New York’s art critic Jerry Saltz gets ravished by a legendary Spanish chef.
I was there almost by mistake, invited before anyone knew quite how little I know about food. I have never really cooked, don’t know how to use my dishwasher, and subsist mainly on prepared deli takeout. I don’t even eat in restaurants much. Yet here I was, invited to a meal at El Bulli, the Catalonian restaurant of Ferran Adrià. The occasion was a roundtable of art-world muckety-mucks, devoted to the work of the Spaniard widely considered the world’s most inventive chef, a pioneer of the intriguing, mad branch of cuisine known as “molecular gastronomy.” I was the naïf in the room. (Before I was invited, I’d never heard of Adrià or his restaurant.) I was introduced on the panel as “the food virgin.” Ouch.
I was and may still be that, but eating at El Bulli is less dinner than performance art, and that’s something I relate to. Adrià seems to me a Picasso of food, having moved beyond classical cuisine into another realm. (Although to top off the session, he whipped up the best traditional seafood lunch I’ve ever had, remarking, “In order to do what I do, you first have to be able to do this.”) Adrià looks and acts like Picasso too: about the same height and build, with wild dark eyes and palpable sexual energy. I half-expected to see him parading on the beach in his underpants. (Even his restaurant’s name evokes Picasso’s bulls.) The self-taught Adrià makes you understand why there’s never been a 10-year-old prodigy in art or food, unlike music or math. With art and food you need your body; you need knowledge of sex and death. All art penetrates us one way or another, food explicitly.
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