I just finished Colman Andrew's eminently readable new book Ferran about Ferran Adria and his restaurant El Bulli. While reading it I was reminded of the Lilly Tomlin skit in her play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe when she riffed on Andy Warhol's famous Campbell Soup work saying, "This is Soup, and this is Art". In a recent discussion with Colman while he was on tour to promote the book, he compared Ferran to Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix, both artists who were so ahead of their times that it took 50 years for the music world to catch up. However, I wonder if, for the general audience, whether eating art can be sustaining?
Elissa Altman recently lyrically lamented about foam stuffing in a Thanksgiving meal and her wish for "real" food. My in-laws, Marcella and Victor Hazan, took Ferran to task, reminding people that "Food, like language, is constantly evolving, but the act of cooking, which, like language, made us human, had its moment of creation long before Ferran made foam out of smoke."
It is hard to sustain ourselves on art alone; however, without art, the world would be dull and lifeless. Our family prides itself on simplicity and that each ingredient has a purpose and each dish has a history. As Marcella wrote, "Cooking well is like the telling use of language: Expression must be vigorous, clear, concise. There can be no unnecessary ingredient or unnecessary step. A dish may be complex, but every component, every procedure, must count."
Perhaps the difficulty with the molecular gastronomy movement is that we are being asked to deconstruct our food. Rather than experience the substance of the food for the wonderful product it was, we now must use our heads rather than our stomachs to digest it. The joy of eating can be lost without the sensations of recognition and reassurance that can generate pleasure.
Ironically I met Colman at Sea Salt in Naples Florida, a wonderful restaurant known for its fresh whole fish preparation and the case from which you can choose your favorite fish. Chef/owner, Fabrizio Aielli told my husband, Giuliano Hazan, that when he first started serving whole fish, there were patrons who left the restaurant in disgust because the table next to them had ordered an entire fish and they felt that "it was looking at them". Fabrizio went on to tell us that he now he serves 2,000 pounds of fresh fish a week and that is the featured menu item. Giuliano and I happily devowered our fresh French Turbot/Rombo, that was served as the masterpiece it was, whole. We discussed art, food, and the flavors that sustain.
Many have compared Ferran to Picasso, and that may be the issue. His work and those whom he inspires should be compared to Christo and Jean Claude, beautiful on many levels, but fleeting, and not meant as a daily experience. Colman Andrew's book not only tells us of the life of Ferran Adria, and makes us wish to have had the opportunity to eat at the restaurant, but he also cooks up a dish that we must masticate in order to ingest.