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Spain's Rock Star Chefs Descend on L.A., Part 2

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Tue, Jan 11, 2011 at 4:12 PM

click to enlarge Chef Jose Andres explains the process for a salad inspired by the blown glass art of George Chihuly. - GUZZLE & NOSH
  • Guzzle & Nosh
  • Chef Jose Andres explains the process for a salad inspired by the blown glass art of George Chihuly.
Jose Andrés had nothing but love for Los Angeles at last week's panel discussion with fellow Spanish chefs Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak.

"When I came [to Los Angeles] three years ago, people told me, 'It's very exciting because we need a renewal.' And I thought: What do you mean? You have Nobu. Wolfgang Puck. The Kogi truck. The amount and diversity you find in this city, I don't find it in New York," Andrés said.

"The melting pot of America is the most powerful university a young cook can learn in. With very little money a young cook can learn the world one plate at a time." --Jose Andrés

He also takes a fairly agnostic view toward locavorism, urging a more "loyical" approach to food procurement. Sure, local is good, but if you live in north Canada, then what? "When I say let's be logical, I mean let's not be radical," Andrés says.

He, is however, quite militant about the term "molecular gastronomy," which he seems to hate, despite being its most recognizable face in the United States. When he's not busy picking Twitter fights with Jonathan Gold about the subject, he's constantly emphasizing how natural and normal and easy it is. That it's something any home cook can and should try. Sure, as soon as apartments come standard with sous-vide cookers and nitrogen tanks.

He makes a good point that nearly all cooking involves changing food's molecular structure, so the line between "avant garde" and traditional cooking is arbitrary. But after watching a video of El Bulli's (or was it Adria's?) take on a traditional almond plate -- almonds are fried in oil, water and salt, blend into a puree, frozen, spun until the paste turns into almond butter, creamed, blended, frozen with liquid nitrogen, ladled out to form round almond cups and served with a blue cheese mousse topped with grated passion fruit -- it's hard to argue this is more practical than a traditional plate of cheese and almonds.

Aside from a broad sense of unease at being labeled anything (I'm often called a foodie, a term I dislike but have learned to shrug off), his resistance to the term "molecular gastronomy" seems silly. If the phrase connotes a rarified form of cooking, unattainable by most home chefs, so what? People don't go to El Bulli or Arzak or The Bazaar to feel like they're at the pizza parlor around the corner. They go for the once in a year, maybe once in a lifetime, experience. Certainly, molecular gastronomy's roots lie in tradition, but its lies in the nouveau, the futuristic and the uncommon. There's no shame in that.

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