Oh, the foods I'll never eat
I am not a foodie reader. I haven't read Anthony Bourdain or Gabrielle Hamilton. If I've read anything about the preparation of food, like Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, it's because my book group was reading the book. Such is the case with my latest foray into the foodie book world. And as with the Reichl, I'm glad I was pushed.
Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant on the Spanish coast has been named the world's best restaurant by Restaurant magazine five times and has inpired thousands (perhaps millions) to try for a reservation each year during their six month season.** If a reservation was hard to get, apprenticing in the kitchen with chef Adria was near impossible. Each year the restaurant took on 35 stagiaires (apprentices). Though the apprentices are chefs in their own right - many of whom are already working in world-class restaurants - they will literally camp on the doorstep in order to become an unpaid apprentice for a season with Ferran.
In 2009 Lisa Abend was given unprecedented access to the kitchens and staff. In The Sorcerer's Apprentices she details the repetitive, sometimes grueling, but ultimately rewarding work these young chefs undertake when they begin at elBulli. They start by having to cut carrots over and over again until they are the precise dimensions required. Next they learn to create and use the skin from boiled milk. And so on. Each process has to be repeated until perfected. There is no running in Ferran's kitchen. No shouting. No chaos. Just orderly perfection on every level. And a transformative experience for the chefs who survive.
Though Abend's repetitive writing sometimes mimicked the work of the chefs, I was pretty fascinated by this book. Not least because my only other behind the scenes knowledge of a professional kitchen comes from Top Chef and Chopped. Sadly we can only experience the restaurant on the page. elBulli has now closed and become a foundation. There go my dreams (formed while reading) of flying to Spain and dining on the many dishes. Guess I'll just have to imagine what a gorgonzola balloon would taste like.
**For a little more about the elBulli dining experience take a look at this review of the last supper served in 2011.