In a guest post for Food & Wine, Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer reveals the culinary adventures that went down when El Bulli’s legendary chef Ferran Adrià visited town.

By Jonathan Sawyer
Updated May 23, 2017

In a guest post for Food & Wine, Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer reveals the culinary adventures that went down when El Bulli’s legendary chef Ferran Adrià visited town.

The King returned to Cleveland. No, I’m not talking about LeBron, I’m taking about the king of culinary innovation, chef Ferran Adrià. This past weekend, the venerable El Bulli chef traveled to the Rust Belt to celebrate the installation of his art exhibit, Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity, at MOCA Cleveland (the exhibit runs through January 18, 2015). The experience culminated in a dinner at Trentina on Monday night, where I was joined by nine of my peers from the Midwest—Andy Ticer, Brandon Baltzley, Curtis Duffy, Erik Anderson, Kevin Sousa, Garrett Lipar, Gerard Craft, Jamie Malone and Michael Hudman—to cook a 10-course meal for the man of the hour.

During his stay, I had the pleasure of spending time with chef Adrià, a chef who has served as a constant creative juggernaut for me throughout my career. From foraging in the Hunting Valley to embracing knowledge through art and creativity at MOCA to visiting hidden gems throughout the city, chef Adrià and I had a jam-packed weekend. Here, the top five highlights of Ferran’s visit.

1. Foraging and Sabering
On Sunday morning, chef Adrià joined me and Trentina’s dedicated forager, Jeremy Umansky, on a foraging expedition in Hunting Valley with visiting chefs Curtis Duffy, Michael Hudman, Andy Ticer, Jamie Malone, Brandon Baltzley and Kevin Sousa. Side by side, Ferran and I hiked through 150 acres of unspoiled deciduous forests. We hunted for watercress, bittercress, shagbark hickory, acorns, birch polypore, and even scouted out a plot of bears tooth mushrooms perched high in a sweet gum tree—a rare find that will be perfect come the springtime harvest. After our hike we sabered a bottle of Crémant next to a bonfire and drank it over a discussion of sustainable foraging and coding wild edibles unique to our region.

2. Ramen Slurping at the West Side Market
As someone born and bred in Cleveland, one of my favorite things to bring people to in my fair city is the West Side Market. Myself, Ferran and some of the visiting chefs spent the afternoon touring the market together. We slurped ramen from Noodlecat and watched shoppers fill the food hall.

3. Marmite Frosties and Duck Necks
On Sunday night, all the chefs from Team Sawyer restaurants—the Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat and Trentina—collaborated on a menu to share with Ferran Adrià, MOCA, and the visiting and local chefs who were participating in the incredible weekend. Dishes included foraged and fermented Appalachian tempura, duck neck zampone, chocolate Marmite frosties and fries.

4. Adrià’s Talk at Moca
I believe having a hero is vital to growth and exploration—it makes you push yourself. Ferran Adrià is a hero of mine. Hearing him speak at Monday morning’s symposium superseded any expectation I could ever have. Upon hearing a question, Ferran would take a brief pause, not for lack of what to say, but to think about how he can distill his answer thoughtfully. His brilliance is palpable.

5. Flash Mobs, Squirrel and a Standing Ovation
At the special tribute dinner to Ferran at Trentina on Monday night, our dish was a multifaceted experience. It involved a group of 60 flash mobbers; a narrator; Chartreuse–infused white truffles; locally hunted squirrel, grouse and rabbit roulade; and sugared honeybees upon a slice of their own honeycomb. The flash mob served guests who wore sound-canceling headphones that told the story of our dish. It was an ephemeral moment experienced by just 60 people, including my hero, Ferran Adrià. Once the plates were cleared, Ferran was ushered out into the brisk Cleveland night with a standing ovation.

A proud Clevelander, chef Jonathon Sawyer owns and operates a half-dozen concepts including his flagship the Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat, Sawyer’s Street Frites and SeeSaw Pretzel Shoppe in the city. He is a 2013 and 2014 James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef: Great Lakes, and in 2010 was honored as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs. Chef Sawyer has appeared on multiple national television shows including Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, Iron Chef America, Dinner Impossible, Unique Eats, and Best Thing I Ever Ate. When Jonathon is not in the kitchen he is surrounded by his family: his wife, Amelia; his son, Catcher; his daughter, Louisiana; dogs Potato and Vito, and chickens Acorn, Bunny, Bear and Squid. Jonathon is a tireless supporter of the green movement, local agriculture and sustainable businesses both in Northeast Ohio and around the country.