Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ferran Adria At Harvard

Sunday night was a very special night for me as Chef Ferran Adria of the legendary El Bulli in Spain returned to Harvard to end the semester of Science + Cooking lectures. I was there almost three years ago for his very first lecture at Harvard where the idea was born that maybe, just maybe, food could be approached in a scientific way by an institution of higher learning. Since then, El Bulli, Harvard and Adria have evolved. The restaurant has closed but is being transformed into an amazing learning center which Adria outlined in a way that Walt Disney outlined his vision of a new concept in amusement parks, something that would spark the imagination of millions of people through creativity and technology. Harvard accepted the challenge to bring non-scientific minds into the halls of their Applied Sciences labs and throw open the doors to cooks working on the cutting edge of food, often by trial and error, and the general public. Other colleges and universities are now looking to emulate the extremely successful program and the model that Harvard has engineered. It is vastly exciting, unexplored territory where people from all over the world will be able to tap into a team of dedicated chefs who are given the time to create new concepts. It was an absolutely fascinating lecture on the evolution of cooking and how we use it in our everyday lives without really understanding the scientific principles behind it.

Here, Chefs Ferran Adria and José Andres share a video with the class of the very last dinner served at El Bulli. It is no wonder that Chef José became a little emotional recalling that legendary place and the moment that he was lucky enough to be a part of. My guest for the evening was Mara Steinitz, a student at Arlington High School and the daughter of Chef Sam Putnam of Bella Luna. It was cool to be with someone young enough to see the bright future of possibilities and experience living proof of how important creativity is to the world. While waiting in line to fill the hall we had the chance to talk with other enthusiastic foodies: a culinary student from Johnson and Wales on his way to Spain, a fellow food writer, people having an impromptu picnic and fans of the culinary rock stars. I spoke about Techno-Emotional cooking, which seemed new to them, so I am reposting the principles again.

Pau Arenós, is a Catalan journalist. In his effort to define a new movement of food, much in the same way that the Impressionist Art movement redefined art, he began to think about the elements. There are many similarities. Impressionists were, at first, derided as outlandish and fringe. Over time, they were accepted as brilliant.

Arenós has provided a definition of the major modern movement that he calls "technoemotional cuisine" with 10 points covering the various aspects of that movement. One thing that has been agreed upon by most is that heretofore an adequate and universally accepted name to describe this contemporary cuisine embodied by Ferran Adria and his peers and followers has not been coined. Perhaps the most well known moniker has been "Molecular Gastronomy" with others like "hypermodern" or "Vanguard Cuisine" also having been bandied about. Arenós' name for the movement comes directly from his 10 points. Combined, these tend to capture the essence of that style of cooking and provide a descriptive name that fits. The styles of chefs like Adria, Achatz, Dufresne and Aduriz, for example, all fall under his description though not every chef will necessarily fit all 10 points to the same degree and some of these points may be shared by other schools of cuisine. I have also heard the terms avant garde and modernist cuisine used. To me, it is Achatz and his childlike (in a good way) approach to the absolute wonder of food that epitomizes the movement. It is playful. How does food make you feel? How does it make you think? What sense memories does it evoke? How can we make it even more exciting and memorable? I loved when Achatz spoke, during his lecture, about how people often laugh with surprise and delight and even cry tears of joy when their food is served.


according to Pau Arenós:

1. Cooking is a language that allows cooks to express themselves. Cooks create for themselves, although they wish to share their creations with others and hope they will be appreciated.

2. Cooks take risks; they know their suggestions may not be understood. The risks in technoemotional cooking are greater than in other culinary movements.

3. Cooks do not create dish by dish. Their aim is to open up new paths using techniques and concepts.

4. Their creations set out to stimulate all the senses. The sense of touch becomes important as the cook works with textures and temperatures.

5. The culinary action surpasses what is physical and sensory, and focuses on emotional and intellectual aspects. Intellectual pleasure is sought through humor, provocation, reflection, etc.

6. The creator relates with other disciplines to achieve the above, also with new technologies.

7. Diners are not passive but active. The act of eating requires concentration and a specific disposition.

8. All products have the same gastronomic value.

9. The frontiers disappear between sweet and savory, between the main ingredients and the complementary ones. The ideal means of expression is a degustation menu.

10. Cooking is a way of life. The restaurant is not just a business.* These principles represent an ideal, an aspiration, a radical approach.

Food for thought, as the saying goes. That's the best way I could describe this series. It has been an intense and interesting study of how and why the wonder of cooking and the joy of food separates the human from all other animals.

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