My hand is cramping and I haven't written this fast or furiously since grad school. I'm not alone; the fifteen or so folks seated around the table are also as riveted as eager students in a seminar.
But when the pen goes down, I pick up a fork, and eat insanely delicious bites of carefully crafted foods showcasing Wolfgang Puck, Lee Hefter and Sherry Yard's A-games. And we're not in a lecture hall, but instead the private dining room at Spago on a weekday afternoon for a media lunch. All designed to welcome and no doubt impress Ferran Adrià on his first trip to Los Angeles, who's in town only for a couple days during his quick international book tour. (Next stop after L.A.: Sydney.)
Along with a modest posse that included his gracious translator and the super congenial and social José Andrés (the kind of guy you want at EVERY dinner party), we were told the drill: no talking when the food arrives. Just smelling and eating. Ferran thinks it's weird that Americans don't smell their food much before eating. (There were a couple other inevitable in-Country-X-we-do-this-vs.-in-Country-Y-you-do-that type of cultural comparisons.) But within what felt like a few seconds after each course was served, he was onto a new topic and eagerly answering questions. It was almost equal parts meal and non-didactic lecture/conversation.
I literally have pages of notes about his thoughts on ingredients, sourcing fish, creativity, gazpacho debates of the late 1990s, origins of nouvelle cuisine, Michel Guérard, unfair maligning of creative cooking, and the thorny contradictions of tradition. Much to the relief of the cooks, he wasn't stingy with the compliments, and was open and kind in conversation and manner. Plus he and José agreed that Chipiona is "very important," which my husband was SO thrilled to hear. But Betty and Evan already succinctly summarized some of these factoids, so keep reading if you want more details of the food itself...
Japanese Aji and Uni Sashimi with myoga, cucumber, ginger and shiso bud salad. Fish from our very own region's waters, of course, and a great way to showcase globalized influences in California cuisine.
Agnolotti with sweet white corn and mascarpone and a decadent pile of amazing shaved Italian white truffles felt like IVing truffle essence. Or maybe freebasing. Anyway, it was sublime and perfect. Ferran was impressed, saying it stood up to the best agnolotti he's eaten. Then a long conversation ensued about corn: its inherent American qualities, availability in Spain, seasonality, etc. Evan begged Ferran to toss us at least one crumb and concede that this type of sweet corn is a great ingredient only available here.
Kurobuta pork belly with blood sausage and rutabaga puree and an heirloom apple sauce. They must've taken a blow torch to this thing, the fat was so blistered with crispy intensity. Yet the meat stayed meltingly tender. Will more chefs care to add this technique to their repertoire, please?
Wagyu New York steak, too? With two little delicate Matsutakes? (Wonder if they were harvested by pickers profiled in that terrific New Yorker article last year.) Kill. Me. Now. Thankfully the dense cubes of flavor-packed, marbled meat are small.
Sherry Yard only had one chance to wow the crowd, and she totally clinched it. Ferran & Co. got a real taste of Americana with her sarsaparilla "float"; if only Sam Elliot had been there to introduce this triumph of root beer-infused flavors and textures.
(The wine pairing details will make this post just a little too wonky.)
Ferran acknowledged that "the avant guard is in Spain now" but the
next revolution "can happen in any country in the world. Movements move
from one part of the world to the other." He seemed genuinely excited to see where the Next Big Thing will be. That's the sort of
open-mindedness, curiosity and humility every true maverick should have.