Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Science and Cooking, Ferran Adria at Harvard Part I

"Today I learned that what I have been doing is not chemistry. I have been told earlier that it is actually physics."
Ferran Adria
Harvard University
December 9, 2008

International foodie Ferran Adria of the world-acclaimed El Bulli in Spain.

The Chef and owner of what is arguably the most famous restaurant in the world, Ferran Adria, addressed an overflow crowd of hundreds at Harvard University Tuesday night to begin what he hopes is a fruitful collaboration to define exactly what it is that he does with food. There is no question that it is part science, part art and part gastronomy using techniques never before found in kitchens until he invented them to prepare taste sensations that seem to defy all definition. Whatever it is he does he must be doing it well. Just ask any of the 500,000 who apply via an online reservation lottery (more than a few in the audience) each year for the coveted opportunity to visit Spain and his mecca of degustation known as El Bulli. In fact, I have personally known people who have planned entire trips to Barcelona and Catalania solely around the acquisition of said reservations.

Another edible work of art is projected onto the screen at the lecture hall as Adria prepares to speak.

To some it is too strange, weird, scientific. To others it is an extreme form of dining, edible works of pristine art that stretch the limits of flavor and satisfaction, the ultimate experience a person can achieve through the sense of taste. To see the faces of the diners shown at El Bulli in the short video played before the lecture one would swear they are floating in the air in some rapturous ecstasy.

The visual effect of the food is nothing short of stunning, with foams, gels, shapes, forms and textures never before imagined on the plate before El Bulli existed. Egg shells of coconut milk are cracked open to reveal various flavored foams. Beads of green caviar float, suspended in pink gel in a clear glass, the taste sensation being the perfect blend of melon and prosciutto and Adria swearing it is absolutely spot on in taste. He talks of the other diner unable to perceive the difference between his gelatin strawberry and the real thing.

Ferran Adria signs copies of his tome "A Day at El Bulli"

Part mad scientist, part kid in a hi tech toy store, part Picasso yet a totally down to earth and unassuming, passionate foodie, this once hopeful soccer star began the evening with the reason for his visit: to define this new language of food. And I was mesmerized from the outset by this man who pushes the envelope, inventing a whole new way of seeing, touching, tasting and experiencing food.

Looking like coral, what Adria describes as "the lightest cakes ever."

With a full ten pages of notes on the lecture I am as bewildered by trying to organize it all as he is trying to define it. So, I am calling this post Part I with who knows how many more to follow. There is one thing for certain, however, and that was I was happy to be right there to witness this new, exciting collaboration and a turn in the history of molecular cooking. I will add more posts later on the details of the lecture.

Update added 12/12/08 - Harvard has announced it will release video of this event online sometime in the upcoming week. Check the following site for details:

Ferran Adria at Harvard

1 comment:

  1. Hi William,

    Unfortunately by the time I'd read your email it was all over by Spanish time, I did have a look on the link though and it looks like just the kind of thing I'd have loved to watch. You lucky so-and-so!