“In any artistic industry, youcan’t teach creativity, you either have it or you don’t,” said Ferran Adrià, who was a special guest at the Experimental Cuisine Collective’s March meeting at Astor Center. Adrià was on hand to promote journalist Lisa Abend’s book, The Sorcerer’s ApprenticesThe Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli. At the two-hour talk, Adrià – whose Michelin 3-star rated restaurant has been regarded as one of the finest in the world — discussed the creative process at elBulli, where the entire staff is involved in the creation of one-of-a-kind food dishes that sometimes involve what has been described as “molecular gastronomy.”
Abend gave a glimpse of life as a stagiaire—a cook who agrees to work for a small wage in return for a season as one of Adrià’s apprentices. Among the things she learned: apprentices frequently have no creative role; they are used to fulfill the chefs’ vision. Katie Button, a former elBulli stagiare, who runs Cúrate, a tapas restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina, was on hand to offer her perspective.
The most compelling comment came from the master chef who told his audience that like many creative people, he found he could not be happy in his creative process.“Creativity: does it have to be about suffering?” Adrià asked. He said he wondered whether suffering was a requirement for the creative act.
Then moving from the abstract to the concrete he said, “In creating a tapas restaurant, the suffering is quite small.”
When a restaurant strives for more than entertaining its patrons, the suffering is is “much, much higher,” Adrià said.
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The Experimental Cuisine Collective is a working group that assembles scholars, scientists, chefs, writers, journalists, performance artists, and food enthusiasts. Launched in April 2007, the group formed as a result of the collaboration between Amy Bentley of Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Kent Kirshenbaum of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, and Chef Will Goldfarb of WillPowder. The aim of the group is to develop a broad-based and rigorous academic approach that employs techniques and approaches from both the humanities and sciences to examine the properties, boundaries, and conventions of food.
“As a program in the Steinhardt School, food studies takes seriously the Steinhardt mission to be a bridge from the classroom to the city to the world,” Bentley says. “One of our aims in food studies is to examine both the theoretical and applied aspects of food. We want our students to understand the deep cultural meanings of food, for example, but we also want them to get their hands dirty and understand the concrete, visceral, multi-sensorial aspects of food.” She added, “Ferran Adrià is arguably the most prominent chef in the world today. He has been a model of inspiration and creativity for over two decades, and his restaurant ElBulli has created a new paradigm in food similar to the modernism movement in the arts. We were honored that he agreed to speak at our Experimental Cuisine Collective meeting.”
Photo (from left to right): Amy Bentley, Kent Kirshenbaum, Katie Button, Lisa Abend, Ferran Adrià, Anne E. McBride, Will Goldfarb.