Hibiscus paper, beetroot jelly, a giant salt sphere, and pistachio foam are just a few of the dishes that were on offer last season at elBulli, the Spanish coastal restaurant run by head chef Ferran Adrià. Part artist, part mad scientist, he works out of a “secret laboratory” and derives inspiration from “local hardware stores,” — useful for new tools — “museums and art galleries, and walks in the country” (he once made a dish inspired by the Australian bush). The ideal guest at elBulli resembles an ideal reader or gastronomic scholar more than mere eater. To truly take pleasure in his fanciful creations, Adrià says, requires a “sixth sense,” the capacity for “an intellectual stimulation that can be derived from appreciating irony, a sense of humor, decontextualization or cultural references in a dish.” Most of us will have to be content with exercising our intellectual appreciation of his wit on the page, minus the other senses typically involved in a meal. With over 2 million requests for 8,000 dinner slots per season — a statistic that is actually printed on the cover, as if to taunt us — Phaidon’s new monograph is the closest most of us will get to the restaurant voted best in the world a record four times. But it gets us pretty damn close. Lavish, full-color photographs depict the drive up the Spanish coastline to Cala Manjoi (a few hours out of Barcelona) and the restaurant’s grounds, kitchen, interior, and staff itself, in such detail that an unscrupulous person could probably use the knowledge in the book to fake out their friends. Cooks, too, can re-create a full tasting menu at home, provided they have the wherewithal to obtain liquid nitrogen, a freeze-dryer, Xantana, Lecite, a candy floss machine, and something called a SuperBag.
About the Author
Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.