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Ferran Adrià Comes to the Nelson-Atkins Museum Kansas City

By Jon Benedict | April 01, 2015
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Can food be art? Not just pretty, or composed, or creative, but actual art: sublime, transcendent, beautiful, both elevated and elevating.

Fifty years ago or more, such a question would not even have been asked, certainly not outside of the most rarified haute-cuisine restaurants in France, and even then the idea would have had the flavor of the ludicrous or transgressive.

But in the last 20 years, the question seems less absurd, even without a consensus answer. I’ve heard and read plenty of arguments on both sides.

One of the strongest arguments one could make that food can be art would be Ferran Adrià.

Unless you are among the more obsessively informed foodies, or a culinary-focused world traveler, you could be forgiven for not knowing who Ferran Adrià is. There’s a good chance, though, that you have eaten a dish that owes something to one of Adrià’s revolutionary ideas.

Since the late 1980s, Adrià was the co-owner, head chef, and creative engine of elBulli on the eastern coast of Spain. Everything about elBulli was remarkable. Diners were served one tasting menu comprised of as many as 30 “courses,” most often single bites. Reservations were regularly sold out years ahead of time. ElBulli won three Michelin stars and, between 2002 and 2009, it was named the world’s best restaurant by Restaurant Magazine a record five times before closing in 2011.

Ferran Adrià sketches

The food innovations that came out of the elBulli kitchen proved most revelatory and influential. Adrià is often saddled with the culinary description “molecular gastronomy,” and it’s silly to think he isn’t largely responsible for the popularization of many methods associated with that awkward term. However, he prefers thinking of his cooking as “deconstructivist,” where familiar dishes and culinary expectations are taken apart, examined and researched, reimagined, and remade unexpectedly.

Adrià’s dishes can often sound ridiculous, almost imaginary, until you see the dish: a margarita made out of a cube of frozen ‘snow’ topped with salted foam; “caviar” made of tiny spheres of melon juice that burst in your mouth; transparent, disappearing “ravioli.” He was at his best when what he imagined required a whole new way of cooking, even the development of new tools, to create.

At elBulli, the development of new dishes was not an ad hoc process. The restaurant was only open for six months out of each year, the remainder of which was spent by Adrià and his team in a workshop and laboratory, coming up with and perfecting a new menu for the following year.

Rather than begin with a recipe, Adrià often started with a drawing— his creative process generally began visually, so elBulli dishes were sketched as they were developed. Those drawings, collected and curated, now provide a remarkable insight into his creative process and the innovation it inspired in the kitchens everywhere. Adrià’s sketches and models, along with two films about elBulli¸ are showing now through August 2nd in “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity, Visualizing the Mind of a Master Chef” a major exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City. The show opened on February 28th and runs through August 2. Location: Galleries L14-L15.

To a larger degree than any other single chef in the world, Ferran Adrià has helped define what it means to cook creatively today, and he has done so with a process that is as much artistic (and scientific) as it is culinary. This exhibition provides a glimpse into the mind of this world-renowned chef to see how his dedication to cultivating inspiration, investigation, and innovation changed food forever.

For details about public programs, hours, and admission visit The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Website or call 816.751.1278. The Nelson-Atkins MOA is located at 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO 64111

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