Despite the accolades and constant fawning by the Spanish and international press, Ferran Adria, who from his elBulli restaurant changed world food, is a chef with his culinary roots firmly planted in the food culture of his native Catalonia. This is a practical cuisine that makes the most of every morsel of food and, although it's delicious, it's based on times of scarcity.
Just before his tour to Australia to launch his latest book, elBulli: 2005-2011, we asked the five-time ''world's best chef'' for some sage advice to make our kitchen lives more fulfilling and creative, and our home meals more delicious.
''I primarily consider myself to be a chef and I act as chef, but creativity is my passion,'' he says. ''And, because of that, my work is considered as art by many experts, which flatters me.''
Want to ask Ferran Adria a question? He will be online on Thursday, April 10, from 12.30-1.30pm. Leave him a question: here.
Adria was born in Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million people that proudly supports more than a dozen fresh food markets, the most famous of which is La Boqueria.
''My greatest pleasure is to go to the market,'' Adria says. ''There I am able to buy the ingredients that I like and which I feel like eating,'' he says. ''And then to cook them using the most appropriate technique and combination of flavours that will please the whole family.''
''There are so many interesting, exciting things to do with main ingredients, like fish or meat,'' he says. ''You can liven them up with various sauces.'' One of the sauces Adria advocates is romesco sauce. Originally from Tarragona, to the south of Barcelona, it is a thick, rich, nutty bitter-sweet paste that complements perfectly the flavours of anything that come from the barbecue grill, such as pumpkin, zucchini, chicken pieces, lamb chops and grilled fish. It's one of the sauces that predominates his practical The Family Meal, a cookbook that collects the recipes that fed his team of chefs during the halcyon days of elBulli.
''Grilling is one of the oldest cooking techniques,'' Adria says. He is a huge advocate of using old-fashioned charcoal barbecues, such as the Weber, and suggests you try it at some stage. ''It is very important to use a good-quality coal, so that the food you cook acquires the pleasant fragrance of charcoal. The best foods for cooking over direct heat, that is grilling at high temperature, are pieces of meat, fish and vegetables which need only a relatively short cooking time to make them tender.''
For beginners, he says, ''Barbecuing is not the best option for meats that require a longer cooking time, as the result will be firm and uninteresting.''
For cooking meat conventionally on a stove top, he suggests we follow his ''heat equation'':
1. The intensity of heat should be high.
2. The amount of oil in the pan should be minimal.
3. The pan should be thick: the thicker the pan, the better the heat will be distributed over the surface, as the entire surface does not come into contact with the heating element or flame.
4. The quantity of meat should be proportionate to the pan surface area. If you put too much meat in a small pan, the pan will lose too much heat.
Adria comes from a seafood-loving culture and, while he would combine the flavours of mussels with lychee at elBulli, he suggests a more traditional approach in the home.
''I prefer to cook seafood very simply to respect and bring out its natural flavour,'' he says. ''I then add a subtle taste nuance that complements it.''
The recipe for Adria's mussels in paprika feeds six and takes less than half an hour to prepare.
For years one of the top-rating shows on Catalan Television has been Cacadors de Bolets (The Mushroom Hunters), which combines mountain-side mushroom foraging with slapstick humour.
Aware that we are heading into our southern autumn when wild mushrooms are poking their heads through the warm, wet soil, Adria suggests we make the most of the seasonal bounty.
''In The Family Meal, there are two recipes with mushrooms that are very appropriate for autumn.'' He recommends a risotto with mushrooms and a classic Catalan dish that combines mushrooms with fresh sausage. ''Both dishes are very easy to make and the result is very satisfying,'' he says.
When asked: ''What are some unorthodox flavour combinations you have unearthed that give unexpected pleasure,'' he responds gleefully. ''These flavours should normally clash, but they actually work together. Unusual food combinations awaken the senses and generate an emotional response in the diner.'' He suggests we consider the following combinations: sardines, mango and black pepper; white asparagus, licorice root and butter; oyster, bacon and pistachio; calf marrow, caviar and cauliflower; coconut, chocolate and curry powder; mussels, lychees and fennel.
While it may seem prosaic for Adria, for him the most simple kitchen utensils are the most useful. ''One needs a pencil and paper,'' he says, ''not just to note down ideas that come to you, but other necessary information.'' One also needs ''a knife and energy''. To this he adds the following: a large, medium and small saucepan, a non-stick frying pan, wooden spoons, a whisk, spatula, mortar and pestle, and grater.
