Officially, Ferran Adrià was in town last night to sign copies of The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià, his brand new cookbook of staff meals from El Bulli. But who are we all kidding. The absolutely gorgeous book features exactly the kind of approachable home-style cooking Adrià is not famous for. While the crowd at the Harold Washington Library purchased dozens upon dozens copies, it was clear from the very beginning that the real reason most of them were there was to see the chef that many have called the greatest and most influential in the world. They wanted theatrics. Though chaotic and frenzied, it's safe to say that no one left disappointed.
Grant Achatz came to the podium first, talking for a few minutes about his time at El Bulli and what it meant for him. "I thought I knew everything about cooking," he said, "but when I walked into El Bulli I was on Mars." Achatz was clearly excited about the demonstration, though he did warn the audience that Adrià talks "very fast." He was right.
For over an hour, Adrià spoke in short spurts of rapid-fire Spanish, while a translator heroically attempted to keep up. Touching on everything from creativity, the closing of El Bulli, cooking at home, to the Chicago-style hot dog, it was hard to do anything but sit back and try to take in as much in as possible.
The demonstration actually began with a video introduction of El Bulli. Instead of any sort of narrative or attempt at context, it was a complete barrage of images, showcasing hundreds upon hundreds of achingly beautiful plates of food. It was hard to figure out what was going on half of the time, but it was undeniably captivating. That pretty much sums up the entire experience of listening to Adrià talk last night: fast paced, slightly hard to follow along with, but totally and completely engaging.
The only time things slowed down was when he tried to describe what was next for El Bulli. He claimed that the world "went crazy" when he announced closing of the restaurant, but that it definitely would live on as a foundation. He showed off impressive renderings of what the space will eventually look like, and talked a little bit about what would be going on. But it was still kind of hard to get a total sense of what it would be. Apparently, that's okay with him: "No one understands what we are doing and that's a good thing."
The only somewhat controversial point in the night is when someone asked him about his thoughts on the Chicago-style hot dog. He initially steered around the subject, remarking that with any simple dish you need to start with the basics and then work from there. "Start with a good hot dog," he said, "then get a good bun, the best mustard, and great ketchup." The last remark led to a collective gasp from the auditorium, but he moved on before anyone could explain both the intricacies of what was actually on a Chicago-style hot dog and the city's aversion to the red stuff.
We've cherry picked some of the best quotes from the evening, and also put together a little slideshow of the event. We realize this accurately can't sum up his visit, but we hope it at least gets close.
10 Quotes from Ferran Adrià
"If you think well, you cook well."
"There is not a good or a bad cuisine, just the one you like the best."
"It's important to have a sense of humor."
"What is creativity? Not copying."
"It's not about being the first, it's about conceptualizing."
"The demands on chefs are out of focus."
"I can now think what I want about Michelin since I lost my stars."
"Blogs are killing the guides. Some blogs are very professional and well done."
On the El Bulli Foundation:
"No one understands what we are doing and that's a good thing. No one could understand El Bulli, either."
"We'll be staffing it with the craziest people we can find."