He is widely considered the “best chef in the world,” and until recently one could find Spaniard Ferran Adrià in the kitchen of Catalonia’s El Bulli. As a pioneer of avant-garde cooking, Adrià is a master of surprising combinations of ingredients assembled with cooking techniques and equipment that seem to have been borrowed from the lab of a mad scientist.
But as precise, precious, and even fussy as his food can be, Adrià is surprisingly comfortable with simplicity. His new cookbook The Family Meal focuses on the kind of simple, traditional recipes he fed his staff before each night’s dinner rush. Instead of white bean foams or liquid chicken, the book features hearty basics like Caesar salad, fried eggs with asparagus, homemade tomato sauce, and sangria.
This notion of taking things back to basics was reflected in a recent talk Adrià gave at Chicago Public Library. Speaking through an interpreter, Adrià took a single pear, and asked the audience questions that drove home the importance of curiosity, research, and context: What part of the world do pears come from? How long has humanity cooked with them? What do pear recipes look like in Brazil, or in Hungary?
Adrià sliced, skinned, and chopped as he spoke, and by the end of the talk you could see how the simplest piece of fruit could yield the most surprising and creative results in the hands of a chef like this.
Adria closed his restaurant in July. Don’t worry, though. He plans to train the next generation of mad chefs at a culinary academy he hopes to open in 2014. And Chicago’s own Grant Achatz intends to do a full menu inspired by El Bulli’s “greatest hits” at Next come January. Meanwhile, you can hear the transformation of a single pear unfold in the audio above.
Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Ferran Adrià spoke at an event presented by Chicago Public Library in September. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.