I had received an email from Phaidon publicising their latest culinary publications with a small note that both Colman Andrews and Ferran Adria would both be discussing the book at the Royal Geographical Society; no need to ask twice, I'm there!
Having set off early to thwart the killjoys that think the weekend is a good time to have engineering works on the District Line, I accidentally arrived at the RGS an hour early. I was met by a queue beginning to snake its way down Exhibition Road populated with lots of excited but very chic Spaniards.
The evening started with a video depicting autumn at El Bulli. Graphic images of hare being shot and butchered mixed with footage of how the famous “spherification” process works were shown alongside visual explanations of how the dishes are put together. Slightly overly artsy and bordering on pretentious but interesting nonetheless to see some of the techniques of the chefs at work.
US food author Colman Andrews, who has written a recent biography of Adria (details below) acted as interviewer for the evening and gave his own insights and experiences of the world of chefs and haute cuisine.
Ferran himself is very mediterranean in his mannerisms, his responses to many of the questions being evasive but still electric in their enthusiasm (example: Q. “Which is better sex or food?” A. “Why do I have to choose, I want both!”). Although he understands English quite well his spoken English is cautious and thickly accented so a translator was brought in. None of his natural charisma or humour was lost in translation however.
After some questions from Colman the floor was thrown open to questions from the audience some of which were bordering on the ridiculous (Q. “I’m a housewife, can I cook your recipes and do you offer cooking classes?”) others more insightful and interesting (Q. “if you could cook for any three people who would you cook for?” A. “Mick Jagger, Johann Kreuff and Picasso”).
A revealing element of proceedings was when both Adria and Andrews were asked for their perspective on the culture of the “celebrity tv chef”. It was apparent that Andrews has no time for Gordon Ramsay and he highlighted that many tv chefs have no formal kitchen training (naming Rachel Ray of US fame). More surprising was Adria’s praise for Jamie Oliver who he appears to hold in high esteem especially in relation to his approach to making cookery accessible and encouraging healthy eating.
The big news was the apparent misreporting in the media that El Bulli is set to close. Ferran assured the audience animatedly (and with the assistance of a whiteboard and marker pen?!) that this is not true. The entire staff is being given a two year sabbatical to go and travel and experience new foods and cultures. They will then reconvene in 2012 and will begin a new venture that seemed somewhat nebulous in concept (although some of this may have due to translation). Essentially it appears as though El Bulli will reopen and become a collective where chefs, artists and designers all work together on new ideas. No reservations will be taken and decisions on who will be invited to come and dine may be themed, Adria have an example of perhaps having a time when only children can come.
So ultimately it still looks as though I will never get to dine at El Bulli but at least I enjoyed an evening with Ferran..........
Reinventing Food: Ferran Adria. The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat by Colman Andrews.http://www.phaidon.co.uk/store/food-cook/reinventing-food-ferran-adria-the-man-who-changed-the-way-we-eat-9780714859057/