Ferran Adrià, man. We didn’t fully grasp how famous this man was, like, outside of chef and food-nerd circles until we saw the seemingly endless line of people, snaking way around the corner and down 17th Street, waiting to get in to the Castro Theatre last night to see him in person. Granted, this was a rare S.F. appearance for the man who helmed the “most famous restaurant in the world” until this past July, and three quarters of the population of this town would probably call themselves “food nerds.” But yeah, wow.
The event, put together by Omnivore Books, sold out as of last month, but seeing those 1,400+ people all scrambling for a seat to hear him speak, through an interpreter, about haute cuisine and innovation, kind of blew our minds. Most of the evening’s presentation focused on El Bulli. Adrià had several food-porn videos at the ready, showing off a hundred or so groundbreaking dishes, but as the friend who was with us said afterward, “I feel like I just saw a bunch of pictures of a fantastic party I wasn’t invited to.” Alas, that’s what the higher end of this food world often feels like to the 99 percent.
Adrià did profess his love for San Francisco, which drew a big cheer — he said, in fact, it was one of three places he could live in the world, besides Barcelona and Sydney.
But he also had a lot to say about innovation, and creativity — which he was quick to call “an ugly word” — and about his plans for the El Bulli Foundation and think tank, on the site of the former restaurant on the Costa Brava. Here were our biggest takeaways from the evening:
1. Adrià likes a good burrito. While in town yesterday, after meals at Manresa and Coi, he hit La Taqueria for some tacos and a burrito. Also, he went back to his hotel room to research the origin of the word ‘burrito,’ via Wikipedia, and he seems to accept the disputed etymology relating to a burrito vendor with a little donkey (burro).
2. Adrià’s brother is a genius too. This is not news to many in the food world, but we had not fully appreciated the brilliance of Albert Adrià’s “natura” desserts, and the influence he’s had on the modern pastry world, until we watched one of Ferran’s videos devoted just to the desserts.
3. Adrià is a funny guy. He started things off with “the parable of the omelet and the miniskirt,” which ended up being a fairly long meditation on the idea of being the first to conceptualize an idea, versus being the first to have the idea. He points to the omelet, which had to have been invented by someone, but which has been conceptualized and re-imagined a million times since then. And then Mary Quant’s first miniskirt, which was just a conceptualization of something that had been around, albeit worn by men, since ancient times. Adrià concluded, “It’s not about being the first. It’s about getting it right, and being in the right place at the right time.”
4. This El Bulli Foundation thing is a little ridiculous. Sure, we get it. El Bulli was already a laboratory of sorts, and a place for experimentation, so why not just make it that full time, and quit being a restaurant that people are clamoring to get into? But Adrià showed off some 3-D animated renderings of his “Idearium” (a sort of library/meditation area where other geniuses can sit and “come up with new ideas”) and his human-heart-shaped conference cave/screening room, and the whole thing started to sound a little too precious. But we’re sure all the chef-summer-campers who get invited to come and kibbitz about their ideas there will love it.
5. Adrià thinks everyone needs to cook more. The point of the evening was to promote Adrià’s first “home-cooking” book, Family Meal, and to his credit the book really is focused on making the most of humble ingredients, and making weeknight meals for three or four dollars a person, based on the recipes of staff meals at El Bulli. He just thinks that we all complain too much about not having time to cook, or we watch too much TV, so he suggests putting a TV in the kitchen.