Deconstructing the language of Food: Colman Andrew’s biography of Ferran Adria

by Victor and Marcella Hazan on November 11, 2010

Cover of Ferran by Colman Andrews from the Gotham site

Colman Andrews, a food writer of grace and erudition, has recently published a biography of Ferran Adrià, the Catalan chef. We admire the breadth of Colman’s research for this book, but we cannot agree with the tributes he bestows on Ferran, whom he compares to Picasso, Le Corbusier, and Charlie Parker. A more apt comparison would be to Charlie Chaplin, or to Houdini. Ferran’s routines and slights of hand can astonish, entertain or even please, although some of the culinary jokes fall flat. Colman cites a blogger who describes a dish of sea anemones and rabbit brains as being “Vile. Vomitous. Nightmare”. It is curious too that Ferran’s inventions have no space for meat, outside of offal, they do not agree with wine, outside of a champagne produced by a client of the chef, and they do not require bread, which is banned from the table. We cannot conceive of a cuisine that springs from Latin roots being served without bread. The subtitle of the book describes Ferran as the man who reinvented food, which is an absurdity. Food, like language, is constantly evolving, but the act of cooking, which, like language, made us human, had its moment of creation long before Ferran made foam out of smoke.

Coleman says that Ferran wants us to eat with our brains. Better to eat for pleasure, and to experience the sensations that generate that pleasure, sensations of recognition and reassurance. Even a new dish from an unfamiliar cuisine can reach deeply buried sources of pleasure and in so doing trigger recognition, generating reassurance. That is what the joy of eating is about. For us, as for everyone, there are cuisines whose flavors do not find the way to those sources in us. Coleman says that Ferran is drawn to the concept of food as a language. In Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, a book published 24 years ago, Marcella wrote, “Cooking well is like the telling use of language: Expression must be vigorous, clear, concise. There can be no unnecessary ingredient or unnecessary step. A dish may be complex, but every component, every procedure, must count. …Do not arbitrarily shuffle the vocabulary of one cuisine with that of another to make your cooking (original). There is no more use for use for such a hybrid than there was for Esperanto.” If Ferran has a cooking language may we call it Ferranto? We don’t care to learn it.

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