In Rare and Ugly Food Fight, Spanish Chef Challenges Guru's High-Tech Dishes

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A Spanish chef said Monday a renowned colleague and culinary guru who concocts high-tech dishes like freeze dried foie gras uses the same potentially unhealthy additives as hamburger joints and should be just as upfront about it with consumers.

The comments by Santi Santamaria, who runs three restaurants that boast a total of six Michelin stars, were the latest salvo in a food fight among chefs who have brought Spanish cuisine to the attention of the world's foodies, adding a rare pinch of rancor to a normally collegial community.

Santamaria, who prides himself on using natural, seasonal ingredients to make Mediterranean-style dishes, began the spat last week when he questioned the high-tech methods used by chefs such as Ferran Adria, whose restaurant "El Bulli" north of Barcelona, has been voted the world's best three years in a row by the British magazine Restaurant.

Adria, 46, an idol to gourmets worldwide, engages in what he calls "deconstruction" — taking foods apart and putting them back to together to render unexpected shapes, textures or temperatures. His ever-changing menu has featured things like foam — airy reincarnations of solid food — made from ingredients such as seaweed and tea, or caviar with jellied apple. His work is widely imitated.

Santamaria said last week such efforts are gimmicky and more concerned with glitz and "media spectacle" than healthy eating. And on Monday, presenting a new cookbook he has written, he again hammered away at the health angle.

He questioned the Adria camp's use of gelling agents, emulsifiers and other chemical substances.

"Additives from the food industry and fast-food chains have entered the world of haute cuisine. A dose that is poorly applied can turn into poison," Santamaria said.

He said that if food manufacturers have to label their products to provide consumers with information on ingredients and additives, glitzy restaurants that serve liquid olives and parmesan snow — other Adria dishes — should have to do the same.

"The question is whether we are willing to replace natural ingredients with chemical additives, as the fast-food industry has done," Santamaria said. "If I mention Adria, for whom I have great respect, it is because he is the champion of these techniques."

Adria's office in Barcelona did not return a call seeking comment.

But Santamaria has already angered an international association of chefs, called Euro-toques, which 3,500 members from 18 countries, including 800 in Spain. Adria is among them. Last week it issued a statement accusing Santamaria of raising a fuss to gain publicity and alarming consumers unnecessarily. It said the additives used in Adria-style cooking are legal and safe.

"Social alarm of incalculable consequences is being created," the association said.

It insisted there was no food war under way in Spanish haute cuisine, just "the disrespectful, uneducated opinion of a chef about his colleagues."