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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 http://www.seas.harvard.edu (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?

              2. Since I regrettably never heard about the first visit, how would one find out about a possible second?

                1. Well, isn't this so precious? Is it really appropriate these days to talk about food that is only available to the wealthiest 1 percent of diners? I find it offensive.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: pikawicca

                    Don't find it offensive. He made very clear, and with empathy, that his intention is not to serve only the wealthy and that he regrets that this is effectively what his restaurant does. He also pointed out that while expensive, his restaurant is not a money maker and indeed didn't make a profit until perhaps 15 years in. And he genuinely seems to approach this topic as a craft and an art--you might make the same comment about a successful painter, and I respect that, but I do think a distinction must be drawn between Adria and other chefs who do not pursue their experimentation out of genuine curiosity but out of a thirst to be trendy or wealthy. He did point out, for what it is worth, that El Bulli has a foundation alongside the restaurant and expressed a pretty serious social sensitivity. Unfortunately, the craft he has chosen is a very expensive one. Curiosity has its price. But I don't think it is entirely fair to dismiss him as "precious" out of hand. Costly restaurants will have their place no matter the economy, and it seems that a world without this kind of experimentation and a pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake would be pretty bleak indeed.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      I don't know. I can't afford to own fine art, but that doesn't stop me from appreciating it. I don't expect to ever score a table at El Bulli, but I sure love reading about it, and I'm a proud owner of a Bourdain-narrated documentary on it. Fascinating stuff.

                      Even if you think molecular gastronomy is a scam or pretentious nonsense, you have to admit the man is an original. Me, I get nervous around people that don't think cooking technique has any room to move forward, who feel that bringing technology to bear on the kitchen is somehow a threat. Smacks of fundamentalism to me, which I find scary in any context.

                      I'm sorry to have missed this event, wish I'd heard about it beforehand.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        pika, 2 things:
                        1)you are misinformed. not speaking about el bulli, but, for instance, the Cafe Atlantico MiniBar is well under $100 p.p. (2 yrs ago we paid $60 p.p.)- for the most extraordinary evening of food I have had in my many years.

                        2) Art is no different now than in the history of the world. Just because people are starving (and there have always been people starving somewhere) doesn't mean that great art- most often subsidized by and owned by - the wealthy-shouldn't continue to be created and appreciated.

                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                          Your heart is in the right place and I agree with your post, but sadly MiniBar isn't 60 dollars anymore! I think it is up to about 125 now! But your larger point stands.

                          1. re: hckybg

                            you know, hcky, my dining out life has sadly had a consistent experience that the most expensive meals have almost always (like you can dePEND on it) been forgettable.
                            So we just don't go to the most expensive places anymore. The MiniBar at $60 OR $120 pp is FAR from the most expensive of dining options.,and yet it was actually a mind and palate -altering experience for us. I so hope you'll get to try it.When we left, I said to my Love that, were I a millionaire, I would send every chef I admired- to experience the MiniBar for a night, because I knew it would blow their minds as it did mine!

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              I used to live in DC and enjoyed reading about it but we could never swing the cost; I do hope to get there one day. I enjoyed Jose Andres's other restaurants and think he is a great chef with a great spirit. Like Adria, he seems to genuinely love his craft (though Andres is much more of an empire builder, for what that's worth).

                        2. re: pikawicca

                          Should Picasso have given up painting because there was hunger in the world? He is clearly NOT in it for the money and had none of the wardrobe and make-up, entourage-surrounding entrance that some celebrity chefs have. I believe he is just a sincere artist. He also noted that at El Bulli it takes a staff of 70 to serve 50 diners per night. It is hardly the US Mint!

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            I expect to lose my job tomorrow (seriously) but I was happy to read this posting despite being even less likely to be able to eat at El Bulli (it made my day better for a few minutes). For me, it's akin to watching the Travel Channel or Food Network about places that I hope to visit one day but cannot right now. Besides, there is a difference between good food that happens to be expensive (truffles) and vulgar and pointlessly expensive food (like a dish with the pointless addition of gold flakes).

                            So thanks for posting BostonBroad!

                            1. re: pikawicca

                              That logic could be extended to cover being on Chowhound at all. The percentage of people in the world who can go to restaurants period is pretty small. Is there a threshold for the offense?

                            2. Thank you for telling me about someone and something I've never heard of. Very interesting.