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Colman Andrews Offers Food for Thought

Colman Andrews is one of America’s foremost culinary personalities. Author of multiple books and co-founder of Saveur magazine, Mr. Andrews knows food. From arepas to zafrani, he’s 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. We’re into organic and sustainable, farm-to-table and zero food miles. And on the other hand, we tend to think of food as trends, what’s 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! It’s been around for 6000 years and now it’s out!’ That kind of stuff is really silly. But we’re getting better. It’s 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. It’s 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 wasn’t 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 he’d been repairing his car I’d probably be a mechanic by now.” His modesty is genuine. “I keep doing it because it’s what I seem to know how to do. I don’t really understand a lot of the process, and I don’t understand how I begin an article, really, it’s kind of a mystery to me. And I don’t want to examine it too much because I’m afraid it will go away. But there are some people who could sit down at a piano and know how to play. I can’t. Some people just put a pencil in their hands and are able to draw. I can’t. Somehow I just know how to put words together. It’s just what I do.”

It’s 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 I’ve had many chefs say this to me in slightly different ways, has nothing to do with any of the specifics. It’s simply that he’s shown them or told them or reminded them that anything is possible, that they don’t have to do things a certain way just because that’s how they’ve been taught. Ferran brings a sense of curiosity and wonder into the kitchen. He’s 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 can’t help but ask him about his favorite local dining destination. As he hesitates, I’m thinking he’ll name a friend’s house, or defer completely, if only to avoid hurt feelings. But, he surprises me.

“There’s this taco truck, just over the Stamford line, El Charrito. Everything is done to order. The carnitas, the tacos, it’s all really, really great. He does some cactus in the salads. Really good stuff.  It reminds me of California.”

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