Barcelona food tapas snacks dom perignon tomato airbags

Goliath and Goliath | elBulli with bubbles | Dom’s vintage vision

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

A collaboration between two food and wine behemoths raises questions about directions for gastronomy, dining, and future-proofing luxury brands, reports Susan Skelly.

It’s mid-April 2015 and Ferran Adrià is back in the kitchen for a three-night stand, four years after closing his celebrated three Michelin-starred elBulli close to the town of Roses in the north of Spain. The venue is the Palo Alto Market, a former industrial complex near the seafront in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Poble Nou, on this night transformed into a glamorous performance space with sliding walls, moody light installations and clubby ambience.

His corps de cuisine is sending out course after course – 29 to be precise – of “snacks”. There’s caviar atop barnacle flesh with a barnacle brine chaser sipped from a tiny shell. Beetroot meringue with a pearl of yoghurt guarding a tomb-like entrance. Tomato and golden olive oil “airbags”. Black sesame and miso sponge cake. Adrià’s signature olives are wobbling gently in little wooden spoons. Any of the 40 gastronomes in attendance who takes the title of the event, This Is Not A Dinner, to imply that they’ll be stopping off for hamburgers afterwards quickly wises up. This is Ferran Adrià, food magician, pulling fried rabbit ears out of his hat, using his signature alchemy to create an unforgettable menu, with 20 chefs lending a hand.

Barcelona food tapas snacks beetroot meringue dom perignon

Ferran Adria’s beetroot and yoghurt meringue. Photo Pablo Martin

Before the snacking begins, each attendee is led to a mirrored pedestal on which stands a champagne glass and a bottle of the new Dom Pérignon 2005. A card reads Solo Tasting, and soon a wave of crisp starched linen descends from the ceiling to enclose the taster in a moment of solitary assessment. For the night also marks a new, three-year collaboration between the legendary chef’s new elBulli Foundation and one of its clients, the gold-plated champagne house.

The factory of ideas

The foundation is essentially a think tank, a nod to the need for businesses of all types to decode, disrupt and take thinking to new frontiers. Adrià – whose brand is built around the deconstruction of everything people think they know about food – is inviting artists, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, engineers to bring their intellect to the table for creative outcomes, for new ways of selling their message. Earlier in the day he had escorted journalists through his factory of ideas, a cavernous atelier where dozens of people commune with laptops in librarian silence. In train is an archive of cookbooks through the ages, a reminder that truffle ice-cream was around in 1768; that elephant and giraffe meat was on the menu of 1900 Parisian establishments; that the kitchen garden was the norm; and the 100km rule would have been a voyage to the New World.

In the Dom Pérignon Lab there are enlarged black-and-white photos of bubbles that bloom like flowers, a lesson on cavities; scans of cork; diagrams of labels; walls of description about vintages and their nose, palate, weather. It’s a distillation of the creative process, an investigation into whether the “expression” of Dom Pérignon can be mapped.

Putting wine centre stage

We have, declares chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, “put Dom Pérignon on the couch” – and opened the venerable vintners up to scrutiny and introspection. The buzzword of the week was “sapience” – self-analysis, the getting of wisdom, the outsourcing of knowledge. “We can no longer be limited by in-house resources,” Geoffroy says, “Champagne is about grapes – but what else?” Technically, there is little more to learn about making wine, he says. Where the evolution will lie is in the experience of food and wine.

“I am pretty clear on what the expression of Dom Pérignon is. It’s my brief. I am not ready to change anything. Yet it is all about putting the wine on the stage, raising the bar, not giving people what they expect. The major thing is the relationship between the actor and the juice. At the moment, it is so conventional.”

Barcelona food tapas snacks tomato biscuit dom perignon

Flavour pop: Ferran Adria’s tomato biscuit. Photo Pablo Martin

So tonight, the best champagne and a procession of snacks. Haute cuisine should be very afraid. There are no more secrets about gastronomy to be revealed, either, declares Adrià. The internet has changed the rules. It used to be that you studied, found a job and worked. “Now education is constant,” says Adrià. “So what’s the minimum you need to know? Nothing is static, we move from project to project.” The greatest disrupters of gastronomy have been nouvelle cuisine (“a true paradigm shift”), and Nobu’s removing of the tablecloths of fine dining, he believes. Disruption going forward will be all about consumers, how they engage with the food experience.

If establishing and trumpeting a brand’s DNA was the goal of the 20th century, unravelling it is that of the 21st. Now is the time of the great decoding. Which isn’t to say that signature DNA has to be abandoned. Indeed, sensational snacks are part of the Ferran Adrià ecosystem. He introduced them at elBulli in 1994 to replace traditional appetisers that went with the welcome cocktail. They evolved to become an art form in themselves, far more than an amuse bouche and sometimes, like tonight, the main event. A capsule collection of six snacks will be identified in due course and anointed chefs will be allowed to re-create them, but only to accompany a glass of DP 2005.

Freedom to create

This Is Not A Dinner – created around what Geoffroy regards as the pillars of his latest vintage release: minerality, intensity, seamlessness and harmony – is about context. How food, location, the moment and the people shape a memorable experience. The morning after, Geoffroy seems subdued. One has a sense that he is feeling like a guest at his own party. “Ferran is… Ferran”. He tries again: “The idea of not controlling things. Wow. The way Ferran takes food beyond, into performance – it is a leap of faith. If there is one word that sums up the experiment, it is ‘trust’.”

Barcelona food tapas snacks dom perignon Palo Alto Market venue

The Palo Alto Markets was the venue for This Is Not A Dinner, the launch of Dom Perignon’s 2005 vintage. Photo courtesy Dom Perignon

The poet laureate of champagne confesses that he has done more listening than usual in past days. If there is to be a measure of success around the Dom Pérignon Lab, it will be feedback. Geoffroy won’t answer the “what worked, what didn’t” questions from food writers.

It wasn’t about food and wine matching, he says, it was about perception. “It was excessive. I loved it. It was so biased – nothing straight or rational. As a whole, the food expressed the spectrum, not to say complexity, of the wine. What counts is the overall memory, the sensation.”

What he anticipates the collaboration will bring to the Dom Pérignon brand is a new third-party licence to create. “Freedom to create is very important. Take sport, something I see as the ultimate creation. To deliver that extra 1000th of a second, you have to be free.”

Source Qantas The Australian Way, June 2015. Photos courtesy Dom Pérignon




Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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