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Dec 10, 2008 07:44 AM

Ferran Adria at Harvard

Not sure if anyone else was able to make it over to Harvard last night for Ferran Adria's appearance (let alone into the main room - a total mob scene), but it was pretty interesting. He spoke - with the help of a translator - for a couple of hours about El Bulli, his techniques, and 'molecular gastronomy' in general. His main topics of conversation were the use and creation of new textures, as well as the interplay between science and food. There were also extensive clips from his DVD library of El Bulli, its history, and demonstrations of many of his techniques and creations - quite stunning.

Some of the most interesting takeaways - he believes that a meal is a dialouge between the cook and the diner. As such, what he is creating is, in his mind, a new language - a new way to communicate and think about food. Some people are open to this new language, others are not. He was also, I would have to say, a bit defensive of his creations and his movement (for lack of a better word, and I think he would quibble with my choice). He rejects the term molecular gastronomy. His best argument - if you told many people you were making sea bass with sodium chloride, they would not remember their high school chem and think it was strange and new until you said, "It's sea bass with salt." For him, this is really all he's doing, just with compounds we don't except as every day.

Now, I'm still not sure where I stand on the food produced using Adria, Achatz, and Moto's new 'language,' but I have to say his creations are brilliant and the presentation was quite wonderful. It seems as if he and Harvard are forging a relationship to explore the interplay between science and food, so this was probably not his last visit. Judging from the need for two overfill simulcast rooms and police presence to keep order, probably not his last presentation either. If he does come back, I would recommend checking it out.

As a last note, he gave no tips on getting a res at El Bulli - you just need to be lucky. But he did seem genuinely sad about it.

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  1. Thanks so much for the great recap - I couldn't make it. Much appreciated!

    1. Thanks for the report. I skipped the presentation as I figured there'd be a mob... thanks for confirming. I've had Ferran's food on many occasions... both at El Bulli and at various charity events over the years. What comes to mind immediately when I think of Ferran is his passion. This is a guy driven to explore the boundaries of cuisine. His passion is VERY real... not some idea cooked up to make a mark on the food world or to try to grab a buck. He genuinely loves food and he thinks about EVERY thing regarding food without any preconceived notions. I've dined with him on a number of occasions at different places... both high-end and casual... no matter the place, he is always thinking... analyzing every bite... the presentation.. the temperature... textures... everything. And he
      "studies" every person and how they relate to the dish... their expressions, etc. He doesn't speak English, but if you noticed he is very expressive with his facial expressions... and I find he truly "speaks" with his eyes.

      I like a lot of what he creates, but certainly not everything... some things are just to far out there for my tastes. But Ferran doesn't expect everyone to love everything. I think he just wants people to try things with an open mind and let him know what they think. As you stated, the dialog between the chef and the diner is critical to him (of course I feel it's imperative for ALL chefs)... but it's even more critical to him, as you would imagine, as he's trying so many new things.

      Ferran is very controversial. Pioneers always are.

      2 Replies
      1. re: WineAG

        Wow, you actually KNOW him.

        That is so cool. The crowning glory for any true foodie.

        Probably worth learning Spanish, or even Catalan so you can understand him better.

        1. re: WineAG

          Your comments that Adria is always studying people's expressions as they eat is interesting. As WilliamtheFoodie wrote below, the opening of the event was a montage of two people eating at El Bulli. It was not about the food at all, but about their reactions to it. I thought it was quite powerful and expressed something about Adria himself, which you have confirmed.

          Additionally, he was quite open that not everyone liked all of his dishes - some people hate them, but for him the satisfaction (that is not the right word, but...) was that there is always an intense reaction to his dishes.

        2. I got there at about five to claim a spot in row 6. I had been waiting for a month for this. Absolutely fascinating. Adria is the Picasso of food, an entirely new way of looking at and approaching it. He is part mad chemist and part kid in a toy store, experimenting with the textures, flavors, colors and shapes. I was mesmerized. It was also really interesting to see and hear from someone who is going places with food that there are really no definitions for, grasping to define what he actually does, i.e. that El Bulli is "not a restaurant" and using the analogy of the invention of a whole new language. I loved the opening video with the two diners tasting the food at El Bulli - showing just the reactions on their faces. Amazing. I agree the event could have been much better planned, however. You would think Harvard would be used to internationally reknown lecturers visiting!

          1. I tried to go and was one of the many turned away from the main lecture room. I know the event was simulcast but does anyone know if it was recorded/posted online as well?

            1 Reply
            1. re: meaganl

              My understanding is that it's expected to be posted online in the coming days. Keep an eye on (he was hosted, unexpectedly enough, by Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences).


            2. This is very generous of you to write all this down; thanks so much! My strongest recommendation for anyone fascinated by what he is doing- is to treat yourselves MAJOR and fly down to Washington D.C. and get a coveted spot at Cafe Atlantico's Mini Bar, where the chef, Jose...,(good friend/compatriot of Adria) gives you an evening you will never ever ever forget.

              I couldn't find my CH review odf a few yrs ago, but this one gives you an idea....:


              1 Reply
              1. re: opinionatedchef

                Can you compare to roberta donna'sLaboratory?