts such as xantham gum, a product derived from bacteria. He considers this to be the most important product of the past ten years. One gram per liter of fluid will thicken any sauce immediately, retaining the full flavor profile of the sauce.The warm apple gelatin mentioned earlier used agar agar (seaweed flour), a product that has been used in the Far East for a long time. This was a product that had been co-opted by science for use as a bacterial culture medium, but has since found its way back into the European (and now American) kitchen.

Adria also discussed some missed early opportunities. He was first shown a Pacojet back in 1990 when the demonstrator put a whole lobster through it. He rejected the machine until 1999, when they started playing with it and discovered a way to make "snow" by stopping the machine early. Since then, it has become a staple item in the El Bulli kitchen.

Adria finished his presentation by encouraging everyone to freely use the techniques and concepts that he and others have developed. Using them is not copying if one is doing something new; however, he said, the first rule of creativity is honesty.

From Adria to Adria, I have come full circle with my report of this conference, this voyage into creativity. Ferran Adria represents the face of Spain to the rest of the culinary world -- more than any other person today, or ever. His is a new cuisine, unique, but with clear origins in Catalunya and Spain. He creates new techniques and concepts, but is also well grounded in the old. His cuisine is a clear extension of tradition into new waters, using all the contemporary tools and ingredients at his disposal -- and then some. For this reason, he also represents a microcosm of modern Spain, a re-emerging country proud of its history and tradition, but eager to forge ahead and resume its historical place as a leader of world culture. The conference provided a great example by illustrating and demonstrating Spain’s stunning re-emergence in the culinary world. I will never forget the energy and enthusiasm of the Conference Chairman Jose Andres; the eager eyes of Candido Lopez Cuerdo; the daring imagination of Joan Roca; the warmth and earnestness of Andoni Luis Aduriz; the fire of Llorenc Petras; the professionalism of Carles Gaig; and the personability and talents of too many others to mention. As wonderful as the contributions of the Spaniards were, the Americans who helped put it into context were also amazing -- people like Harold McGee, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Colman Andrews, Norman Van Aken, Anya Von Bremzen and Gerry Dawes amongst others again too numerous to mention.

The power and allure of Spanish cuisine is only now starting to take root in this country. If this conference is any indication, it won’t take long for it to grow and flourish on these shores. Although interest in Ferran Adria and El Bulli has been a significant and deserving component in sowing the seeds of that interest, I hope that I have shown that Spanish cuisine is much more than any one person or style, and fully capable of taking part in the continued flowering of that cuisine on these shores. Buen provecho!

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All photos by the author.

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

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

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

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

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

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

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

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

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

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

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

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

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

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
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