Spanish Chefs Discussion Panel: Trio

What happens when the three indisputable titans of New Basque cuisine come together on the same stage? A performance by a culinary supergroup? A Marx Brothers routine? Perhaps a bit of both.

On Monday night, Spain's rock star chefs Ferran Adrià, Juan Mari Arzak and José Andrés made a pit-stop at Los Angeles' SLS Hotel, where Andres oversees The Bazaar and Saam.

Hot off Andrés' two latest restaurant openings, the Jaleo and China Poblano in the Cosmopolitan luxury resort in Las Vegas, the trio sat down (and stood up and paced around) for what could have been a windy dialogue on “the future of food” (yawn) but was really an informal discussion on everything from the absurd idealism of cookbooks and the virtues of imitation to the Lakers and Umami Burger (much better).

The elder statesman of the trio but also the least well known in the United States, Arzak was like a puckish demigod, remaining silent for long stretches then dishing out culinary koans. When asked what direction young culinary students should be pointed in, Adrià spoke of the practical need for modern chefs to learn techniques from a broad range of cultures, not only the powerhouse of French cuisine. Andrés offered a meandering answer about cooking being “the biggest sphere of knowledge there is.” So study up. Arzak merely said, “An instructor must foster error, fear and mistakes. Otherwise, you'll never be free.”

The mutual respect and camaraderie was evident. They were like three brothers, teasing each other, always trying to sneak in the last word — a feat usually accomplished by Andrés.

What asked what restaurant patrons and home cooks could learn from the world's top chefs, Arzak replied, “Humility.”

“I don't endorse this myself,” Andrés retorted.

Boisterous and bombastic, Andrés also displayed a healthy sense of self-parody. He's a damn good performer and he knows it, but he also knows when to reel the joke back in, when to shift from showmanship to sincerity. Underneath it all is a bedrock of deep and genuine respect for his compatriots. Andrés, without qualification, credits Adrià for singlehandedly advancing modern cooking.

“90% of the dishes and techniques in the world that have been meaningful in the last 20 years came from El Bulli. I refer to [Adrià] as a friend, as a mentor and as the most generous man in the world. He always shares every piece of knowledge in the world that he has.”

LA Weekly