I never expected to be excited by a place like elBulli. My idea of a meal has always been more family style – large platters, lots of share plates and hands grabbing at everything.
This is precisely what Ferran Adrià, executive chef and co-owner of elBulli, challenges – the idea of food. Where you and I envision a piña colada as a slushy beverage to be enjoyed from a tacky glass poolside, Adrià presents the tastes and alcoholic content of said drink, but in cotton candy form. Perhaps one of the most famous dishes in Adrià’s cache is the spherical olives – the juices of pressed olives in spherical form. What looks like an olive, and what tastes like an olive will explode in your mouth like no other olive ever has. Using science, with heavy doses of creativity and only the finest ingredients they can gather, elBulli has invited the world to rethink the contents of their pantry.
elBulli has been the subject of numerous documentaries, television shows, blog posts and articles, each showcasing Adrià’s creativity and culinary magic. Lisa Abend, however, focuses on the often forgotten necessity of any critically acclaimed restaurant – the kitchen brigade. In her book, The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, Abend follows the journey of 32 stagaires as they spend June – December of 2009 in Adrià’s kitchen. While surely envied by their culinary peers, the 6 months these stagaires spend in Roses, Spain, is hardly idyllic – they are unpaid, made to repeat mundane tasks with absolute precision countless times, and, worst of all, will not have the opportunity to sample the dishes they so meticulously prepare. They come from all over the world (the U.S., South Korea, Brazil, Australia), hoping to learn at the hands of a genius, to understand molecular gastronomy, to be inspired. Throughout the book, Abend concentrates on the stories of several of the 2009 stagaires, my favorite being Katie Button. She left a promising career in biomedical research and a highly regarded fellowship for a stage at elBulli. Instead of studying each plate to leave the pass, Abend turns to the kitchen and asks, Who are you and what are you doing here?
If you, like me, wonder about the people who are plating your dinner, please do yourself the enjoyable favor of reading this book. I devoured it.
(I know, I know.)