Ferran Adrià and the art of eating

Marta Méndez Blaya, <i>Pictograms</i>

Marta Méndez Blaya, Pictograms

He’s the Michel Foucault of food. Post-modern chef Ferran Adrià deconstructs cuisine, creates genealogies of the culinary process, and codifies the very act of cooking. He’s also become a guru on creative thinking, even as his cooking style has irked other chefs the world over. 

Known for his audacious concoctions — such as the spray martini (dispensed from a perfume bottle), disappearing ravioli, freeze-dried delights, and edible foam — Adrià doesn't simply focus on how food tastes, but also the whole architectural presentation and experience of eating.

“His end goal may not be flavor, but happiness,” says Brett Littman, from the Drawing Center in New York, who curated “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity.” The exhibition has been on tour throughout the United States and arrived at Mia yesterday.

According to Littman, eating Adrià’s food wasn’t so much about what it tasted like. “If you want a really good piece of fish, I would not go to El Bulli,” he says of Adrià’s former restaurant. “There’s a sense that some of this went beyond the plate that’s being served.”

The exhibition includes drawings and notes by Adrià about his philosophies and thoughts about food, with many charts and diagrams that get into the weeds about not just cuisine but creativity itself. Even when these charts are in English (which Littman asked Adrià to create for the show), they are so myopic that you probably won’t follow his exact flow of information. However, they do offer a glimpse into the way one creative person thinks. 

The most bizarre series is a wall full of Adrià’s drawings that attempt to create a genealogy of food from prehistoric times to today. These crude, almost childlike drawings depict dinosaurs, huts, food items, and cooking methods. They look more like the ramblings of a mentally unstable person than those of a genius, but they are entertaining in a whimsical way. 

Ferran Adrià, <i>Theory of Culinary Evolution</i>. (Detail)

Ferran Adrià, Theory of Culinary Evolution. (Detail)

The exhibit also includes examples of work done by the graphic and industrial designers that Adrià had on staff at El Bulli, Adrià’s famous restaurant in Spain, which closed in 2011 to re-open as a creativity center. Marta Méndez Blaya’s Pictograms, which catalog different products and processes at the restaurant, are particularly vivid, even if they aren’t immediately understandable, and Luki Huber’s ingenious equipment designs (to carry out Adrià’s various out-there ideas like food in pill form, which nearly caused a mass exodus of the staff) are the highlight of the exhibit.

Littman includes a small number of photographs and video that show Adrià’s food in the exhibit, but in a way they seem superfluous. Since we can’t actually experience tasting the food, the show really becomes more about the process for creating it. We just have to trust the people who tell us that the end result was heavenly and all the flow charts were worth the effort.


"Ferran Adrià’s: Notes on Creativity

Through January 3

In the Target Wing of Mia