Chefs Ferran Adriá, Juan Mari Arzak and José Andrés on 'the future of food'
When Ferran Adriá, Juan Mari Arzak and José Andrés have something to say about food, people listen. A crowd of about 300 sat, rapt, in the Albert Ballroom of Beverly Hills' SLS Hotel on Monday night to hear the three Spanish chefs talk, for nearly two hours, about "Ideas of Today, Foods of Tomorrow."
Adriá and Arzak -- pioneers of Spanish modern cuisine and both dressed a la page in black, Arzak distinguished by his red-framed eyeglasses -- spoke by way of a translator, with occasional help from Andrés, who is an Adriá disciple and culinary director of the four-star Bazaar at the SLS Hotel.
Still, anyone in attendance who came away with a clear vision of the future of food was able to parse more than most. (Maybe culinary genius is hard to translate.)
Adriá, chef-owner of El Bulli in Roses, Spain, was armed with props, including a Zagat guide (for somewhat oblique reasons) and a white board, on which he drew a chart of ... well, one can't be sure, but it might have been the experience of eating, in which cuisine provokes "emotion, humor ... and reflection," as opposed to eating for eating's sake.
"In life, we separate the cowards from the non-cowards," Adriá said. "Those who want to live experiences cannot be cowards. We endeavor a cuisine for non-cowards."
"I'm not endorsing these words," Andrés interjected. "I have my own issues."
Audience members laughed and occasionally may have scratched their heads. But flashy videos of stunning food were an entertaining distraction, such as one on how to make almond puree "cups" with liquid nitrogen that are then filled with a nitrous-oxide-induced mousse of Cabrales blue cheese topped with passion fruit and grated almonds.
Arzak hewed to his roots. "I don't want to happen what's happened with modern music," said Arzak, a founder of modern Basque cuisine and chef-owner of Arzak restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. "You're at a disco. It could be Vegas, Hollywood or San Sebastian. You close your eyes, you don't know where you are. We have to know where we are at."
In what might have been a nod to his Twitter spat with LA Weekly restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, Andrés defended avant-garde cuisine. "There is the good cooking and the bad cooking. I have had very bad paella and it had nothing to do with traditional cooking being bad. ... When I hear we do strange things, I don't get it. For me, it's more strange to have a ham and cheese sandwich with Coke."
Arzak probably most succinctly described his vision of the future of cuisine, one in which the experience of the dining room and the experience of the kitchen are the same, he said. "I don't know how this will happen, but this is my utopia."
-- Betty Hallock
Photos, from top: Ferran Adriá, left, Juan Mari Arzak and José Andrés. And Adriá at the white board. Credit: Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times