Spain's cooking wizards convened at Guastavino's Saturday to demonstrate their cutting-edge techniques. We figured the wine would be fabulous. We were counting on acorn-fed jamón ibérico to make Smithfield, Virginia, weep. But "Spain's 10," the all-star team headed by the illustrious Ferran Adrià, are known for their dazzling concoctions, so all we really knew to expect were surprises.
We weren't the only ones: Avant-garde New York chefs from WD-50's Wylie Dufresne to Ureña's Alex Ureña dotted the audience. Even the godfather of food science, Harold McGee, looking splendidly spindly and professorial, was present.
The demonstrations, meanwhile, featured a who's who of the "molecular gastronomy" movement in Spain. Chef Joan Roca, of the Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Cataluña, showed how he uses a vacuum distiller to extract the perfume of freshly dug Catalonian soil and apply it, as a foam, to an oyster dessert. It looked as awful as it sounds (none of the food was actually offered to those in attendance), but the audience was clearly awestruck. And they seemed positively devotional when Adrià finally stepped up to the kitchen podium — and began lecturing about techniques of "spherification." Even with an earpiece translating away, U.N. style, it was difficult to figure out what the hell the great chef was talking about, but it had something to do with breaking down melons and olives and injecting them, drop by drop, into a water bath, where they turned into little balls of flavor. Novel and super-concentrated, Adrià's lyrical ideas about the nature of taste made a fine stand-in for the actual experience of eating the stuff.
Curious about that jamón ibérico? The Underground Gourmet tells you where to find it, in convenient sandwich form no less.