When my biography of the Ferran Adrià, the celebrated—legendary is probably not too strong a word—chef-proprietor of El Bulli in northeastern Spain, was published this fall in New York (by Gotham Books) and London (by Phaidon), Adrià himself agreed to help me promote it, submitting to on-stage "conversations" with me and sitting still for numerous shared interviews in both cities. (A record of the London event will be posted soon on Phaidon's Web site; the New York conversation has been YouTubed in its entirety.)
Because I'd spent a good year-and-a-half with and around Adrià while I was researching the book — published in America as Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food and in the U.K. as Reinventing Food: Ferran Adria: The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat — I wasn't surprised by much during our mini book tour. I was already used to his casual dress, his modesty, his gregariousness, and his ability to respond to simple questions so complexly and at such length that it may not ever occur to his interrogators that the question he finally answered wasn't necessarily the question they'd asked.
What did surprise me a little, since I'd never had the opportunity to see it demonstrated so constantly, was his imperturbability — which is to say the patience and humor with which he responded (however obliquely) to even the most dunderheaded questions. And what I think surprised some of our dining companions on both sides of the Atlantic was his taste in food.
They watched as he politely ate, without a comment, the overwrought post-nouvelle cuisine at one of London's hottest restaurants, and then tore with gusto into a simple roasted chicken at a much simpler place; they noted the lack of enthusiasm with which addressed some meet-the-contract sushi in Manhattan, and then his broad grin at a juicy hamburger.
And they shook their heads in disbelief when he announced that the one foodstuff he can't abide is the bell pepper, green or red. "It's not the pepper's fault, it's mine," he told us one day. "If there is even a little piece of bell pepper at the edge of a paella, the whole dish is ruined for me." For more insight into Adrià, here are two radio interviews I did about him after he'd left town.