Dufresne, Andrés, and Colman: foaming over Spanish avant-garde cooking

Chefs Wylie Dufresne and José Andrés took to the stage last night at the National Museum of American History and said that, despite all the hype and hero-worship around him, Ferran Adrià is indeed the man responsible for the foams, spherifications, and other elements of modern avant-garde cooking.

Well, I should clarify: Andrés said that, but Dufresne didn’t disagree.

The Adrià coronation was part of an hour-long discussion, presented by the Spain-USA Foundation and hosted by writer Colman Andrews, designed to dissect Spanish “vanguard cuisine” and its influence on U.S. chefs. Despite its academic bent, the discussion had some moments of levity, even insight.

One of those highlights came when Andrés, the man behind the minibar and The Bazaar, was trying explain his deconstructed New England clam chowder to a packed audience. “What’s the problem with clam chowder?” the chef asked, by way of introduction to the dish.

“Nothing,” Dufresne shot back. The chef, I should note, is from the New England area.

Andrés quickly backpedaled, saying that, of course, “We all love traditional cooking,” but that the one problem with clam chowder is its chewy, rubbery clams. He “fixed” the problem by making a mousse of clam water for his dish.

Andrés got a chance to out-quip Dufresne a few minutes later, when the wd~50 chef was trying to convince the audience that avant-garde cooking wasn’t, you know, evil. “People think we’re taking out the soul of food in the Lower East Side, wearing lab coats and electrocuting bunnies,” Dufresne started out.

“Sometimes, we are,” Andrés joked. The audience roared.

The most interesting quote of the night, though, may have come from Dufresne, who said, American experimental chefs “haven’t been encouraged by the press to cook this way.” He said that the Spanish press has been much more open to Adrià’s approaches, which has made Spain a friendlier environment in which to incubate new ideas and techniques.

That, I thought, is a very compelling notion. Could a too critical, too traditional food press be holding back culinary experimentation in this country? It’s a topic for further discussion, I think.