World's top chefs talk cuisine, creativity in Chicago

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Aduriz, Adria and Achatz

(L to R)Chef Andoni Aduriz of Spain's Mugaritz, chef Ferran Adria of Spain's El Bulli, and chef Grant Achatz of Alinea pose for a portrait at Balena restaurant. (Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune / March 14, 2014)

Achatz: The exciting thing is that we know that because of the steps that have already been taken, there is no ceiling. Again, 20 years ago we would have never thought that we could do what we're doing now, and that fuels the confidence and the thinking to do other things. I don't know what they are, Andoni might not know what they are, but the fact that the potential to get there exists is exciting.

Adria: The person who's receiving the food cooks as much as the chef. They have a very important role to play. When you get to a very high level of cuisine, it's really emotional….Unless you have incredible works of art that stand on their own, the most experiential place for a person who receives is a restaurant, like Mugaritz and Alinea. And it can seem pretentious to say that, but it's true. There's no other activity that the person who receives it can destroy the work, can participate in how it's being done. It's emotional. Sometimes journalists are going to have to start talking more about the diners than the chefs.

(Achatz and Adurizi laugh.)

Adria: It's true. I've seen very few interviews of diners, people who eat, in this particular context. When they bring the dish, why do they eat it a certain way and not another? And they listen to what's being told or not. This is the path that started 20 years ago. But we didn't really know quite well. We didn't realize it. We're doing it every day; we're creating every day. We said it, but the relationship with the diner, with the chef, it's the great revolution.

Q: Is it important for diners and everyday people to receive this knowledge that you're passing on?

Adria: No, no, no, no, no. The diner has to be moved. And then they will decide how much knowledge they want. You can go to MOMA. I can go and study Cubism. And when I see (Picasso's) "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," I can get on my knees. Or I can go there and look around and walk in front of it. You might not stop in MOMA for that painting because you might not know what it signifies. But you're going to decide, an individual decides, not because of whether you know it or not. So the diner doesn't have the obligation to do this. Emotions they can say what they want, but if they opine on this, on their knowledge, that's when problems start. (laughs)

Q: Do you think where food goes will be more about discovering new techniques or new ingredients?

Adria: New products will be easier. There are a lot of products still to be discovered in the world and experimentation, for example with seafood and fish. There are thousands of products that we're not eating right now that maybe will be cultivated in a good agriculture situation, a sustainable, ecological way. Maybe there will be textures or flavors we hadn't even thought of. In the Amazon there are 400 fruits that are not cultivated right now. They're just incredible fruits. Textures, tastes that we don't know right now. New basic techniques are going to be harder to create. We can create techniques, but it will be a sum total of previous techniques that already existed, so there'll be new combinations, but a new basic technique is going to be very difficult because this generation has done so much. ….If you look at painting, in the last 50 years, there's hardly been any new technique. There's thousands of painters in the world that have all the time in the world thinking about these techniques.

Aduriz: Asking the necessary questions, that's what I want. For the same result, a different way of seeing it changes the whole perspective….We have to intend to ask the right questions, understanding that there will be some techniques that are new. We might see them as if they are new letters to write some stories, tell stories. If you allow me the metaphor, it's what kind of discussion do we want to have? ...We need to start asking the right questions over the same subjects. Suddenly it's a disruptive discourse.

Adria: For example this is very important what we're doing now. There's no model to get together. Knowledge at this level is in few hands. We have to look for a model, so we can have a few days together, because imagine gathering 20 people at this level. There's no model for it now, because conferences are kind of passé at this point.

Achatz: We talk about this all the time at Alinea. Imagine if you had the group of the right people in the room talking about this. You'd further it so much. We just don't have that opportunity. Maybe with the foundation that will become possible.

Q: Will you reopen El Bulli or cook again?

Adria: I cook every day. If you understand cooking only as a physical process, then you don't understand cooking.

Twitter @MarkCaro

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