About a decade ago, I somehow snagged an invitation to a party thrown by Anthony Hopkins at the Four Seasons in New York City. Trying hard to keep my jaw from dropping, I counted no less than a dozen Academy Award-winning stars sipping champagne and chatting away. They weren't celebs to one another — only to me. Then a frisson of electricity ran through the air, and every A-lister in the room got out their cameras, acting like fanboys and fangirls. Muhammad Ali had walked into the party, and everyone — Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, and Ray Liotta included — wanted a selfie with the living legend.
The same thing happened this past Monday, when Miami's best and brightest chefs turned out to listen to Ferran Adrià give a talk about "The Changing Face of Modern Gastronomy" at the Miami Culinary Institute as part of Estrella Damm's Gastronomy Congress series. Adrià was joined by Fran Agudo, head chef at Tickets Bar in Barcelona, and David Gil, creative pastry chef for Albert Adrià’s restaurants in Barcelona, who conducted a live cooking demonstration. But the main draw was the chance to see Adrià in person.
Culinary and bar professionals spotted in the audience included Haven's Todd Erickson, Alter's Bradley Kilgore, Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar's Adrianne Calvo, Phuc Yea's Christine Guzman, Izzy's Fish & Oyster's William Crandall, and Tongue & Cheek's Maxwell Parise and Gustavo Rech.
Kilgore said he was honored to be in the room with the master chef. "There is no counter to Ferran. He is the status quo. To understand where he was then and where he is now, it's what I am trying to do and strive for. I met him once before, and I've never had the opportunity to work with him, but he's someone I look up to."
Erickson was also looking forward to seeing the chef in person. "All the ideas that he has. I never had a chance to have his food, but this evening features a demonstration. Other than documentaries, I've never seen him in action. So I'm here to see some magic."
As a young chef in school, Crandall had heard the stories of legends like Escoffier. "It's rare to meet someone that great, and Adrià is the new Escoffier. He has reinvented the culinary face of how we eat food and how we approach cuisine — everything from service to cooking. Just the chance to see someone that visionary in person, to look them in the eye, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. After this, it might be another 50 to 70 years before we have someone like this again."
The world's most decorated chef, Ferran Adrià began working at the famed elBulli as a line cook in 1984 and advanced to head chef in only 18 months. The restaurant rose to fame under the chef's watch, winning the number one spot on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants for several years and earning three Michelin stars before closing in 2011. Adrià himself says the restaurant, open only about half the year, would receive around 2 million reservation requests annually. The chef has also authored several books and taught a class at Harvard University with José Andrés (a version of which is available online through edx.org).
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Speaking through a translator, Adrià stated that people can generally be divided into those who eat for pleasure and those who eat to live. That theory, he added, has held for the past 20,000 years or so, although true gastronomy began about 2,000 years ago in Rome.
Looking to the future, the chef said that, though once upon a time, casual dining was unthinkable, many of the world's best restaurants are sans white tablecloths. Adrià then talked about his new project with brother Albert and Cirque du Soleil — Heart — in Ibiza. This combination club/theater/restaurant has, according to Adrià, many artistic expressions, including dance, music, body painting, and gastronomy in a "sensual and sensible way." The restaurant features the elBulli chefs creating experimental dining prix-fixe dinners.
As for the elBulli Foundation? Adrià said that was for another conversation.