MELBOURNE | As Melbourne Food & Wine Festival and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards hit Melbourne this week, there’s a lot of action going on around the city. Top chefs, food influencers, and media from around the world have descended on Melbourne and it’s hard avoid the electric buzz in the air. As part of the festivities, the Estrella Damm Gastronomy Congress was held in Australia for the first time, and featured some of the world’s most renowned chefs giving cooking demonstrations of some of their signature dishes while sharing stories.
This year’s Gastronomy Congress featured Joan Roca from last year’s World’s 50 Best Number 2 Restaurant, three Michelin Starred El Celler de Can Roca, Peruvian chef and restaurateur Virgillio Martínez from the World’s 50 Best Number 4 Restaurant, one Michelin Starred Central, Albert Adrià from World’s 50 Best Number 29 Restaurant, one Michelin Starred Tickets in Barcelona, and Jock Zonfrillo from Adelaide Restaurant Orana, which was named Restaurant of the Year at The Advertiser Food Awards in 2014 and 2016.
I was given the opportunity to interview both Roca and Adrià after the event, and was keen to meet up with the two culinary masters and find out a bit more about what makes them tick. You can read my interview with Roca here, below is my interview with Adrià.
Albert Adrià is known for many things. For a long time he was known simply for being Ferran Adrià’s younger brother, despite being the guy who headed up El Bulli’s research and development division, creating some of the restaurant’s most iconic dishes. When El Bulli closed, Adrià opened Tickets in Barcelona, a fun, causal, multisensory dining experiene that’s gone on to become one of the best restaurants in the world. Since then, his restaurant empire and fame have continued to grow. Today, Adrià runs seven restaurants in Barcelona, and another in conjunction with Cirque du Soleil in Ibiza. Each one of the restaurants is a success, with around 270 staff feeding an average of 3,000 people per day. So what’s Adrià hoping to get out of his visit to Melbourne, only his second time in Australia since visiting Sydney 14 years ago?
Adrià is a man who’s mind operates and a hundred miles an hour, unsurprisingly so given his work ethic and drive. He’s an engaging person to talk too, full of ideas and passion, and throughout our interview, which was being translated from Spanish by by a fantastic translator, Adrià would often break into what seemed like tangents in English, before bringing it all back to the original point. It’s not hard to see that this is how recipe creation process must work – an idea, a journey, and several offshoots that end up bringing life to the original idea.
“A gastronomic revolution takes years, not days.”
I started by asking Adrià what he was hoping to learn in the three days he was visiting Melbourne, to take back to Barcelona with him, and he told me that he already had an idea in his head, that he was hoping would become more concrete by the end of his trip. There’s a new Australian cuisine, that Adrià feels has a lot of strength and presence behind it, a cuisine that draws upon not just the native ingredients of Australia, but the traditional cooking techniques of Australia’s first peoples. Techniques which are thousands, and in some cases, tens of thousands, of years old. This is something that hasn’t been part of wider Australian gastronomy until recently, and this is something that Adrià wants to explore.
Adrià likened the situation in Australia to the situation in Peru, where there was always amazing food, but not until recently, thanks to chefs like Virgilio Martínez (who also spoke at this year’s Congress) were native ingredients appreciated by a wider audience of chefs and diners alike. When you live in a place that has such natural diversity, it makes sense to incorporate that diversity into your food.
I was interested to find out Adrià’s thoughts on the scene in Barcelona, where the situation is almost reversed – a well established gastronomic tradition with a strong sense of place and use of native ingredients. “In Barcelona you can eat the best and the worst – we’re still trying to get the balance right” Adrià told me, a fact of which I had first hand experience – in 2009 I ate (well tried to eat) the worst pizza of my life, but also had one of the best dishes of my life, Huevos con Chipirones (fried eggs with baby squid) from El Quim. Having said that, Adrià also emphasised that you can easily eat at a hundred different places in Barcelona and be wowed by each one. In Adrià’s view, there are only two types of food – good food and bad food.
“Having something to hold onto from the past is both a good and bad thing.”
What it all comes down to is great produce. You can’t have good cooking without good produce, and Adrià is impressed by the quality of the produce in Australia. Another thing that he likes about Australia is that we have a lot of young chefs who aren’t as bound by the rules as the young chefs in Spain. Adrià noted that because Australia’s gastronomic culture is so young and globally influenced, chefs have much more free reign to experiment in Australia, in Spain, there’s still that weight of tradition. Having something to hold onto from the past is both a good and bad thing.
Adrià shared his opinion that it was about 20 years ago where this chain of tradition was broken. Tradition is still important in Spain, but there’s an acceptance these days that the best food needs to look at both the past and the future. Today in Spain, new and old are able to coexist, and change is able to happen a lot faster than was otherwise the case. As has happened around the world, fine dining is something that’s been struggling, as people look for more causal, smaller restaurants in which to try something new, and to have an experience that’s about more than just the food. These are the type of restaurants that the new generation of Spanish chefs in their late 20s and early 30s are cooking in, and they are cementing a permanent shift away from the old.
Whatever it is that Adrià has in his mind about what he will learn on this visit to Australia, the end result will surely be something fantastic.