El Bulli: All That and a Bag of Chips

Not just for Superbowl snacking anymore

Not just for Superbowl snacking anymore

Some activity in the blogosphere this week about Ferran Adria, the chef at the temple of Molecular Gastronomy, El Bulli, in Spain.  It seems the man who many believe is the World’s Greatest Chef is using Frito-Lay  3Ds chips in one of his creations in a new cookbook. At that news, many foodies (I hate that word.  I must make it a separate entry on here one day) let out a collective gasp and began nattering away about how industrially processed crap (their word, not mine) has no business in the kitchen of the world’s top restaurants, how Adria is just a sell-out and that he’s only doing this because he designed some products for Lay’s, and how on earth could he charge the prices he does when he’s cooking with a $3 bag of chips.

Now, there are some who are down with any ingredient or technique, as long as it’s used in the name of Molecular Gastronomy and preferably by a chef of Adria’s esteem (of course, if I were to use crumbled Lay’s potato chips on top of a tuna casserole, a lot of those same people would sniff and call it gauche– and that’s only if they were being really nice).  In the instance of the Lay’s 3Ds, Adria re-fries the cone shaped chips, fills them with cream, and tops them with lemon basil shoots making them resemble little carrots. He then plates them by sticking them in a mound of something that looks like dirt, but is actually probably something edible.  What I find most interesting about all this talk about what Adria’s doing with a bag of chips, is that I have not seen one person mention Jean-Francois Revel’s theories about cuisine.  So I’m going to.  And I’m going to use it to defend The World’s Greatest Chef (Mr. Adria, if you’re reading this, you can thank me in meal vouchers).

Revel wrote a pretty important book (at least to those who study food) called Culture and Cuisine.  In it, he says that erudite cuisine (fancy chef food, or haute cuisine) often takes inspiration from popular cuisine (the food regular people make).  Remember a few years ago when “comfort food”  like braised meats, heaps of mashed potatoes and all sorts of gussied up versions of mac & cheese was all the rage at restaurants ?  It was like every chef pulled out their mom’s Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and worked their magic. That’s what Revel is talking about. 

So, back to Adria. That’s all he’s doing and I say, “Good on ya’.”  He’s taking a food of the masses, in this instance  chips, and re-using them in a way that the rest of us would never dream of.  Well I might have– if I’d eaten a slab of barbecue ribs, a giant burrito and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food and fallen immediately asleep, but Ferran Adria beat me to it.

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3 responses to “El Bulli: All That and a Bag of Chips

  1. It seems to me that some of what he’s playing with are our gastronomic memories. Most home kitchens don’t have the technologies to puff a grain of rice or make a marshmallow, but those kinds of manufactured food products are part of our collective memory, like it or not.

    When I was there this summer he pulled a few tricks out of his hat, but he also mixed in the tried and true, like an exceptional piece of fish.

    There’s more here:
    http://imoralist.blogspot.com/2008/07/dinner-at-el-bulli-experience-part-2-of.html

  2. You’re right. Taste memories from our childhoods are powerful things and we like what we like now because of– or in spite of– those recollections. I see nothing wrong with enjoying favorite childhood foods as an adult no matter how manufactured they are as long as we’re just visiting the past– not living in it!

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