ElBulli’s food is famous for its extravagance, artistry and complicated production. So, asks Adam Gopnik, what can we expect from chef Ferran Adrià’s new cookbook?by Adam Gopnik / October 19, 2011 / Leave a comment
A waiter at elBulli with one of Ferran Adrià’s creations: peach liqueur bonbons and a spoon of peach liquid on a frozen stone
Learn how to make your family’s dinner from Ferran Adrià! It’s not unlike the notion of learning to write thank-you notes from James Joyce, not unlike taking ukulele lessons from Jimi Hendrix. It is not merely that the master who is to teach you defines a certain standard of excellence, but that he defines a style of extravagant excellence, rococo perfection—overcharge is so essential to the style that to miniaturise or domesticate it seems to betray its essential nature. A uke player who is taught to play with his teeth and set fire to his ukulele is, however excellent, in a certain sense not a ukulele player at all; he is not advancing the style so much as just playing the wrong instrument. Adrià is the author of that classic plat, lambs’ brains with sea urchins and sea grapes. How do you do this at home, and do you really want to?
Adrià is, of course, the chef and patron and resident and general Willy Wonka of elBulli, the now just closed Catalan temple of what is usually called “molecular gastronomy,” even if Adrià much prefers what he sees as the simpler name of “techno-emotional cuisine.” (Though when “techno-emotional” seems the simplest label that can be applied to something it can fairly be said that the thing being labelled must not be very simple.) A marriage of the extreme edge of French avant garde cuisine with techniques borrowed from the high-tech reaches of the food industry—sort of the offspring of Michel Guérard and a mad scientist—the principles of that cooking were not just rococo but recherché. New machines and new technology, liquid nitrogen and calcium carbonate, were used to turn food from its ordinary, some might say natural, forms into foams and gels and freeze-dried powders and pure smoke. A meal at elBulli might include—indeed, the one I ate there shortly before it closed did include—a tiramisu with tofu and green tea, a corn taco with parmesan ice cream and freeze-dried fraises, and Iberian ham with a ginger and caramel reduction.
As with Hendrix, though, the pyrotechnics and fireworks of Adrià’s style were, from his point of view, merely a playful coating on what was meant to be admired as a magnificent virtuoso technique. And so the…