An interesting visual, phenomonen occurred during the editing of the Spain show. Though Albert Adria had graciously agreed to appear in a scene in the El Bulli \”taller\” (workshop), and another (since edited out) at a restaurant in Barcelona, like some kind of ghostly optical illusion, or a \”Where\’s Waldo\” book, he kept popping up.
The hapless, ZPZ tape-loggers, caffeine-jacked myrmidons who toil away in the filthy sub-cellar of our corporate headquarters, reviewing hour after hour of mind-numbingly repetitive and boring video tape, noticing this spectral apparition, began to lose their already tentative grips on reality. One scene after another, a glimpse here, a face in the crowd there, lurking suspiciously in the background in another scene, down the bar a few positions, pretending he doesn\’t know me in another — or front and center; there he is.
It\’s Albert\’s very ubiquitousness in the raw footage, his omnipresence — even in the scenes where the viewer won\’t see him, that tells you all you need to know about Spain — and how damn good it is.
Understand: Albert, along with his brother, Ferran, is a chef/owner of the three Michelin starred El Bulli, the hardest to reserve, restaurant table in the world. He\’s a national hero, an international superstar in the world of chefs and restaurants. Suffice to say that just about anywhere in the world of fine dining, from Shanghai to San Francisco; when Albert walks in the door, the whole place goes on Red Alert. He\’s used to the very best. If there\’s a downside to his life in the culinary firmament, it\’s that too much foie gras, truffles and expensive wine come his way.
As a chef at El Bulli, hugely respected pastry chef — and as the owner of a casual eatery in Barcelona, he can surely have the very best Spanish ingredients delivered anywhere he wants, quickly, with a phone call. You\’d think, he\’d be a bit …..jaded by it all.
Yet, there he was at Espinaler, gobbling up those supernaturally delicious, canned cockles and razor clams and mussels like he\’d never had them before. Tagging along at Quimet and Quimet, shoveling in the tapas with a big smile on his face. Out in the country, with a silly red bib, a blissed-out expression, sucking down the calcots and the red wine like it was his last meal on earth.
I\’ve never seen anyone so happy to be in Spain — and (this is my point here) HE FREAKIN\’ LIVES THERE!!!
All that magnificent food — all those cool little tapas bars, they\’re right down the street–and yet, it was like he just landed in Barcelona from Mars. His enthusiasm for his own country, his own heritage, the everyday places and things of Spain was something to see.
Naturally this made me misanthropic and deeply envious.
Why can\’t I have that? How come I gotta go halfway across the earth — to like, Singapore, or Hong Kong (or Spain), for instance, to really get MY culinary jollies these days? He\’s on a magic carpet ride in his own town and I\’m like a full-bloom junkie, the honeymoon period over, needing a higher and higher dosage to get off in MY home town of New York!. Why?
The sad fact is, we\’ll never — and I mean NEVER have it so good as in Spain. It\’s not like we don\’t have great restaurants in Manhattan – -and will surely have many more. And certainly, we can get many of the same ingredients jetted over (more or les s– if at a steep price). No. It\’s attitudinal. You can faithfully reproduce the look of a Spanish tapas bar in New York City. You can stock it with all the best, most authentic ingredients, just-jerked from the rivers, streams, soil and seas of Spain. You can staff the joint with the best cooks, dragooned off the streets of the parta vieja. And you\’ll still never be close to the real thing. Because what your tapas bar needs — really needs — is three or four or eight OTHER tapas bars (or casual Spanish eateries within walking distance).
You can\’t really enjoy this kind of food in a vacuum. You need to graze — or at least know that you can graze (should the urge arise), bouncing from one place to another, a mouthful or two of what\’s good here, a glass of tinto, a few mouthfuls of what they do well over there — another glass of tinto and so on. In fact, the whole customer base has to re-groove to accommodate this notion. They\’ll have to accept the idea that a small can of tuna — or clams — can actually be better than fresh stuff. And worth about $150 bucks.
That the fat of Spanish acorn fed pigs is the stuff of which dreams are made. That there\’s nothing unusual about growing up with Goya, Dali, Bunuel, and Gaudi. That midnite is a normal time to sit down to dinner.
The best example of What They Do In Spain that We Can and Never Will Do is to be found in the Extebarri scene near the end of the show. Here, at a rustic pub in the mountains near St. Sebastian, grilling has been raised to unthinkable zen-like heights. Hand made charcoals. A separate fire for each individual order. Separate grills — and custom designed and crafted pans and implements to best achieve perfection.
Ingredients of a quality undreamed of by most mortals. This, in a simple, neighborhood-looking joint with a smoky bar and a self-taught chef who grew up in the village. It\’s where the Adrias, Arzaks and Aduriz\’s go for their own pleasure — high end comfort food.
Back before cable, if you took a baseball bat and smacked it upside a television set in the middle of a show, there\’d be a black and white sputter, a flash — and then white noise and static. That was what my first bite of grilled elvers was like there. And the grilled gambas. And just about everything else in that chilly, wood-smoke smelling kitchen. A jarring, flood of endorphins, then brain overload, and for a second, a blinding light. Momentarily, the synapses shorted out. Sensation returned in a warm, intensely pleasurable afterglow of flavor. It was a sensation that related directly to the experience of a few weeks before — in Tokyo. At Sukibayashi Jiro. Two seemingly simple things done well — as well as they can be done. In Tokyo: old school sushi.
In Spain, grilled stuff with a little salt and a light spritz of oil.
Nothing, as it turns out, could be better