If you put orange juice in a bowl, is it “soup”? Why not, if tomato puree in a glass is “juice”, in a bowl is “soup”, and in a smaller bowl is “sauce”? If you made spaghetti from shortbread dough would this still be pasta? Why would we question a chef that serves ready-to-eat foods but not one that buys in his flour? At what point do we define “pre-prepared”? Where does cuisine stop and culinary art begin?
Posing quasi-proverbial questions that challenged ideas on the very essence of food, Ferran Adrià, considered to be one of the world’s greatest chefs, if not the most creative, visited the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) on Friday, October 25, seeking to open-up students’ minds and confront pre-conceived ideas of gastronomy.
“Is this fruit?” he asked the packed hall of students, holding up an orange. “What is fruit? Is it what grows on trees? But then what about strawberries? Fruit is acidic, but then what about bananas? Is it what you eat at the end of a meal? But then what about duck a l’orange? I’m Ferran Adrià and I cannot define what fruit is.” Adrià is recognized for a career of experimental cooking that probed the limits of gastronomy. “In order to keep creating, we need to go back to our childhoods, to learn things again from the beginning.”
During his time as head chef of elBulli, the iconic restaurant on Spain’s Costa Brava, it was ranked the best restaurant in the world five times by Restaurant magazine and awarded three Michelin stars. In 1980s, Adrià began experimenting with cuisine, forever changing elBulli's place in culinary history. It was Adrià - part chef, part chemist, part alchemist - that brought the world liquid olives, deconstructed martinis and culinary foam, now used by chefs around the world.
“There are certain names that will be noted in the history of gastronomy; Ferran Adrià is one of them,” said Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini as he introduced him to the students. “Not just for what he has done, but for what he is about to do. Ferran is changing the paradigms of education and the relationship between cuisine and culture.”
Adrià made the decision to close elBulli in 2011, at the height of its success. “I understood that success has an expiration date. One day you have to leave the podium to others... Even my own mother was tired of seeing me in the papers,” he said. In its place, elBulli has been transformed into a Foundation, a gastronomic think-tank and center for culinary education. One of its main goals is to create an encyclopedia of gastronomy, to be presented in January 2014.
Adrià spent Friday visiting the UNISG grounds, chatting with students and staff, and meeting with the young chefs from the Academic Table, the university’s project for a good, clean and fair cafeteria with regular guest chefs. Some of his dishes will feature on the Academic Table menu for the next few days. “The UNISG is a revolution in the gastronomic world,” he said, “and Slow Food is a movement that is necessary.”
His advice to students drew from the reflections of one who has achieved the highest levels of status and success. “For years at elBulli we were awarded all the most important prizes. But it wasn’t prizes we were looking for; we wanted happiness. It was about passion, freedom and taking risks.” Rather than setting out to become top celebrity chefs, he urged the students to pursue whatever it is that gives them fulfillment. “In anything you do, the most important thing is passion. It changes your life and it is what will make you happy.”
See photos of Ferran Adrià’s visit to the UNISG.
Find out more about the UNISG at www.unisg.it