Last evening, an intimate group of people gathered at the SLS Hotel South Beach, not for a cocktail party or to fête a supermodel, but for an evening that was much more cerebral -- although food and drink were certainly involved.
Ferran Adrià, arguably the world's most award-winning chef and head of famed elBulli, was scheduled to give a talk.
Before the presentation, entitled "Creativity in the Art of Food", the guests gathered over an Estrella Damm, the Barcelona-based beer that sponsored the event. Chef Adrià is the brew's gastronomic ambassador.
Doing a once over of the room was like playing a game of "name the chefs." Todd Erickson (Haven), Aaron Brooks (Edge Steak & Bar), Timon Balloo (Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill), Deena Marino (MC Kitchen), Bradley Kilgore (J&G Grill), Sean Brasel (Meat Market), and Michael Pirolo (Macchialina) were just a few of the toques who dropped everything for a chance to meet the legendary chef.
Adrià, who started at the three Michelin-starred elBulli as a line cook in 1984 and became executive chef less than two years later, turned the small restaurant located in Roses, Spain, into a household word and a culinary phenomenon. Although the restaurant closed on July 30, 2011, elBulli is still very much alive in the way of a foundation and a cadre of other, grander projects in the works, including a museum, a massive culinary database, and a series of books.
José Andrés, a protege of Adrià and and owner of the Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel, introduced his former mentor who, with the help of a translator, proceeded to lecture to an enraptured group of culinary professionals and appreciators. Some takeaways from the master chef:
- Chef Adrià, who comes to Miami at least once a year, is impressed with the way our city is progressing. "Miami, as a city, is going to be a reference point for others. Coming from Barcelona, that's a tall order."
- On the closing of elBulli, the chef said, "I could give 15 reasons, but one day I'll finally know", adding "we thought we needed to stop to go forward."
- Adrià turned the closure of the restaurant into a poetic lesson in life. "elBulli changed the way we understand gastronomy. So, what would have happened if elBulli never happened?"
- On the question of "traditional" and "authentic" cuisine, the chef mused, "what is traditional"? He pointed out that the "traditional" canalon is actually Italian canneloni with French bechamel, adding that what is traditional to him and his son, was not necessarily traditional cuisine to his great-grandmother. "I don't even think we had potatoes here three hundred years ago."
Adrià said that he's doing something no one else has ever attempted -- turning a restaurant into a foundation. His plans for the future include 15 books on "Western culinary history" that will be published in the next five to six years; Bullipedia, a database of culinary ideas, reference points, and a curated culinary search engine; and elBulli 1846, a museum-esque culinary center dedicated to the history and exploration of creativity in food, to be located in Spain.
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Walking out of the seminar still trying to ingest the dozens of charts, graphs, films, and demonstrations (one of which enlisted José Andrés, as a chimpanzee, to demonstrate the difference between "tools" and "technique"), I was suddenly struck by the similarities his talk was to the recent Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Each week, there was a mind-blowing moment where the astronomer's passion for science and exploration came through loud and clear, through the maze of universes and multiverses.
I had the same experience listening to Adrià. Although the brilliant chef worked through a translator, there's one word that sounds the same in both Spanish and English. Passion (or pasión). That is truly universal.