''In the pantry, there are always fundamental basic ingredients. I would say that salt, sugar, oil, eggs, milk and wheat flour are the most basic products used in cooking.''
He also includes garlic, onion and potatoes as pantry staples, along with rice, pasta, pulses, tomato sugo and anchovies.
Here is his method to perfectly poach eggs:
1. Bring a pot of water to just below boiling point.
2. Crack the egg into a small bowl.
3 Slide the egg gently into the water. Cook for three to four minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
As pointed out in The Family Meal, ''many people consider chips the perfect accompaniment to meat dishes'', so here is Adria's ''best chips'' recipe:
1. Peel, cut, wash and dry the potatoes, then blanch them quickly in hot oil (140C) in a deep fryer. They should not change colour at this stage. This can be done in advance.
2. Just before serving, fry the chips in very hot oil (180C) until golden and crisp.
While grounded in reality, Adria still maintains the kitchen is a place of creation and experimentation.
He encourages readers to follow in his footsteps.
''Over time, even the most cutting-edge techniques that have been invented and used in haute cuisine will be adapted to the home cooking environment and they will become commonplace,'' he says.
''A good example of this is the foams we made with a siphon.
''We created them at elBulli in 1994 and they were fashionable in haute cuisine.
''As it is not a complicated or expensive technique, nowadays many home cooks use one themselves.''
Sausages with mushrooms
The original recipe asks for butifarra, a classic Catalan sausage, but a good, fresh Italian-style sausage from a reputable butcher will make this hearty autumnal dish truly tasty.
750g coarse Italian sausages
6 tbsp olive oil
12 garlic cloves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
120ml dry sherry
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Squeeze the filling from the sausages and form into walnut-sized balls. Heat four tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the sausage meat over a medium heat for three to four minutes, stirring, until golden on all sides. Peel and lightly crush the garlic and add to the pan with the sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Fry for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Clean, trim and quarter the mushrooms. Pour the sherry into the pan and deglaze. Remove from the heat. In another frying pan add the remaining oil and fry the mushrooms over a medium-high heat for five minutes until golden. Add the mushrooms to the sausages and cook for 15 minutes over a medium heat. Stir in the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.
Mussels with paprika
This is a quick and easy dish with a rich but simple sauce flavoured with Spanish paprika, garlic and juice from the mussels.
3 garlic cloves
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mild Spanish paprika
3 tsp flour
1½ tbsp finely chopped parsley
Scrub and debeard the mussels under running water. Finely chop the garlic. Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat. Add garlic. Cook for one minute. Add the paprika and cook for a couple of seconds. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well making sure there are no lumps. Pour in the water and mix through to make a smooth sauce. Cook for 10 minutes or until the sauce is thickened and tasty. Add half the parsley to the sauce. Add the cleaned mussels to the pan, cover, and cook for five minutes. Serve with the rest of the parsley. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
In his The Family Meal cookbook, Ferran Adria serves this with something simple, such as a baked potato, but try it with roasted vegetables or grilled meat, fish or chicken.
500g red capsicum
1 ripe tomato
30g garlic cloves
60ml olive oil
60g blanched hazelnuts, toasted
200g rustic bread, sliced
40ml sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 220C. Place the capsicum, tomato and garlic in a roasting tin and bake for 45 minutes or until the peppers are blackened. Remove from the oven. When cool, peel the tomato and place the flesh into the food processor. Peel and de-seed the capsicum and place in the food processor. Cut the heads off the garlic and squeeze the flesh into the food processor. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the hazelnuts for four to five minutes, tossing them regularly until they are dark golden. Drain on a paper towel. Add a little more oil to the frying pan and fry bread each side until golden. Break the bread into pieces and add to the food processor with the hazelnuts. Add the remaining oil and sherry vinegar and blend to a rough paste. Season with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
RECIPES ADAPTED BY RICHARD CORNISH
CORRECTION: The recipe for romesco sauce from Ferran Adria's The Family Meal Family Cooking reprinted by Good Food on April 1 seems to contain an error. The original recipe calls for 420ml of sherry vinegar. We recommend a more suitable amount to be 40ml. This has been changed in the text.