Granted unprecedented access to the inner workings of perhaps the world’s most renowned restaurant, Time magazine Spain correspondent Abend follows 35 apprentices through the rigors of kitchen life and culinary invention under the tutelage of the “most famous chef in the world.”
Few restaurants are more revered than elBulli in Catalonia, Spain, a five-time winner of Restaurant magazine’s Best Restaurant in the World. Its owner-chef, Ferran Adrià, who has three Michelin stars, is universally recognized as the most influential pioneer of the avant-garde cuisine movement sometimes known as “molecular gastronomy,” a seriously playful style of cooking emphasizing textural, visual, olfactory and gustatory wit and deconstruction. It was at elBulli that Adrià and his chefs Eduard Xatruch and Oriol Castro invented those startling savory foams, liquid-nitrogen sorbets and spherified sauces that “permi[t] the diner to eat liquids, not drink them.” Getting a table at elBulli is the gourmet equivalent of winning the lottery, and the cooks who come to work—as unpaid apprentices—in its kitchens start out thinking themselves just as lucky. Ostensibly, these apprentices—the stagiaires—are the story’s focus. We learn about their lives, career aspirations and frustrations with the surprisingly tedious work required. Unfortunately, few of the stagiaires ever come to life enough for the reader to care, and the narrative occasionally wanders. No wonder, perhaps: Like the fresh apprentices, Abend seems too awestruck by Adrià’s genius to do more than offer praise. In a typical formulation, she claims, for example, that his work “represents the greatest rupture ever in the history of cuisine.” Nonetheless, Adrià isn’t the real hero—it’s the food. The author provides countless descriptions of an undeniably dazzling creative process and of foods that, even on paper, have the power to delight and amuse.
A slow-motion gastronomical feast and a rare chance for gourmet enthusiasts to witness the creative process behind some of the world’s most innovative cuisine.