ShareFacebook Twitter AddThis
"I'm in Japan it's early spring and I'm sat in the car with a master farmer and my Japanese interpreter. We're driving towards this huge snow covered valley with this incredibly clear and pure running water. Eventually I end up standing in this water with snow all around me and look down to see this vibrant green ingredient. This powerful plant of worldwide interest, this plant that only grows in these very fresh, virgin places - it was just a total pleasure".
This magical hunt for wild Wasabi in Japan is just one of Hannah Collins' memories from her recent voyage around the world to discover and trace the origins, history and traditions of 30 different ingredients.
The artist and photographer, teamed up with Ferran Adrià from the world famous elBulli restaurant, with the chef helping to devise a list of ingredients he uses for Hannah to hunt out, photograph and bring to life in the pages of her new book, The Fragile Feast - Routes to Ferran Adria.
"To begin it was an idea of recording something about Spanish ingredients...I had this conversation with Ferran and we decided we should do it about ingredients of the world and not just Spain.
"It was kind a kind of a game for Ferran...he chose these things and I sort of did the work. He chose some strange and ridiculous things but each of them had a point".
Speaking with Hannah, after her adventure, it sounds like a game that most people with any interest in food would gladly play. A game that saw her visit; Italy, Greece, Spain, Japan and South America - each time with a mission of finding specific producers to photograph their ingredients.
"We're very disconnected from the world of the things we eat - we might have stories about them but we're actually very disconnected from them. How things are grown, how they're moved around the world...we very rarely come across the real picture of an ingredient.
"Milk is a good example, you know milk is a very historical ingredient, it goes back to the bible in terms of descriptions and we have some ideas about milk but we don't really think about it in terms of what it represents. On my travels I met sheep farmers who use these medieval sheep in Catalonia, you really do start to understand the tradition and history of milk in a place like this".
I have to agree with Hannah when she says it's easy for people to forget, or more accurately, overlook basic ingredients and their origins. And with the food of a chef like Ferran Adria, famous for his 46-course tasting menu of varying complexity, dazzling presentation and often surprising results. It can be extremely easy to forget that the liquid nitrogen infused texture you just tasted was in fact frozen polenta, or that the strange translucent package filled with blue gel is in fact caviar lubricated with egg yolk.
Adria is famous for proclaiming that "at the end of a meal the more bewildering the better" which is why this project with Hannah, to trace and in turn discover and document the raw ingredients that lie at the heart of some of his most famous food, is so interesting.
The book documents 30 ingredients, from roses in Ecuador to the ancient Japanese ingredient of kuzu, a starch based food produced and preserved by the same family for over five centuries.
Seeing ingredients in their rawest form, seaweed picked straight from the sea, wasabi growing in Japan and fish still alive as they're hoisted on board, does achieve Hannah's intending effect of reconnecting the reader to ingredients and the places and people who grow them. But it also unearths a sub plot usually overlooked in Ferran's food.
"Ferran's food is often miss-read and with some dishes you can only understand the transformation he makes by understanding how the ingredients are grown.
"For example at elBulli they serve sugar cane that has been soaked in various things - to eat the dish guests have to suck a sauce through the cane - very similar to how the farmer eats it while he picks in the field. And this is certainly intentional on Ferran's part, it comes from him understanding the entire history of an ingredient before he starts to play with it".
Hannah travelled for a year and a half to collect all the material and spent around five weeks with Ferran and his staff at the restaurant, providing a real insight for anyone interested in discovering ingredients and understanding further the foundation of some of Ferran's food.
As you'd expect, working with one of the world's best chefs does have its benefits."We would joke that if I was to eat in the restaurant I would eat with the staff - but in terms of elBulli - the dinosaur egg he made me was amazing. A big egg that's hollow and frozen then as you pick it up it starts to melt in your hands - it's formed in a balloon and is just this intense and very magical experience." And the raw ingredient being displayed with the dinosaur egg ? "Cocunut".