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Monday, November 2, 2009


The big boss paid us a visit a little while ago. Yep, Ferran Adria was on site! To say the least, it was a thrilling event. While his spirit and style constantly radiate throughout Alicia, it remains a rare day that Chef Adria is actually here. A rare day, and a really exciting one. A really exciting one, and a pretty stressful one too! We were all abuzz with nerves and anticipation, each of us in our cleanest, whitest, most freshly pressed chef jackets, and eager to show-off our current projects.

He arrived shortly after nine o’clock in the morning. I remember I was sitting at my desk, thoroughly immersed with something on my computer screen, when an advancing shadow in my peripheral vision caught my attention. I looked up just as he was upon me, only mere feet away, and looking right at me. And a split second later I was shaking his hand! I hardly even had a chance to swallow the hugeness of this moment, it all happened so fast.

He spent the entire day at the Alicia Foundation. We were hosting a special event for diabetes education. The topic of the day was actually a pretty neat concept – let me fill you in. Alicia has been involved with an ongoing project to develop healthful meals for diabetics by employing the modern gastronomical techniques made so famous by Chef Adria. For instance, last week I experimented with making mashed potato foam. It was a simple concoction composed just of boiled potatoes, their cooking water, egg whites and a touch of salt. I pureed the potatoes with the water, mixed in the egg whites, seasoned it with a touch of salt, and added the puree to a siphon. A little squeeze, and out came light and fluffy mashed potato foam. With so much air whipped in, it looked just like a full portion of mashed potatoes, but contained about a tenth the calories! Isn’t that neat!? Not the tastiest version of mashed potatoes out there, but really wonderful for someone who normally wouldn't be ablt to enjoy them because of health concerns.

Anyways, back to the subject on hand (my, do I like to get off on food-related tangents or what!). This diabetic education conference is what brought Ferran Adria to us, on that very fine day at the Alicia Foundation. He spent the morning at the conference, and after lunch, spent some time browsing through the kitchen while we all intently worked on our respective projects (I was canning pickled green tomatoes). Talk about a nerve-racking situation! But in all truth, as intimidating a force as he is, up close he pretty much just seemed like a nice guy. He even was generous enough to take his picture with each and every one of us interns!

But Chef Adria was not the only celebrity chef in town that day… Three other chefs have been making some pretty big waves of their own here in Catalonia. I’m referring to none other than myself and the two other CIA graduates here with me, Emily and Ruth. While I don’t quite understand it, our work here has been causing a bit of local interest and getting a lot of public attention. While I’d love to take credit for our popularity, I’m pretty certain this special attention we’re getting is a direct result of the newly organized collaboration between the Alicia Foundation and the CIA. But hey, whatever the reason, I’ll take it!

Last Thursday, the local newspaper featured a story about our work here at Alicia. We had known about it in advance – Ruth, the only one here who speaks Spanish, had given an interview – but all three of us were absolutely floored when we the saw the picture! One of the chefs at work had brought in a copy, and we all huddled around laughing and exclaiming at our local stardom. I’d forgotten about the thrill of it all by later that night, and when I passed a newsstand, I had a feeling there was something I needed to get there… And then it hit me. Of course! The newspaper starring us! Forgetting the name of the publication, I had to flip through every page of a few different papers in search of the only page that, as far as I cared, mattered at all. Avoiding the eyes of the clerk behind the counter, to whom I didn’t have the Spanish skills to explain myself, I finally came across our article. With three euros and a grin on my face, I pointed out our picture to the confused clerk, who smiled himself and seemed alltogether pretty impressed. Minutes later, I opened the door to our apartment calling “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” and was instantly greeted with excited cries from Ruth and Emily, who had until that moment also forgotten all about our big newspaper debut!

The three of us are also going to be featured on a television episode in a series of Catalan documentaries. The series focuses on local culinary products, and each episode features a Catalan specialty – say, a certain variety of hazelnut or Clementine or olive, or a favorite artisanal cheese. The documentary covers the work of the producers and growers, and also focuses on the consumers of these foodstuffs, spanning all over the world. Brian, the director of the program, has traveled to multiple countries, interviewing those who use and eat these specialty products from Catalonia. Our story doesn’t exactly fit within this framework, but the essence is the same – three foreign chefs exploring the rich world of Catalan food and cooking. The cameras have followed us during work, and at home, and even while exploring Barcelona. It all feels a bit silly, but it’s been an interesting experience, and a pretty fun one too. I’ve definitely gotten a big kick out of the whole crazy affair! It’s just a little touch of extra excitement, in a trip that’s already packed full of it.

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