I have been reading about the New York Food and Wine Festival for months now. About three months ago, I contacted one of the coordinators of the events in hopes to volunteer for a few demos or possibly a discussion panel. I love hearing not only the success stories of these food personalities, but it’s also another way of staying current on what’s going on within the industry.
Food Network had their gaggle of “chefs” do hands on demonstrations. I scanned the list and quickly skimmed over Rachel Ray, Tyler Florence, Nigella and little Giada. These hosts have made their names off big smiles (and heads–not to mention anyone specifically), catchy phrases and food ideas made for the average home cook. They’re all fine and dandy, but I was interested in more.
My eyes became fixated on one name only. Ferran Adria was coming to New York not only to promote his new cookbook, A Day at El Bulli, but to speak with the notorious “bad boy” chef Anthony Bourdain. I love both of these men, but for very different reasons. After hearing no word from the event coordinator, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I called Seoyoung yesterday and told her to meet me at the Times Center in mid-Manhattan. I was a bit nervous but mostly excited, and fully motivated. I walked into the building and a woman on her headset skipped across the floor to ask for my ticket. I confidently stated (or more likely mumbled) that I was scheduled to volunteer for the Adria discussion. She looked mildly perplexed but waved me down some stairs. I walked into a room filled with models passing chocolates and wine. Um, I should crash these events more often! I popped a salted caramel into my mouth quickly and then looked for someone wearing a badge…any badge. I ended up meeting sweetheart Jane who put me in charge of the chocolates. Yeess please! Seoyoung came minutes later and giggled at the prospect of hearing Ferran talk. We set up the boxes, and after a minute of hesitation, we went upstairs and into the panel room. We watched the two chef’s dialogue in awe. Ferran was obviously a passionate man, and I’m sure in the kitchen he can be pretty intimidating. But he’s also a creative genius and has inspired chefs and cooks around the world. It was intoxicating to be there, listening to his fervor in person.
Adria is basically the grand-daddy of molecular gastronomy. His methods of cooking, outside the traditional realm of applying heat to protein, have spread all over the world, influencing notables such as Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz. Adria cooks with nitrogen, freezing liquids and purees, creating instant truffles and ice cream pearls (think dippin dots!), and basically shatters the notion of cooking by creating through freezing. He also cooks with a microwave, creating sponge cakes that look, well, quite sponge-like. After a thorough panel discussion on the evolution of food and where it’s going, and what to expect in the future, the microphone was sent into the audience so we could have our chance to question this praiseworthy chef. One of the last questions he was asked was “If you were to die tonight, what would be your last meal?” He bluntly retorted that he did not want to die, didn’t like to even think about it, but would be happy to say what he likes to eat generally. “We eat several times a day, 365 days a year, and it’s one of the most exciting things we can change in our lives daily. One day I like gastronomy, the next paella.” For him, each meal should be different, yet still exciting. I know that if tonight were my last night, I would hope that I could somehow fenagle a dinner reservation at El Bulli (never mind that it’s closed for the next six months). I want to experience the procession of small bites–on average 30 to 40 in one sitting. I want all the emotions that come along with a meal like his: there you’re not only eating food, but you’re being surprised, confused, confounded and will most likely leave with a tinge of incredulity. Adria’s ideas and concepts are so new and different, and constantly evolving, that the need for a dialogue created between chef and customer, through the food, is a main goal of his. Anthony Bourdain quipped in a few meaningful thoughts throughout, but this discussion primarily focused on Ferran and the revolution of the food scene.
Seoyoung and I had only planned on staying for that one discussion, but it turned out that her chef Gordon Ramsay was next on the panel list. So we stayed for his discussion and it turns out he’s a pretty witty character! Maybe it’s because of all the English jargon that he peppered his stories with, but he’s a funny man. When he spoke of Kitchen Nightmares and some of the “tits-up” disasters he has encountered, the crowd roared. Seoyoung has never met him, so she had hoped to introduce herself at the end of the talk. Turns out every other person in the audience had the same idea, so we just enjoyed from afar.
But all in all, yesterday’s mission turned out to be both insightful and entertaining. We listening to some meaningful interpretations of, and evaluations on, food. We heard a few funny stories…and in the end, we snapped a picture with Adria, which proved our original Mission: Impossible, not so impossible.