Delighted by dining
A Day at elBulli - Ferran Adria
By Louise Johnson
We cook with heat all the time - no problem. Why then can’t we cook with cold, suggests Ferran Adria, the master chef behind the best restaurant in the world.
A man to whom liquid nitrogen has become as ordinary as a vegetable peeler believes there is nothing difficult about the dishes his team create; in fact, many are incredibly simple – if you have some imagination and the right equipment.
During his tour of Australia last year to promote the release of his new book, A Day at elBulli, Ferran captivated audiences in Sydney and Melbourne with his descriptions of how he has evolved the dining experience from his modest 50 seat restaurant at Calla Montjoi, a beautiful and secluded bay near the town of Roses in northern Spain. He didn’t demonstrate his dishes – he didn’t need to – the description and images of diners delighted by flavour say it all.
elBulli’s decor is a bit daggy – stone pillars, exposed beams and dated furniture. elBulli is out of the way. It only opens for six months of the year and then only offers an evening service. There’s no menu – each guest is served a tasting menu of between 28 and 35 dishes, comprising cocktails, snacks, tapas-dishes, avant-desserts, desserts and morphings.
Yet over two million people request reservations each year and only 8000 are successful.
Ferran says the aim is not to be exclusive. The logistics of preparing the meals and his desire to be truly original each season make the winter break and the single service essential. Those who do make it, and reservations are awarded relatively randomly, are there to be delighted. And delighting people is Ferran’s main goal.
In A Day at elBulli Ferran explains the concept of pleasure – the pleasure of satisfying hunger, the pleasure experiences through the five sense and an emotional pleasure create by good service and good company. But elBulli also delivers another kind of pleasure: “the intellectual stimulation that can be derived from appreciating irony, a sense of humour, decontextualization or cultural references in a dish. This is referred to at elBulli as the sixth sense. When a new dish is created the aim is that the guest will enjoy it on all four levels and with all six senses, and experience all the pleasures that the act of eating can provide.”
Before 1987 elBulli’s food was based on the nouvelle cuisine, but at a 1987 conference in Nice French chef Jacques Maximin said “creativity means not copying”, inspiring Ferran to leave the cookbooks behind and create a unique identity, and indeed a unique cuisine.
The six winter months when elBulli is closed are dedicated to inventing new techniques that will later be used to create new dishes. Techniques never used in cookery before, such as spherification, using siphons to create foams or new gelling agents, are inventions that have been copied in kitchens across the world. A new collection of dishes is born of these techniques in the elBulli kitchens shortly before the restaurant opens for the season and the results are always astounding.
Ferran’s cuisine crosses the borders with art, design and fashion and A Day at elBulli gives us an insight into the mechanisms behind the greatest chef in the world and his greatest restaurant.
A Day at elBulli is published by Phaidon Press (December 2008) RRP A$75
- Spain - all (SP)
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