At his recent Culinary Conclave in Spain, the celebrated chef offers pronouncements and provocations and poses some challenging questions.

The format of the Culinary Conclave organized by Ferran Adrià and Andoni Aduriz on March 29 and 30 at LeDomaine, a luxury hotel in a converted monastery adjacent to the Abadía Retuerta winery in Spain’s Ribera del Duero region, called for 15 international journalists to give presentations on the recent gastronomic history of their respective home regions. After each one, Adrià sprung to his feet and, well, did what he usually does when he addresses a crowd: talks with great enthusiasm in a sort of stream-of-consciousness manner, full of non sequiturs, provocation, and aperçu, full of rhetorical questions and occasional head-scratchers.

Here is a transcription of some of his remarks, presented as he offered them, in no particular order (or perhaps in an order that made sense only to him), but as usual with Adrià, full of ideas and challenges:

We know when certain restaurants opened, but when did they start doing what they do? When did the high-end press become interested in food? In Spain, I can tell you who was and wasn’t influential, but we need to know this for every country.

There used to be one gastronomy. There used to be three stars. Jiro [the fabled sushi restaurant in Tokyo] with three stars is kind of a joke, as if the best ham in Spain could have three stars. Everyone has his own gastronomy, but how do you classify gastronomy?

Marketing is very important for restaurants. It’s an Anglo-Saxon thing. In Spain, it was unthinkable to have a public relations head in a restaurant. When did the first restaurant PR agencies emerge? When did gastronomical academies appear? When was Charlie Trotter known? When I knew him, no one in Europe had heard of him.

Young people are lost today. There’s so much information that they can’t be objective.

There is learned cooking and popular cooking. It used to be that the wealthy had learned cooking, the poor had popular cooking. That changed with the emergence of the middle class. The rules used to be clear, what was and wasn’t gastronomy. You don’t quite know anymore.

It’s worth writing about journalists. The important ones have had influence on restaurants, making them better even when they’re critical of them.

Another list would be of conflicts and controversies. People used to write that Adrià was poisoning people. Yes. You wouldn’t believe the violence that existed. I was called names.

Another list: new products. When was mozzarella di bufala first used in gastronomy? I used to think that mozzarella was a village and how could you have buffalo in Italy? We have 20 or 30 times more products than Escoffier had. I used to think pasta was ordinary. Another list: when did people begin to share recipes and information? Also environmental concerns, ecology. When did chefs start doing bistros? When did chefs start doing outside catering?

We need to study the effects of gastronomy on ecology, health, the economy. Historically, Alice Waters and Dan Barber will be recognized as important figures in world history.

Two recent facts I found shocking: Per Se closed by the health department? Unthinkable. And I was sushi chef at Nobu making sushi wearing rubber gloves! If mayonnaise cannot be made any more with fresh eggs, that’s an attack on gastronomy.

We need to make a graph on fairs, festivals, conferences, and shows, and the difference between them.

Why does Denmark have contemporary cooking and Austria has taken so long?

With creative cooking, we have no scientific objectivity.

Michelin no longer has any weight, and you can publish that. I have a lot of respect for it but the monopoly is over. Nobody in this room can name the latest three-star in France. We need a list of the hundred most influential chefs in the world — the most influential, not necessarily the most creative, in gastronomic terms, not on TV.

We need to know how gastronomy affects society. When I started cooking in 1980, it was unthinkable that people at a gastronomical conference would talk about anything but food. But we need context.

There used to be one gastronomy. There used to be three stars. Jiro [the fabled sushi restaurant in Tokyo] with three stars is kind of a joke, as if the best ham in Spain could have three stars. Everyone has his own gastronomy, but how do you classify gastronomy?

Because of the internet, I no longer need to eat in bad places, because I can look at the dining room, look at the menu.

How many types of journalists are there — and I don’t mean good and bad?

Cooking is a mix or a medley, a mish-mosh between amateurs and professionals. One thing we did wrong in Spain was that in the late ’90s I used to give interviews and talk about deconstruction and so on and nobody knew what I was talking about. Are we talking to amateurs or professionals? Why not talk about informal gastronomy? What is cooking, what is cuisine? Gazpacho was a popular dish but if I give you gazpacho in a beautiful bowl at the American Embassy in Madrid, it becomes higher cuisine. Ravioli can be much more complicated than something Andoni [Aduriz of Mogaritz] makes.

We talk of fusion, but in the 1400s, people were cooking with ginger in Catalonia.

History can be divided into two parts: documented and undocumented.

We speak of science in cooking. What science, the science of slicing ham? A scientist who studies for a year whether a ceramic or steel knife is better? A cellphone is not technology. It is a tool using a thousand technologies.

There is no reliable source for where to eat. If you are going to Barcelona, you can turn to a friend, professionals can, at any rate, but ordinary people can’t. Zagat should be that, but it isn’t.

At the same time Michel Guérard was creating cuisine minceur, he was doing commercials for Findus frozen peas. From every country there is a different set of expectations. Sushi works but if you do true Japanese food outside Japan, no one will take it. I don’t understand the difference between kaiseki and haute cuisine. Even the Japanese cannot explain it to me.

In Spain, no one uses the term ‘molecular cooking.’ Nobody knows what it means. We need a name for every style. ‘Molecular’ got popular because we Spanish were very silly and never gave it a name.

Jamie Oliver is much more influential than Ferran Adrià. Yes, he is. Chefs who are truly avant-garde I doubt very much will be influential.When did restaurants first start publishing recipe books not for other chefs but for ordinary people? Another topic: Where does gastronomy enter the university? There is no sort of reference text for the culinary student on the history of cuisine.

[He hands out a photocopy of the story from Le Nouveau Guide Gault-Millau, from October, 1973, announcing the birth of the nouvelle cuisine.} This is the bible of Western gastronomy. Plating in the kitchen was a key revolution. Guérard credits Troisgros. Nouvelle cuisine chefs had their own gardens. We have a historic window now. When these chefs are gone, we lose our chance to know these things.

There is no taxonomy classifying products, tools, techniques. Cooking schools have no such thing, and it’s awful. The definition of cooking: All the books say it is preparing food with fire. But sashimi, tartare, salad are cooking in my opinion, and there are many ways to cook other than with fire. Escoffier codified cooking? A big lie. He brought some order into the cooking brigade, that’s all. What is codifying? An index in a book.

The correct classification is between elaborated or non-elaborated. The general opinion by the public is that if I go home and put some butter on a piece of bread and add a slice of ham, it’s cooking but not Ferran’s cooking. But if I have to make the bread, the butter, the ham, how much more complicated it is what we do. We can classify food by weight, by color, but this is better.

The man cutting jamón at lunch yesterday had a tool and was performing a technique. But a chimp can do that too. If a chimp can fly to the moon, he can do that. But you noticed yesterday that there was a problem with the ham: The ham was too cold, because of the weather. It needs to be warmer for the fat to start to melt. He’s a very good professional, and he knows that, which a chimp can’t. Animals have technique but not technology.

Perhaps we need a new name for gastronomy.


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