About a month ago, I returned from a long roadtrip in the US, fired up my computer, and saw a tweet about Richard Ekkebus getting Ferran Adrià to come to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Being a HUGE fan of Ferran's, I immediately fired off a tweet to Richard, jokingly asking him "who do I hv 2 kill 4 a seat?" Richard rather cleverly suggested that I "shoot" an email to him, and so I did as I was told. Soon I had myself a table, and went about recruiting partners in crime.
There was some debate among my friends about whether the price of the dinner was "worth it" or "reasonable". I gotta admit that when I first found out about the cost of dinner - which was, admittedly, AFTER I had asked for a table - I experienced a little sticker shock myself. First of all... this was a book tour by Ferran. Everyone gets a set of the massive elBulli 2005-2011, the seven-volume compendium published by Phaidon that weighs a whopping 18kg... This presents a problem for some couples, who don't need 2 sets of books at home... and has led at least one couple to decline my invitation.
Stripping out the list price of the books makes the cost of the 12-course dinner, wine-pairing included, somewhat more palatable. But here we run into another objection from some people : for the not-inconsiderable price, what's on the plate isn't actually cooked by Ferran or his team. It's a menu put together by Richard and Amber Chef de Cuisine Maxime Gilbert - in consultation with (and obviously "approved by") Ferran. So it's not exactly equivalent to a "guest chef" performance. What you get comes 100% from Team Amber (with all due respect from this very fine team).
Comparisons were immediately made with the time Thomas Keller flew in with his team for a guest chef program at the Mandarin Oriental, and how diners experienced sticker shock back then (including myself, before later being told how much free-flowing wine was being poured at those dinners). People scoffed this time just as they did back then.
But plenty of people wanted in on this. Richard was jokingly being compared to Willy Wonka - holding the "golden ticket". Lots of people were more than happy to pay, only to be left empty-handed and upset. That's what you call "star power", and only a few people in the culinary world today command that kind of power.
As for me... even though I knew the cost of the dinner defied normal logic, but having been a huge fan of Ferran for the last 10 years (and having become an even bigger fan after having dinner with him two years ago), I dutifully bit the bullet and paid up. I wasn't gonna miss this!
In retrospect I kinda regret not going to the press event yesterday. It would have given me a chance to greet him a day earlier, but I didn't really think about spending my lunch hour at the event. And I'm sure his speech was a little different from the one he gave tonight, judging from friends' posts on social media.
After a round of Champagne and snacks, Richard made a short speech to introduce Ferran. He explained that each dish tonight was inspired by techniques developed by elBulli during a certain year (and was marked as such), and that tonight's dinner was by no means a copy of the dishes at elBulli.
- an interesting analogy was made between going to a restaurant and watching a movie. When a diner orders à la carte at a restaurant based on the diner's own preferences, sometimes one ends up "watching the wrong movie" and leaves without the full experience. When the diner is served an entire tasting menu designed by the chef, he/she is able to experience the story as the chef/director had intended.
- there are few, if any, scholarships for talented young people wishing to pursue a career in gastronomy. Ferran wishes to change that, to encourage young people to enter this field, and introduced a young girl present who expressed her wish to work for him.
- the rationale behind publishing the compendium was to document the creative process as well as the inspiration behind the dishes. He was approached one night by diners who enjoyed the dishes, but wanted to understand the "why". Ferran proceeded to ask the room to guess the rationale behind the dish where the diner is asked to suckle on a flower to extract nectar, before explaining that he wanted diners to experience what it feels like to be a bee.
- Ferran also made the point that, when one looks at a masterpiece, frame of reference is lost if one does not know the year or era that the art was created. Hence the importance of dating their culinary creations.
Anyway... after everyone has had a chance to pose for pics with Ferran and Richard, we all took our seats and waited for dinner to be served... As it turns out, I've had a number of the dishes before.
First, the snacks that came with the first bubbly:
this lunch in 2013. Loved starting with something sweet and refreshing.
this dinner in 2013. What's not to love about a deep-fried ball of liquid pig?!
this lunch in 2013. Amazing how the baguette just seems to crumble and disappear with a poof!
at this dinner in 2014.
at this dinner in 2007, and one of Amber's signatures which has been taken off the menu. My Favorite Cousin declared that she wished she could be served one of these every half-hour...
this lunch in 2014. Absolutely loooooove both the texture and bite of the cuttlefish "noodles", along with the "carbonara" sauce. Of course the white truffle shavings didn't hurt, either!
this dinner in 2014. Just loooove the texture and the flavors of the chocolate sphere and mousse. The peanut butter ice cream on the side was pretty delish, too!
this lunch in 2010.