In the presence of greatness

It’s a very very good thing that the State Theatre stood firm last Friday night.

Had anything fallen from the sky, the state of Sydney dining would be in more than a little bit of disarray.

For there they were; enough tattooed apprentices to staff Bodega for a decade and a large toque of three hat chefs all nursing beers with hungry eyes. Tony Bilson, Peter Doyle, Peter Gilmore and Mark Best were all there … waiting eagerly for the appearance of a man. There, crammed into the State Theatre were chefs and throngs of ‘foodies’ all having paid in the region of $75 to hear his wisdom- even imparted through a translator.

That man would be the first chef invited to contribute at the contemporary art festival Documenta; who’s restaurant has been named the best in the world for three years running and who has needed to develop his own language and vocabulary to describe what he does.

To whoops and hollers Ferran Adria came on stage- clutching a loaf of bread.

Far from being just a press tour, Ferran had a point to prove. Between insisting that restaurants shouldn’t boast about their excellent produce – that’s just an obligation- he swiftly made the point that the food at ‘the bulli’ shouldn’t be derided as any more ‘molecular’ than anything else.

“Bread is artisanal, but also based on science; the best flour, the best yeast, ovens. Why are we considered molecular and not the other?” he said.

“What we try to do, it’s not all that complicated” he said.

For example, he referred to a new cooking method he’s working with at the moment.

In the creation of a new frozen savoury world, he’s merely “using something from nature”- that would be liquid nitrogen, which he stirs with a metal whisk, and a bare hand.

The preparations shown through video, of fruit sculptures and tundras of flavoured air are the result of what her refers to as a new alphabet of avant-garde cuisine; of “sentences, then poems, articles. An alphabet based on new preparations, techniques, products, philosophies.”

What you get are creations that bug the eyes and clog their phones with two million people a year, clamoring for a seat at the table, and those who have been, wanting to go back.

One way they do this is seems to be by adding an additional sense to the experience. For Ferran that’s ‘the sixth sense’, not Hayley Joel Osment, but a sense of irony, humour and reflection which is drawn by the food and the performance which surrounds how it’s presented and consumed.

Technology and creativity; the six months they take off each year to experiment just help him and his team get to that point. It’s in the pursuit of those experiences that he’ll blithely point out, “why would you use a pastry bag when you can use a syringe?”

Good point.

Apart from the irony of being in the company of a good swathe of the most gifted chefs holding whisks today, and being so starving that we were forced to eat a soggy Drumstick icecream dispensed in the aisles for dinner, there was a fabulous kernel we took away- above and beyond the 2.5 kilo book that now sits by the bed; A day at el Bulli.

Ferran said “It’s a great day, when people come together in a theatre, a temple of culture, to talk about cuisine”.

Whether what Ferran creates is art, or not is a debate for another time.

But at the end of the day he just “tries to make people happy”. And if for some of us that happiness comes in the shape of a spherified reconstituted olive, then you’re hard pressed to ask to do much more than that.

Needless to say, the first thing the Hungry One did when we got home was send another email, in the hope of one day securing a booking.

Images via el Bulli

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  1. there goes that idea for your birthday… xx

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