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...