“Myhrvold’s recipes can be so scientific that they seem self-defeating, like a sex guide on how to achieve the perfect orgasm that instructs its reader to stop every 45 seconds during intercourse to check his pulse and pupil dilation.”
“After 45 courses, I was lowing like a cow. In my food- and wine-altered state, I began to meditate on the notion of death by senseless beauty. By the fifth hour, Adrià was openly taunting me. He called out for second helpings while I groaned. “The kind of people who mock long tasting menus,” Adrià said, “are the same people you see lining up at the hotel breakfast buffet, dumping 30 different things on their plates.” Adrià’s future plan is to begin cooking only about 20 nights a year. “Cooking at this level is like giving a concert,” he said. “No one in their right mind gives 300 concerts a year.” The one piece of advice he has given Myhrvold: “Never open a restaurant.”
The final dish, an absinthe cocktail topped with a swirling sugar mold made with a 3D printer, arrived after 6 p.m.”
“And yet well after midnight, I ducked out of my hotel room for a greasy cheeseburger at Dick’s.”
It all began with Ferran Adria in more ways than one. It was because he reached out to me in 2001, invited me to come see him (in spite of the fact that I had written unflatteringly of him in Kitchen Confidential) that my partnership with zero point zero productionbegan. It was because he agreed to throw his life, his restaurant, his workshop and creative process open to our cameras that we began our first venture in independent television production. It was because of him–and Food Network’s lack of interest in an El Bulli show–that Chris Collins, Lydia Tenaglia and I went out on our own, reached into our pockets and funded that first bare bones trip to Spain to shoot what later became the film (and subsequent episode of No Reservations), “Decoding Ferran Adria”. It was Ferran, who, truth be told, became the impetus for our show, now in its 7th year. And it was Ferran who was responsible for my meeting Chef Jose Andres when he showed up at an early screening of the film as his US representative. I can well remember Jose standing up at the end of the film and announcing to the audience his approval. It was a very proud moment for me. In those days, when Jose’s mouth moved, it often seemed that Spain was speaking. That kind of generosity should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever known or worked with Ferran Adria or his brother, Albert. They have always shared, never clung jealously to their hard won creations. And once again, in spite of the world world banging at their door, looking to get one last meal, one last interview, one last meal at their legendary restaurant, once again, they opened their lives to me.
It peeves me beyond reason to read unknowing people describe El Bulli as “fancy”, or “pretentious” or ” snobby.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. For a third of my last meal there, we ate with our hands. There were no elaborate table settings. It was never a particularly expensive restaurant by European standards–especially three star Michelin ones. Best I can tell, they never even operated at a profit. Jackets and ties were never required. If it was ”exclusive”, that was only because millions more people wanted to eat there than their 50 odd seats could accommodate. Yet, somehow,tables were made available on a regular basis for fishmongers, bartenders and cooks from the neighboring town of Roses. If sous chefs from Chicago to Sydney seemed, magically, to receive the kind of treatment usually reserved for government ministers and oligarchs, it speaks all the better of them.
I don’t know if Monday’s episode is the best depiction of what the Adrias did at El Bulli–though I’m pretty damn sure it is. I do know that our producers and camera people and editors and post production people went all out–did their very best work. This show was a labor of love and much gratitude. We were determined to get it right. We shot in Hospitalet, the town near Barcelona where the brothers grew up. We shot the staff meal at El Bulli. It was insisted I work the line a bit–to get a better idea of what’s really involved in getting those amazing creations to the table. We shot the single greatest restaurant meal of my life–and one of the very last to be served there. We shot at Tickets, the more casual restaurant in Barcelona which, by the time you read this, will be the only place you can eat the food of an Adria brother. We shot–and will show you–what’s next for El Bulli, which closes as a restaurant any minute now–forever. You will see the animations and blueprints of the entity to come–and hear Ferran describe his plans for the future.
And, to a great extent, you will see all of this through the eyes of Jose Andres, who began his career as a young cook at El Bulli, and who joined me for an unforgettable careen through Catalonia, eating and drinking and enjoying life as one can, it seems, only in his presence. I’m still recovering. Jose alone would be reason enough to watch this show. By the time you see the show, what you will be watching will be history.
Total Cookbook Weight: 154.6 lbs Total iPad Weight: 1.44 lb.
Digital cookbooks turn coffee table tomes into actual, usable cookbooks. Not having these essential reference works in a format that is easily searchable, transportable and usable is a BAD DEAL. What’s a WORSE DEAL is all the gasoline required to ship these books across the world. Digital cookbooks don’t require jet fuel to be delivered. They simply require a wi-fi connection.
