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October 29, 2008

A Day at El Bulli

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

On October 10th, 2008, as part of the New York Public Library’s Expect Wasabi series, Ferran Adrià gave a fascinating talk that dispelled many misconceptions of his work and goals. As part of a book tour for the recently published A Day at elBulli, Adrià presented himself as a down-to-earth chef — not the arrogant god that people like to portray him as — who is successful not only because he is a creative genius, but also because he is methodical and focused.

While A Day at elBulli can be categorized as a cookbook, the more interesting aspect of this 500+ page book is its breakdown of Adrià‘s ideas and process throughout a typical day at the restaurant. What fascinated me most was not the photos or recipes, but, first, learning that Ferran Adria spends an hour a day, before heading to the workshop, on business-related matters and paperwork, and, second, the importance he places on diners’ reactions to their food experience at elBulli.

As he explained at the New York Public Library, science does not drive his cuisine. He does confess, however, that, when appropriate, it is a tool for refining food. He expounded upon food science by calling to mind the complex science of bread making and further clarifies this concept in the book through describing the curing of Iberico ham that results in flavors more beautiful than the meat possessed to begin with. This helps to dispel the myth that molecular gastronomy is weird science for weird science’s sake.

Credit: Photographs for A Day at elBully by Maribel Ruiz de Erenchun.