What you see here are the rock stars of the culinary world - not quite as agèd as the Rolling Stones yet still capable of igniting a media and fan frenzy. Just try to get into elBulli in Rosas, Spain...7 people we know jumped to make a reservation the moment email lines opened for the 2007 season and all were turned down post haste. Apparently the place books by osmosis.
Ferran Adrià, inspired chef of elBullí, is the man in the center of the photo above. In the foreground, looking furtively at his olive oil, is Joan Roca of El Celler Can Roca, another Michelin Luminary outside Barcelona, and the fellow in the back is his brother and pastry chef, Jordí. Jordí has been getting press recently for his habit of making desserts that mimic commercial fragrances -- after a dinner of Octopus with Smoked Potato Purée made by Joan, one can order up a bowl of Calvin Klein courtesy the adorable Jordí.
These gentlemen were joined by a small army of other Spanish cooks considered the Vanguard - a group of imaginative culinary artists known for the techniques they use as much as the flavors that emerge from their kitchens - for a day of demonstration and inspiration at Gaustavino's in New York City, hosted partly by the International Culinary Center, formerly the French Culinary Institute. The event took place October 14 of this year, and we are just now getting around to absorbing the entire ordeal.
We say ordeal, but it was for the food, not the observers. As a cathedral-like hush blanketed the room, acolytes and awe-struck worshippers watched simple ingredients such as a carrot get smoked, squeezed, caramelized, vapored and/or shot into a bath of liquid nitrogen. And it was fabulous.
Daniel García (man at right standing on plastic fruit) was the mad scientist with the liquid nitrogen. He shot tomato water into the instant-freeze bath through a soda syphon. What came out were little white popcorns that tasted like frozen tomatoes.
Alberto Chicote took a stovetop espresso maker, put carrot broth in the bottom section and smoked carrot pulp in the filter, and up bubbled a rich orange infusion. Paco Torreblanca, a sugar artist, chocolatier and pastry creator, wowed us with perfect tiny glass sugar vials filled with flowers and dried fruit bits.
Adrià, an enthusiastic speaker with a charming tiny lisp, gesticulates at left about Carrot Air with Bitter Coconut Milk and Frozen Parmesan Air with Muesli, two of the dishes he demo'd along with his famous Liquid Green Olives. The grandfather of New Basque cuisine, Juan Mari Arzak, was there as well, leaving his San Sebastian restaurant in the capable hands of his daughter, Elena Arzak. Quique Dacosta at right watches his sous-chef purée some potion or other - something involving stevia or aloe vera or seaweed, undoubtedly.
Each chef or chef duo had an hour slot to show off their wares and each of them made anywhere between one and seven dishes. What follows are some highlights.
Ferran Adrià: Roquefort Sorbet with Hot Apple-Lemon Gelée
Juan Mari Arzak: Low Temperature Egg in a Cuttlefish Consommé and Chlorophyll
Martín Berasategui: Four Textures of Octopus with Spider Crab Broth, Fennel Air and Ice Plant
Alberto Chicote: Ravioli of Scallop filled with Smoked Carrot with Yellow Chile Pepper, Tentsuyu and Sea Urchin
Quique Dacosta: Foie Gras Cuba Libre with Frosted Lemon Peel and Wild Arugula
Daniel García: Cherry Gazpacho with Cheese Snow and Anchovies
Enrique Martínez: Piquillo Pepper Extract with Empeltre Olive Oil
Joan Roca: Langoustine in Curry Smoke
Paco Roncero: Olive Oil Jellies
Paco Torreblanca: Curried Savarin with Fruits, Horchata and a Caramel Hood
Aside from tasting delightful snacky things all day like Garlic Almond Soup and endless Boquerones, our parting gift at day's end included a recipe from Ferran Adrià for a sweet dish called " Piquillo of Lodosa Pepper and Banana Tatin with Yogurt and Tarragon". A quick peruse reveals a 30-hour project that requires 2 kinds of syrup, 8 rectangular flexipan molds, phyllo pastry and a blow-torch. We've sent it on to Rachael Ray to see if she can cut it down to 30 minutes and perhaps rename it "Spicy 'Nana Pudding".