All posts filed under “Food

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Ferran Adria – speaking at Google and his new book

In late September I was lucky enough to be able to hear Ferran Adria speak at Google, and also get a copy of his new cookbook.  Ferran is one of the most famous chefs in the world; though lesser known in the US/UK since he doesn’t speak English and doesn’t have TV shows.  His restaurant (elBulli) was named the best restaurant in the world for four years straight.

What Ferran is really known for is his creativity.  He pioneered “molecular gastronomy”, where chefs do absolutely crazy stuff to create new flavors and textures.  But unlike other chefs, he did this not just with the food but with the entire restaurant!  In order to have the time available to be creative, he shut the restaurant down for half the year.  In order to have time to be creative even when they were open, they shut for lunch.

His talk was all about creativity, and was recorded below.  It’s pretty slow to watch, since he’s speaking Spanish and everything is translated live.  But if you’re interested at all in food, cooking and creativity, he has a thought-provoking perspective on creativity.

I sat next to a woman who practices “visual notetaking” and grabbed her notes from the talk from Flickr.  (Click image to get to the original)  Ferran’s talk is the bottom part of the page, under the dotted line.:

Ferran Adria talking about Creativity @ Authors at Google

The points from her notes are clear.  His definition of creativity is simple: not copying.  Some forms of creativity are more simple, such as new ingredients in an omelette.  Others are more complex, like re-defining what an omelette can be.

Another key perspective is that creativity depends on production.  If you can’t breathe life into your idea (or at least give it a go!), then it’s debatable if you were ever creative at all.

Finally, we all got/bought copies of his newest book, “The Family Meal.”  I heartily recommend it.  The recipes are what the staff at elBulli restaurant would eat before restaurant service.

There are a few awesome things about this book:

  • The recipes are laid out as 31 complete 3-course meals (starter, main, dessert).  One month of meals, with a lot of variety amongst them.
  • Each meal gives you ingredient portions for 2 people (yay! for couple portions), 6 people, 20 people, or 75 people.
  • It’s a picture book; each recipe is on two pages; ~15 photos for each recipe showing what it should look like at each step of preparation
  • Each three-course meal has an outline of when you need to start each major step of preparation (2 hours before, 30 minutes before, night before, etc.
  • Each three-course meal also has a condensed list of ingredients, and what should be bought fresh, what you should fine in the cupboard, and what you should find in the refrigerator.
  • There’s some great advice on different preparation techniques that’s invaluable for home chefs (like me) that don’t have a formal cooking education

Again, I highly recommend his book and the video above; Ferran thinks about creativity on a different level from nearly anyone else.

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Union Square Cafe – Finally!

Union-square-cafe1.jpg

A week ago, LondonAnnie and I finally got a chance to eat at Union Square Cafe in New York City.

I’ve wanted to eat there for over three years, ever since I read Danny Meyer’s book “Setting the Table” in 2007.  The book came highly recommended by Fred Wilson, a very popular investor / venture capitalist in New York.  Danny is a fantastic restauranteur, and a wonderful writer.  The book goes from his childhood through to setting up Union Square Cafe, to extending his restaurant group with new and innovative restaurants across New York.  It’s a cross between a behind-the-scenes “foodie” book and a business book; Danny is a very wise man.  Like Fred, I’d recommend “Setting the Table” for anyone that is in any sort of service business; you’ll learn something inside.

But back to the food…

Union Square Cafe serves what I would call classic American food, but at a level of quality and perfection that I haven’t ever experienced before.  Our starter was “Fritto Misto of Calamari, Bay Scallops, and Gulf Shrimp with Spicy Anchovy Mayonnaise” which was very, very tasty.  Despite the fact that I can’t stand anchovies, the mayonnaise was very addictive.

For my main course, I went with “Grilled Smoked Shell Steak with Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes, and Heirloom Carrots”.  WOW.  Just… WOW.  I’ve eaten at some pretty good steakhouses before, but this was out of this world.  It was cooked to perfection, and seasoned just right.  I think I was talking about this for the next week.

But just when I thought the meal couldn’t get any better, I got “Brioche French Toast with Roasted Apples and Brown Sugar Ice Cream” for dessert.  Within one bite, I had found nirvana.  I thought that the steak would be the best dish of the meal, but the sweetness of this dessert (combined with my all-too-controlling sweet-tooth) brought the house down.

Finally, I feel that I should comment on the service and staff.  Danny Meyer has got a reputation of running restaurants that truly focus on service, and this was very, very clear.  They were attentive and friendly when we needed them, and melted away when they weren’t needed.  Across the board, the staff were absolutely great.

So if you ever find yourself anywhere near Union Square in New York City, do yourself a favor and enjoy a meal at Union Square Cafe.

(Photo via Wikipedia Commons / Americasroof)