Spanish Chefs Discussion Panel: Trio

So what did Juan Mari Arzak, Ferran Adrià and José Andrés love eating while they were in Los Angeles? Umami Burger and Kogi. Maybe other things too, but we didn't have a chance to find out.

Near the end of the talk, they took questions from the audience. After the mundane, the meaningless and the aggressively self-promotional, someone asked: Should cuisine be treated like an art form where copying is illegal? It's an intriguing question in an age when technology continues to blur the line between homage and plagiarism.

Adrià drew a pyramid on the whiteboard. At the top, hes said, were maybe 10 chefs in the world, no more. (He didn't state names.) “For those at the top of the pyramid, we shouldn't have any compassion,” he said. “None. No compassion.”

Below them, are a level of chefs from whom we should expect some originality. Below that, at the pyramid's vast base, we must have no expectations. “If a young guy takes ideas from Adrià or Andrés, that's fantastic,” he said. So if Applebee's launches a bacon and cheese potato foam, you'll know who to blame. In fact, I suspect Adrià would high-five the chain's corporate chef.

His generosity, his willingness to share his knowledge is widely praised, most often by Andrés. It seems fitting that just this week he opened 41 Degrees, a new tapas and cocktail bar offering more affordable versions of the elaborate dishes that made him famous. (Another restaurant, Tickets, will open next door.)

In fact, the distance between El Bulli and In-N-Out is not always that far apart. Listening to Andrés talk about the trickle-down effect of avant-garde cooking techniques reminded me of the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep as the Anna Wintour figure explains to Anne Hathaway, the idealistic intern, how a style conceived and stitched in a haute couture showroom in Milan eventually makes its way to the bargain bin at JC Penney.

As Andrés pointed out, though he was quoting Arzak when he said it, “It's not a division between traditional and avant-garde. There are only two kinds of cooking: good and bad.”

Previously on Squid Ink…

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