Ferran Adria, mastermind behind the revered ElBulli north of Barcelona in Spain, visited London last week as part of his book tour, promoting A Day at ElBulli. Now, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t just be going to see Ferran Adria talk, but I would be going to ElBulli to sample his food, me and 2 million other people that is. Every year, ElBulli gets 2 million requests for 8,000 places, so as you could imagine, the odds are stocked against me. I’ll persevere.
The talk was to take the format of a Q&A with Observer critic, Jay Rayner. I am not a big fan of Q&A sessions. In my experience, the people with most to say and offer never do, and the people that want to make themselves heard with painful random and often stupidly technical questions are the ones that speak up. I am speaking mainly of film Q&A’s here as I’ve never been at a Q&A with a chef before. So, I put these thoughts aside and made an exception for Ferran Adria. I was curious, and I wanted to see.
The food blogging community were out in force: Chris, Helen, Krista, Charmaine, Su-Lin, Silverbrow, Jeanne and Bron. There was more too, these were just the ones I knew would be there. I also spotted a few chefs including Pascal from Club Gascon that I had met the day before at the Cuisine Cup (more on that later), but I was running for a train so didn’t stop to say hi.
The session started, and, curiously, it started with a slideshow. I am not a fan of slideshows and firmly believe in “death by PowerPoint” but this was good! It was fascinating with clips and photos of ElBulli itself and his wonderfully creative food. Wonders were unveiled like a tomato shell created in a balloon with liquid nitrogen, an artificial strawberry made with real strawberry, sounds rubbish I admit but it looked amazing, Chris of Cheese and Biscuits describes this better than I could hope to at this point, I’d recommend you look there if curious. Other curiosities included an almost pornographic clip of a middle aged couple thoroughly enjoying their meal at ElBulli. That, I must confess, was odd and I just felt weird and jealous watching them.
On then to the Q&A. Armed with a prop of a baguette, Ferran, via his interpreter was at pains to explain that his food was not scientific, it was simply food, and that he, Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller really wanted people to understand this. Asked what the secret to getting a table at ElBulli was, he really couldn’t say. It’s handled by one person and there is one rule – 50% of customers every year are new and 50% have been before. Other than that, he recommended sending a nice email! How can any one person get through 2 million emails? It seems insane.
Most of you will know that ElBulli is only open for 6 months of the year and the other 6 months is devoted to coming up with new ideas, they never serve lunch, Ferran explained that if they didn’t do both of these things, they simply couldn’t serve food of the standard that they do.
So, thoughts? He seemed like a fantastic guy: passionate, real, humble and a creative genius to top it. He’s the kind of guy that you’d love to go for a drink with, and I am sure it would be a fun night. While in London, he was brought to Manze’s by the Evening Standard, a trip which he claimed to enjoy as he was eating some thing local and a slice of history. He especially liked the liquor and I love him for that. There was lots of chatter about this online the next day, and the community at large seemed to be agreed that we would take him to Tayyab’s in Whitechapel.
Hopefully, one day in the future, I’ll get to try ElBulli. Until then, I might take a look at the book.
If you want to read about this in more detail, Silverbrow did a great job of live blogging it – take a look!