If Food Be The Music #2

“In this stunning restaurant in the Basque Country, complete with vast vegetable gardens, chef Andoni Aduriz likes to play with nature, time and emotions.”

1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die

I’d be a chef if I wasn’t a musician. They’re pretty much the same thing to me. In jazz we make real-time choices about the management of dissonance and consonance in the same way chefs balance Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Umami.

Chefs are obsessed with perfection. They agonise over detail and they grapple with the artistic responsibilities that come with technical prowess. The true masters show how virtuosity and simplicity can coexist in harmony on a plate and that even the most radical creations can voice respect for tradition.

     “I have done nothing apart from cook for the last 10 years. I’ve had no social life to speak of, no real time to myself and there’s been a lot of pain and suffering getting here.”

– Marco Pierre White

Reading this causes the same flush of admiration in me as the fabled 10-plus-hours-a-day shedding sessions of Charlie Parker and Steve Vai. The dedication and work ethic of the masters is astonishing, intimidating and inspiring. 

Inevitably, musicians utilise a synesthetic poetry – a word-world of tastes, colours, textures, feels, flavours – that we’ve been forced to steal because we’re starved of adequate language to describe the stuff that feeds our ears: our produce. I wonder if us musos can pilfer from food philosophy as well…? After all, we’re all in the business of Beauty.

It’s significant that I get excited about food and music in similar way. This is why I want to tell you about a TV program I watched recently that ignited something inside me like a tandoor oven. The bulk of what I watch on TV is cookery shows. Surprisingly though, I’ve never really checked out Masterchef and it was purely by accident that I stumbled upon the Mugaritz episode of ‘The Professionals’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SROpeXG34cw

A friend of mine is married to a top British chef and she mentioned on Facebook that her celeb-chef husband was appearing in the episode to be broadcast that night. I’m a bit of a fan so decided to watch on iPlayer…and chose the wrong installment. This proved to be highly fortuitous.

There’s so much about Mugaritz the restaurant and Andoni Luis Aduriz the man I want to channel into music.

Mugaritz looks to Nature for inspiration – it’s set in the breathtaking hills of San Sebastian, arguably Europe’s new culinary Mecca. Being immersed in Nature is good for the chefs (and customers), who being away from urban chaos, have time and space to pause and create. The kitchen is a collaborative effort where “the extraordinary happens.” Dishes usually consist of 1 or 2 local ingredients treated with cutting-edge techniques and processes.

– 3 things jump out at me here;

  • Space to create
  • The power of collaboration
  • Minimal components + technical wizardry. 

Furthermore, Andoni says customers tell him that there’s something about Mugaritz that opens them up to all possibilities – to elements they’d never normally try.

Imagine if we could do that with our audience – with people who don’t get jazz.

Andoni, who failed his first year of culinary college, eventually found his voice working under Ferran Adria at El Bulli. He says, “It (El Bulli) taught me how to think with freedom, to think in a different way”. 

I love his attitude. He has that playful thing – you can see the inner child in his face when he demonstrates ‘Decadence’ – a dish that has just 3 elements and took 2 years to perfect. It’s made of smoked cream, preserved truffle, decorated with flowers from their garden and eaten with a fork made of sugar. So simple but the sense of purpose is striking. As one of the Masterchefs remarks, “everything is there for a reason.”

The parallel with music is as clear as the finest consommé.

Notice his choice of words when he says that the Masterchefs – these aliens to their process – present “a challenge” to the workings of their finely tuned kitchen. This is a man who relishes pressure and adapts easily when out of his comfort zone. Allowing three outsiders (albeit highly skilled) to work in the 4th best restaurant in the world after one day of training should be cause for severe anxiety but Andoni is too cool for all that – “We don’t know what can happen and that’s exciting”. To allow this, Andoni must therefore relinquish control and have trust.

Andoni says of another dish, Eucalyptus smoked lamb with cultivated wool, that it’s “…very simple in terms of its expression…but is accompanied by an element which is extremely disconcerting…very unexpected.”

That element is mould. It’s grown over lime juice and agar-agar and then dried out to make a blanket for the lamb.

Mental! Shocking! It turns out that was the finished dish in Andoni’s head from the moment of conception – take a beautiful piece of lamb and drape over a mould jacket. This is a guy who likes to pickle people’s brains. (Not actually, I don’t mean). 

The guru tells the Masterchefs that the most important thing is to FORGET EVERYTHING AND ENJOY YOURSELVES.

The three Masterchefs are challenged to invent a dish each which should at least hint at Andoni’s unique sense of creative freedom. It’s incredibly inspiring how they rise to this challenge, how quickly they adapt, how well they function outside their comfort zones and how encouraging Andoni is.

It’s not easy to impress a man who knows as much as Andoni and yet he’s full of praise and warmth.

Maybe there’s an answer here to people who are concerned that too much knowledge might tarnish the magic of art. Andoni sees straight through the technique and construction of the competitors’ dishes and yet he still delights in the experience. He’s no less excited by perfection just because there’s no mystery for him. 

All three dishes are astonishing. Indeed, Andoni says they are “outrageously beautiful” and “perfect”. I found the oxheart tomato ‘impregnated‘ with lemon thyme and roast onion juice jumped out at me. Andoni likes this dish because it makes him think. The raw ingredients tell an evocative and sensual story and the tomato with caviar tastes “incredible”. For me, it’s the bravery of the dish that is remarkable. For an artist with so much technique, so much to prove and so much at stake to present something so stark that isn’t even ‘cooked’ in the traditional sense takes immense courage.   

I want some of that.       

What can we do with all this then? How do we interpret the work of Mugaritz in music?

TBC…

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