In his essay, “A Visit to Ferran Adriá’s Workshop,” Adrian Searle compares the work of one of the world’s most innovative chefs, Ferran Adriá, to that of an artist. After reading Searle’s experience in Adriá’s “workshop,” I can’t say that I disagree. Adriá had a lab in Barcelona utilized during the off season where he and a team of talented young chefs would dedicate hours of their time to developing new dishes for the upcoming season at elBulli, Adriá’s world-famous restaurant which closed in 2011. Adriá’s cooking is quite literally a science.
Searle lists a few of the innovations Adriá has so far for the upcoming season, including atomizer sprays to sweeten or salt your food at the table and spray-on sauces and aerosols of wine or chocolate. As if that’s not inventive enough, Adriá is also working with an odour expert to create scents, which perfume a little menu to accompany new dishes. Adriá describes his cooking as conceptual, which Searle compares to the artistic work of Marcel Duchamp, the father of conceptual art. Like Duchamp, Adriá doesn’t view cooking as the ordinarily perceived profession. He is a creator, utilizing the taste, texture, odor, form and color of all ingredients.
Adriá’s vision of himself as a creator rather than a chef represents a newfound category of chefs that thrive on their groundbreaking techniques. It’s no longer about what chef makes the best staple buttery biscuit or juiciest sirloin. It is about who can be the most creative in discovering new methods of cooking. Adriá says he didn’t “discover his mouth” until the age of 20, when he became extremely curious about why food is the way it is. Adriá’s idea of food does not parallel most other people’s thoughts of food. Maybe that’s why he is the chef of one of the most famous restaurants in the world and we are not. However, he says he is interested in the evolution of his restaurant rather than the perceived flair. Searle points out that this concern for evolution is true of artists as well: “surely- the best evolve, leaving their followers to turn their advances into style.” Maybe this is why the most successful chefs are as successful as they are.
I do not consider myself in line with Adriá’s thoughts on cooking. Maybe that’s because I crave a cheeseburger and a large fry from Wendy’s and not a “kilo of ham fat” that has been rendered liquid producing froth. But, that is not to say that I think he is wrong. I think these contemporary chefs thrive because they cater to the “food snobs.” The people that do crave frothed ham fat. People that obtain a great knowledge of the food culture have the right to crave creative dishes. Watching the adolescent chefs on Food Network’s Chopped Junior in great distress over their perfect al dente linguini dish makes me wonder what went wrong with my childhood? When I was their age I was still eating Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni happily microwaved by my mother.
Just as chefs such as Ferran Adriá have the right to be creative with exotic ingredients, I believe I have the right to enjoy my simple way of eating. I learned how to cook growing up from my mother who is an amazing cook. She made dinner for our family of five every night whether it was pork tenderloin with her special sweet mustard sauce and roasted brussels sprout, snows bend butternut squash or her simple basmati rice casserole. We liked the simple recipes as equally as the complex ones.
The basmati rice casserole has always been one of my favorites. It can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. She always made the casserole in the same ornately decorated faded pottery bowl. If my mom had extra time she would use homemade French onion soup rather than store bought or take extra time to sauté the mushrooms. Even if she didn’t have time for the sautéed mushrooms or the homemade French onion soup, it would still be just as rich and creamy. Food is food and the methods by which you make it are your prerogative.
There needs to be a balance of simple food and sophisticated cuisine. Although Adriá’s and other chefs desire for an evolution of cooking is exciting for contemporary cuisine, the simplicity of a basmati rice casserole is just as important.
Basmati Rice Casserole
1 and 1/3 cup Basmati Rice
1 Cup French Onion Soup
1 Can Beef Consommé
1 Cup Sliced Mushrooms
½ stick butter, melted
Parmesan Cheese, grated
Mix the Basmati Rice, French Onion Soup and Beef Consommé in round casserole dish.
Slice the mushrooms to make 1 full cup and add it to the casserole dish.
Melt the ½ stick of butter and mix it with the other ingredients.
Bake at 350° covered for 1 hour or until the juices are absorbed.
Sprinkle grated parmesan cheese on top.