Ferran Adrià used the forum of Madrid Fusión in 2010 to announce the impending closing of elBulli as a restaurant, and returned in 2011 to showcase architectural renderings of the elBulli Foundation that will eventually take its place. He hasn't been to the conference since, and isn't here now, but two of his top "creative team," chefs Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch, took the stage in the auditorium at Madrid's Palacio Municipal de Congresos today, on the third and final day of Madrid Fusión, to talk about the massive BulliPedia project that Adrià and his colleagues have been working on for the past few years.
Their presentation was preceded by a video welcome from Adrià, in which he announced that he will consolidate his Barcelona workshop and research operations into a huge new space in the city — a brief video look at it suggests that it's the size of an airplane hangar — which will house 70 or 80 people at a time, all working on BulliPedia. The results of their labors will be shared in real time daily with "all the chefs in the world," with the help of one of Adrià's sponsors, the Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica. Meanwhile, the long-delayed groundbreaking for the elBulliFoundation on the site of the former restaurant in Cala Montjoi is now scheduled for May, with completion of construction expected by the end of 2015.
After the video, Castro and Xatruch began a presentation that was tantalizingly billed as "50 Questions That Will Change the Way We Understand Cuisine: Decoding the Culinary Genome." In fact, said Xatruch, "We have not 50 questions but 50,000, and the more we ask ourselves the more we think of. Fortunately, now we have the luxury of time to think." The two didn't offer 50 sample questions, but they did present a few: "When does cuisine begin? If I take a banana and peel it and give it to someone, is that cuisine? What if I take some strawberries and put them on a bed of ice and then arrange a few nice ones on top. Is that cuisine? But speaking of strawberries, what is fruit? I have an avocado here, and to the Spanish it is a vegetable; in South America, it's eaten like a fruit." Demonstrating the common Spanish technique of drizzling bread with olive oil and covering it with puréed tomato and a slice of jamón, he said "When you start to think in this way, you realize that this very simple dish is actually more complex than anything we made at elBulli. Someone had to grow the wheat and bake the bread. Someone made the oil and the ham and grew the tomatoes. So many steps went into it so that it could be simple. This is the kind of thing we're thinking about."Castro and Xatruch began a presentation that was tantalizingly billed as '50 Questions That Will Change the Way We Understand Cuisine: Decoding the Culinary Genome.' In fact, said Xatruch, 'We have not 50 questions but 50,000, and the more we ask ourselves the more we think of.'
The morning had gotten off to an Andean start, with chefs representing Peru, Chile, and Bolivia demonstrating not just their cooking techniques but their persistence in discovering and figuring out how to use "new" ingredients formerly known only by indigenous peoples (who of course don't cook them sous-vide or arrange them on their plates with tweezers or squeeze bottles).
Gastón Acurio, the Peruvian chef–restaurateur, is the star of contemporary Latin American cuisine (at least if we exclude Brazil from the definition for the moment), but almost as well-known and respected, at least in Peru itself, is Virgilio Mártinez, who runs Central Restaurante in Lima, as well as the Michelin one-star Lima London, in the English capital. He arrived in Madrid with some chuño, the naturally freeze-dried Andean potatoes, and some dried alpaca heart. He had grated the chuño and made it into a paste with chia seeds, then dehydrated it into thin wafers. The alpaca heart, marinated in chiles and herbs, was grated over the wafer and garnished with a kind of aromatic wild Andean mint. Martínez also works with such products as a kind of medicinal clay from Lake Titicaca, white cacao pulp, mullaca (or wild tomato), and even coca leaves and husks.
Rodolfo Guzmán of Boragó in Santiago, Chile, talked of how some indigenous Chileans cooked not on fire but on embers placed on sand. He reproduced this method onstage, with fragrant smoldering tepu wood, over which he draped damp marine chard to cook. This he combined with a variety of large sea snail, purslane, a type of keffir popular in Chile, and a kind of fleshy, intensely flavored berry. He also made a dessert with thorntree berries blended with chocolate and also made into a crumble.
Kamilla Seidler and Michelangelo Cestari of Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia
Danish-born Kamilla Seidler and Venezuelan-born Michelangelo Cestari are the chefs at Gustu, opened last year in La Paz, Bolivia, by Claus Meyer, one of the founders of Noma in Copenhagen. They spoke of the challenges of cooking at 14,000 feet above sea level, and their determination to use all local products (including mountain trout and, yes, Bolivian wines). Then there was getting to understand the llama. "We didn't know what to do with the meat," said Cestari. "The myth was that it was tough and flavorless, but we found that it was very east meat to cook. It's very lean, very high in protein, and it grills very nicely. Now we're starting to work with llama milk. The indigenous people don't have the proteins they need to digest dairy products, so have never paid much attention to the milk, but in trying to create a Bolivian gastronomy, we are using it to make yogurt." They are also beginning to work with high-altitude cactus fruit, honey made from Amazonian bees the size of tiny flies, and a potato-like tuber called papalisa or ulluco.