After Adrià: Aduriz and the Quest for Kitchen Values

Foods from Spain  New York, 2001, (1,335 words; adapted and updated 2013)
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This article was commissioned after the New York Times made a worldwide splash with a cover feature on Ferran Adrià’s cooking. I asked Andoni Aduriz, a chef for whom I have great admiration, what he thought the future held. His reply was prophetic. At the end of the article is an update. Thanks to José Guerra.

Also see: Basque Cooking / Fresh: New Spanish Chefs / What’s Cooking in the Big Orange

The Adrià effect (aka the El Bulli effect) hit Madrid just before the turn of the century. It was not an elitist thing. There were coffee-bar chats about splashing out on a foam-making siphon and which dishes could be tried out at home. Alberto, the owner of one coffee-bar, bought a siphon and got it to work. He invited some of us over for supper. I remember his foam made with tropical fruit. We fell silent as our taste-buds woke up.

A couple of years later I was asked to write about the young Spanish chefs. One evening, flicking through notes taken during a long work day, I found that in a brief pause I had nailed what stood out for me: "1. Amazingly modest. 2. Rootsy - but v. sophisticated techniques. 3. Universal Adrià effect."

More important, though, was the spirit of the thing: the whacky wit, extreme kitchen discipline and the idea of a team project, with everyone pitching in ideas.

For the young chefs, aged, say, twenty to forty, Adrià's work was a more serious matter than it was for home cooks. Technique, often said to be the whole story, was part of it, though I do not think it was the most important one.

Yes, elements of Adrià's early "sea and mountain" cooking and his 1990s "deconstruction" were influential: the focus on transforming texture, form and temperature while intensifying taste in curdled olive oil sauces, hot gelatines and foams, deconstructed tortilla and vanilla ravioli, to quote a few examples. These inspired a shared mood of experiment. It helped, too, that Adrià glossed these experiments, or appeared to do so, the season following their arrival.

PITCHING IN IDEAS

More important, though, was the spirit of the thing: the whacky wit, extreme kitchen discipline and the idea of a team project, with everyone pitching in ideas. The old chef-proprietor principle was not the model. It was an infectious "let's-get-down" style of funky fun and hard work.

Adrià also represented commitment. He had gone off on his own track, risking all for a phrase he picked up from French chef Jacques Maximin in the late 1980s. He has quoted this countless times, even on the back jackets of his books. "Crear es no copiar." "Creating is not copying." One cannot hear it too many times.

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