Span­iSh high

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

AT THE start of this cen­tury, the world de­cided that Spain was the New France. Whereas France was bor­ing, snob­bish and stuffy, Spain was vi­brant, artis­tic and full of in­no­va­tion. So, French wine was dull, Span­ish wine was un­der-rated. And French food was pre­ten­tious while Span­ish food was cut­ting-edge. through an in­ter­preter) and his pas­sion car­ried the ar­gu­ment through; though it may have helped that there was wine be­ing served at the lunch where I in­ter­viewed him.

Fer­ran Adria, whom I in­ter­viewed some years later, was more cir­cum­spect in his views. He had the air of a man who was used to be­ing at­tacked. He bris­tled at the use of the term “molec­u­lar cui­sine” and said that it suited the French (who had very lit­tle re­spect for him – at least, ini­tially) to por­tray him as the mad sci­en­tist in the kitchen be­cause they could then dis­miss his food. As for Santi’s crit­i­cism, that, he sug­gested, was just pol­i­tics.

Santi is now dead. And Adria has closed El Bulli. But their es­sen­tial bat­tle about the na­ture of cui­sine con­tin­ues. My sense is that Adria won the bat­tle – if you have ever been served a foam, a freeze-dried fruit or a sphere, then your meal has been in­flu­enced by El Bulli. But Santi may have won the war. There is a back­lash against sci­ence-in-food and the cur­rent fash­ion in food (say Noma) owes more to Santi’s ven­er­a­tion of the earth than to Adria’s sci­ence.

What is clear, how­ever, is that Spain is not the New France. It is just Spain. And that should be good enough. Even as mem­o­ries of Santi and El Bulli fade, Spain still re­mains one of the world’s great des­ti­na­tions and the gas­tro­nomic cen­tre has spread to other re­gions of the coun­try: San Se­bas­tian, for ex­am­ple. Last fort­night, in Madrid, I was re­minded of the fad­ing lega­cies of the two great­est Span­ish chefs of the early part of the cen­tury.

Paco Ron­cero is one of Spain’s best-known chefs and his Ter­raza del Casino has two Miche­lin stars. Ron­cero worked closely with Adria (who was a con­sul­tant to Ter­raza) and his food is some­times re­garded as a log­i­cal con­tin­u­a­tion of the El Bulli menu.

I had an in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing meal at Ter­raza. Some of this was be­cause of the sur­round­ings. Fer­ran Adria’s brother runs Tick­ets in Barcelona, a won­der­ful restau­rant which un­der­stands that the only way to make molec­u­lar cui­sine work to­day is to fo­cus on the fun as­pects: sur­prise, in­no­va­tion and the joy of dis­cov­ery.

Sadly Ter­raza takes it­self too se­ri­ously. It is a strange room – more like a gray cor­ri­dor – on top of a pri­vate mem­bers club with a strict jack­ets-for-men pol­icy and a solemn 23-course menu. Some of the old El Bulli clas­sics are dusted over (the spher­i­fied olive, for in­stance) but the rest of the menu is gim­mick af­ter

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