Ferran - Cookbook Review
The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food
By Colman Andrews
(Gotham Books, 2010)
Genius. Myth. Mad scientist. Whether you love or loathe the chef who inspires such strong appellations, Ferran Adrià has revolutionized haute cuisine — for better or worse. In the opinion of author Colman Andrews, a distinguished food personality himself (he was the cofounder of Saveur and is a winner of eight James Beard awards), you cannot eat at a restaurant today without encountering traces of molecular gastronomy. His is a fresh take on the innovative chef, who looks a bit haughty and a tad amused, with his Mona Lisa smile, on the cover of Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food. Andrews's mission was to tell a good story, and he has succeeded.
We learn that Adrià has perhaps a larger tongue with more taste buds than most people, and we feel the kind of tickling, slightly shocked sensation normally reserved for revelations about celebs in tawdry tabloids. This is good stuff and we want more of it! But that's where the private investigation ends. Adrià does not talk about his personal life, which he finds uninteresting. He says he leads "a normal life. I eat normally. I don't wake up and say, 'I have to have the best possible bread for breakfast, the best possible butter…'" And we are a bit disappointed. No imported butter? No artisanal loafs? And more importantly, no foams, xanthan nor liquid nitrogen chez Adrià? We would expect the same innovation that catapulted him to international fame to reign at his home dinner table as well. But in the introduction something quickly becomes clear. Andrews describes a scene with the chef where they are savoring simple shrimp with salt and it dawns on the author what Adrià is all about. He says to him, "I understand the connection between this food and what you create at El Bulli… your cuisine has the same kind of purity of flavor that this simple cooking does." Adrià nods, and this discovery is at the heart of everyone who gets the chef. It's also at the heart of this new book: an understanding.
Through cleverly titled chapters such as "A Very Good Boy" and "Disco-Beach" to "Anti-Ferran, Santi-Ferran," Andrews captures the man who redefined the haute dining experience, calls nouvelle cuisine his great inspiration, hates the term molecular gastronomy and prefers the post-modern term deconstruction; the man who wants us to "eat with our brains" while enjoying the utmost purity of, for instance, spherified gnocchi, an "Autumn landscape," or mitro-paté — a cerebral experience that is supposed to be about simplicity, a paradox, but why not?
Sure, there are the hungry legions that are drawn by the fame, the need to boast of a reservation at the starred restaurant to their peers, the desire to belong to en elite. But there are also those who simply appreciate good food, even if they'll never venture to the middle of nowhere in Spain; and for them, this new version of "the oft-told tale of El Bulli" should be delicious fun.
Reviewed by Sylvie Greil