Allow us to point out this irony: Modernist Cuisine, authored by former Microsoft Chief Technology Office Nathan Myhrvold, champions avant-garde, scientific approaches to preparing food, but is not available on the iPad or Kindle. It weights 51.3 pounds. It was first published in 2011.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, authored by Julia Child, teaches French cooking. It is available on the iPad and the table of contents is fully hyperlinked. In fact, it’s possible to search the entire text of the digital edition for specific words. It was first published in 1961.
If the Julia Child people can figure out how to make an ebook version work, we reckon the Modernist Cuisine people can figure it out too.
Reportedly, there are about 4 million requests for reservations per year at EL BULLI, inarguably, the world’s most innovative and exciting restaurant. Only a few thousand are accommodated. There have been about as many words written on the subject, most of them focusing, understandably, on Ferran Adria, the chef, and on the wildly creative and forward thinking techniques and presentations he has introduced each year to the world. A snarky, sour grapesy, but not entirely untrue piece on slate.com recently described a writer’s syndrome called IAAEBAYD (or something like that): I Ate At El Bulli And You Didn’t; a common malady that infects most of the writers, myself included, who have been among the tiny minority lucky enough to have eaten at El Bulli—much less been given access to the people behind it. Invariably, the author points out, every article about El Bulli has to contain a passage describing the twisting and treacherous road from the nearest town on Spain’s Costa Brava to the remote cove where the restaurant is tucked away at one end of a mostly unpopulated beach.
Eater.com is reporting that tickets to the El Bulli-themed dinner season at Chicago’s Next by Grant Achatz will carry a fixed price of $365 for food and beverage. That’s a departure from the current ticket prices at Next, which fluctuate based on the day of the week and the time of your meal. A recent pair of tickets purchased by the Price Hike for a Friday night service cost $85 per person, plus $95 for reserve wine pairings. After tax and service, that came to $466.29 for two. Per Eater.com’s report, the El Bulli price for two would be $730.
Update: Next Co-Owner Nick Kokonas tells The Price Hike that the tentative $365 tickets are akin to Alinea’s price point: $210 for food and the remainder ($155) for beverage. Those numbers are not inclusive of an 18% service charge or 11.5% sales tax; that means dinner for two would cost $946. So we’re talking about a 102% PRICE HIKE from what we paid for Childhood tickets, but then again it’s an apples to oranges comparison given the presumed length of the El Bulli menu. The better point of reference, as Kokonas notes, is Alinea. We’re calling this one a STRONG BUY.
This week’s podcast is the Food is the New Rock Thanksgiving Spectacular w/
KINGS OF LEON’S NATHAN FOLLOWILL & his wife Singer/Songwriter JESSIE BAYLIN
We hear about how the Followills will be spending Thanksgiving this year at the KOL country ranch (spoiler: caviar will be involved.) They also tell us their favorite places to eat while on tour and teach Zach about “meat and three”. Plus Nathan admits to doing something unbelievable in the middle of a meal at El Bulli in Spain, which might be the best restaurant story we’ve ever heard on the podcast.
Download the episode for free on iTunes or by putting our RSS FEEDinto a player of your choice. Or if you’re too lazy for all of that, you can stream the episode below…
I’m sad that El Bulli is closing at the end of July and I never had the chance to eat there. But it opens up room for other creative Spanish restaurants to thrive, like Sant Pau (which is headed by chef Carme Ruscalleda - a female chef with 6 Michelin stars through her restaurants), where this dish of quark, yuzu and strawberries is from.
I remember the first time I experienced the genius of Albert. I was in Arlington, Virginia, staying with a close friend who had spent years in the kitchen working beside him at elBulli. Before he went to work, he left me a book called Natura, along with a note. “Albert’s a madman. Enjoy.” It took me two hours to get through a bowl of cereal, another 90 minutes to get off the toilet. Later, I brought it to the pool with me, then to a coffee shop and generally spent the day in a state of slack-jawed disbelief. I had never seen anything like it before: translucent flower petals fashioned from crystallized raspberry; a chocolate moon landing with a perfect footprint impressed into the edible lunar surface; jagged candy trees, soils and sands, a hummingbird of elderflower and sesame—the natural world funneled through a feverish LSD dream and turned edible on the other end.
Natura was basically a dynamite stick crammed into a creme brulee, exploding the pastry world into a million little pieces. Desserts didn’t just take new shapes—sponge cakes made in the microwave, liquids fashioned from solids, solids morphed into liquids—but the entire idea of dessert as a uniformly sweet experience suddenly seemed open to interpretation. Talk to any chef about Natura today and they’re likely to close their eyes, bow their heads, and whisper warm, unintelligible things.
What people don’t remember is that Albert arrived to El Bulli just one year after Ferran, a fresh-faced 15 year old with exactly two months’ worth of experience in a Barcelona kitchen. He spent a few years working the seafood station, but because of an allergy to shellfish (a cruel fate for a man who loves seafood above all, but which is mild enough that he still eats whatever he wants), he eventually moved over to pastry, where he set about slowly redefining the idea of dessert.