When Ferran Adria says he’s had one of the most exciting days of his career, it’s obvious something special has just happened. These are the words the legendary chef chose to sum up the first of a recent two day retreat in which Adria and fellow chef Andoni Luis Aduriz invited 15 gastronomic journalists from all over the world to reflect, under the title of a conclave, on the past 20-years of gastronomy.
Alongside presentations from Adria and Aduriz, journalists attending the historic Le Domaine hotel in Abadia, including myself, were asked to present on topics considering gastronomic developments in our home countries, social and cultural impacts on gastronomy, the media’s influence and role in gastronomic change and how definitions of 'great cuisine' and 'dining experience' have evolved in the past 20 years.
Journalists spoke on a wide range of topics, each one interpreting the questions and topics in their own unique way. Colman Andrews from the U.S spoke about gastronomy in his home country and the rise of TV shows that somehow frame the act of cooking as a fight. Sofia Perez, also U.S, presented on the influence the environmental movement has had on food development in the States.
From Italy, Marco Bolasco, spoke about the rise of the Slow Food movement in his home country and how Italy’s strong links with tradition have affected the way in which Italian gastronomy has developed. He also looked at how trattorias in Italy are seeing a gastronomic resurgence and, perhaps one of the most poignant comments of the weekend, how problems with wine poisoning in the 50s led to a new focus on quality production in the country - something that had a huge effect on Italian gastronomy.
Allan Jenkins, UK, made some interesting points on the foot and mouth cattle crisis and the recent horse meat scandal that saw products labelled as 100% beef containing horse meat. This was linked to points on the industrialisation of the food industry and the rising problem of food poverty across the UK.
Nina Wessely, Austria, presented a timeline of gastronomy in her country while the UK’s Bill Knott looked at how the British gastronomic scene is largely thanks to an influx of French chefs and, arguably one of the first ever rock-star chefs in Britain, Marco Pierre White. Xanthe Clay, UK, took the opportunity to highlight the rise of home cooking in the 80s and how the popularity of Delia Smith’s recipe books had a lasting impact on supermarket stock, home cooking and the British opinion concerning food.
I chose to look at the definition of dining experience and how more and more emphasis is being place on the experience aspect of gastronomy. Presenting findings from the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University on how technology is playing an increasing role at the table. I looked at 12 recent stories that acted as examples of tech's increasing use across the gastronomic industry for entertainment, improving flavour, informing diners and improving health.
Each speech was followed by a quick summary and almost immediate conclusion from Adria who tried to focus in on objective findings and how they could be displayed in an understandable way. Each summary, done in true rapid-fire Adria style, exemplified the shift in the way the chef has altered his thinking since closing elBulli in 2011.
Adria spoke about the widespread problem of a lack of codification across the industry. He argued that gastronomic language is yet to be truly defined, that a more scientific, objective and indexed approach is needed to truly understand gastronomy, its historical developments and how each facet is linked to the other. An obvious result of the chef spending the past three years producing Bullipedia and working alongside the scientific minded research team at MIT.
The chef constantly questioned the journalists, their assumptions, and even their certainties. Somehow twisting and presented them right back in new light thanks to his insightful outlook. Near the end, Adria explained how it was the first gastronomy conference he had attended in three years and how it’s something he hopes to repeat again in the future.
You can look back at the live conversation from the event using #FerranConclave.
Help add to the conversation, let us know in the comments below how gastronomy in your country has devleoped over the past 20-years and we'll be sure to pass on the best observations to chef Adria and The elBulli Foundation.