AFAR contributing writer Lisa Abend talks to three of the world’s most talented chefs: Enrique Olvera (left) of Mexico City’s Pujol, Spain’s culinary wizard Ferran Adrià (center) of elBulli fame, and Ben Shewry (right) of Melbourne’s visionary Attica. Here, they share their cravings, most memorable meals, and more.
What is your favorite food destination?
“Oaxaca is my favorite place on earth. I go two or three times a year and always eat at Casa Oaxaca. The flavors of the region’s food are extremely strong and unique. Going to a market there is one of the most beautiful experiences you’ll ever have.”
What was one of your top meals of the past year?
“I had a wonderful meal at Malabar in Lima, Peru. I’m a big fan of Pedro Miguel Schiaffino. His execution of Amazonian ingredients is very thoughtful. The most difficult thing as a chef is to cook in a style that shows who you are. Pedro’s food is subtle and elegant, but it still shows his personality.”
How do you decide where to eat when you travel?
“I ask local chefs and also refer to Adam Goldberg’s blog, A Life Worth Eating.”
What dish at Pujol best reflects your cooking philosophy?
“My infusion of quelites, wild Mexican herbs, is simple, but it showcases Mexico’s terroir.”
If you could fly anywhere for a meal, where would you go?
“Mibu [the fabled eight-seat restaurant in Tokyo] is a one-of-a-kind experience. There is more feeling in that food than in any I have ever tasted.” Note: A members-only policy means only a lucky few are invited to taste the kaiseki-style menu of dishes such as pike conger eel served in a dashi with chrysanthemum petals.
Where is the current center of culinary innovation?
“In Denmark, Norway, Peru, Brazil, and Mexico we’re seeing a new style of cooking that I’ll call ‘emergent cuisine.’ Chefs are fusing the philosophies of nouvelle cuisine and the techno-emotional cooking [also called molecular gastronomy] that caused a food revolution in the 1990s.”
What was your best food experience of 2012?
“Compartir is a new spot in Cadaqués, Spain, run by three former chefs from elBulli. The food is traditional and simple, [with dishes such as gazpacho and pan con tomate] but full of emotion.”
Is there a particular part of the world that informs your cooking?
“The Western world hasn’t caught up with the importance and complexity of Asian cuisine. It’s important for me not to rip off inspirations from my travels without acknowledging that techniques I just learned are thousands of years old. Take Royal Thai cuisine, for example. It’s incredibly technical. I can learn from it, but I wouldn’t bastardize it with my clumsy improvisations.”
What food do you search out when you travel?
“I’m a self-proclaimed fried rice aficionado. When I visited Singapore’s Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, I pitted the famous Tian Tian stall against the young upstart Ahi Tai in a Hainanese chicken rice war. Tian Tian was the clear winner for its superior broth and soft chicken.”
What was your favorite food pilgrimage of 2012?
“I drove the coast of Southern California and ate at 25 taquerias in five days. I had tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus with afternoon tea.”
Photo illustration by Gluekit. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.