Colman Andrews is one of Americas foremost culinary personalities. Author of multiple books and co-founder of Saveur magazine, Mr. Andrews knows food. From arepas to zafrani, hes tasted it, written about it or prepared it, often in its country of origin. No stranger to cuisines from around the globe, Mr. Andrews has zeroed in on the cooking of Catalonia. His latest book, Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food, is an intimate examination of one of the most beloved, imitated and controversial chefs in the world, Ferran Adrià, a native of the Catalan region. And on a recent stop to promote and discuss his book, the Los Angeles-born Greenwich resident graciously agreed to have a conversation with me about food, writing, and the finer points of both.
Despite his impressive résumé and distinguished epicurean pedigree, in person Mr. Andrews is quietly charming. He has a calming presence and a quick, effortless wit.
We have a very peculiar attitude toward food, he says when I ask him about the difference between American and European relationships with cuisine. On the one hand, everyone wants to grow their own food. Were into organic and sustainable, farm-to-table and zero food miles. And on the other hand, we tend to think of food as trends, whats the next big thing? I remember 20 or 25 years ago reading one of those in and out lists in a magazine and basil was out. I thought, Poor basil! Its been around for 6000 years and now its out! That kind of stuff is really silly. But were getting better. Its coming from the top down here, rather than the bottom up, as it did in Europe and other places, China comes to mind. But they have hundreds of years of food culture on us. And until there was an abundance of food, no one in the world bothered philosophizing about it. It was just about sustenance.
What I really want to know, though, is whether he prefers writing or cooking.
Writing and cooking are far less interesting to me than reading and eating, he says. Its tough to argue with such wisdom. Writing is really hard. It takes concentration and discipline. My father was a writer. He started as a journalist, and then went on to write screenplays and telvsion scripts. When he wasnt at an office, he was in his home office at the back of his bedroom, sitting there at a typewriter all day. I just thought that was what guys did. If hed been repairing his car Id probably be a mechanic by now. His modesty is genuine. I keep doing it because its what I seem to know how to do. I dont really understand a lot of the process, and I dont understand how I begin an article, really, its kind of a mystery to me. And I dont want to examine it too much because Im afraid it will go away. But there are some people who could sit down at a piano and know how to play. I cant. Some people just put a pencil in their hands and are able to draw. I cant. Somehow I just know how to put words together. Its just what I do.
Its tough to distill his 300-page tome on Ferran Adrià down to a few words, but I ask him to do it anyway.
I think the most important thing that he did as far as other chefs are concerned, and Ive had many chefs say this to me in slightly different ways, has nothing to do with any of the specifics. Its simply that hes shown them or told them or reminded them that anything is possible, that they dont have to do things a certain way just because thats how theyve been taught. Ferran brings a sense of curiosity and wonder into the kitchen. Hes almost childlike, or he was in the beginning. Willfully naïve.
His latest project is an online oasis for foodies: The Daily Meal. "It's in its nascent stages," he tells me. "We have a lot of good stuff in the pipeline. It's growing."
As our interview closes, I cant help but ask him about his favorite local dining destination. As he hesitates, Im thinking hell name a friends house, or defer completely, if only to avoid hurt feelings. But, he surprises me.
Theres this taco truck, just over the Stamford line, El Charrito. Everything is done to order. The carnitas, the tacos, its all really, really great. He does some cactus in the salads. Really good stuff. It reminds me of California.
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