Ferran Adrià is considered one of the best chefs in the world. His food at elBulli was wildly creative and influential. For better, and in some camps, for worse, he is best known as a leading proponent of the cutting edge cuisine associated with the much reviled term "molecular gastronomy." Operating like a mad scientist, he closed his restaurant for a good part of the year so he could create 150 new recipes each season. But while diners at the esteemed elBulli marveled at food made into foam and paper, the staff ate relatively simple meals.
At a sold-out lecture earlier this month, Adrià a man inextricably tied to creativity said the very word "creativity" was pretentious. Cuisine he said, can be a social tool, an instrument for peace and can change the world. In introducing his book The Family Meal about the staff meals at the restaurant, he said what he has done with this book is as avant-garde as anything in the restaurant. In person Ferran Adrià is funny, charismatic, fascinating, and frankly a bundle of contradictions. He seems to make a point of being down to earth but at times says things that are fairly outrageous.
He claimed elBulli was not just about eating but about creating "an experience" for diners. But after coming to the conclusion that "if you eat well you will cook well" Adrià focused on the meals that the staff ate at the restaurant. The goal was to serve 3 courses for a budget of 3-4 euros that were as varied as possible. His new cookbook, The Family Meal, is uniquely formatted to show you how family meals were created at elBulli. It is a guidebook for restaurants but also for home cooks. The pictorial layout of the book is brilliant and better than a lot of other books that attempt to simplify menu planning and cooking but end up complicating such as Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes.
I like the book. A lot. Perhaps surprisingly, there are plenty of good ideas for a creative cook without a thermal immersion circulator or liquid nitrogen. But if there is a weakness it is that the recipes were photographed for larger yields. Sometimes the photographs may be confusing for a home cook who does not use things like hotel pans. And while siphons and chargers may be standard equipment at elBulli, they are not likely to be found in most American households. Not yet anyway.
So what recipes inspired me? I love the simple fruit desserts, oranges with honey, olive oil and salt, pineapple with molasses and lime, strawberries in vinegar. The bread and garlic soup and the grilled lettuce hearts with mint and whole grain mustard vinaigrette both look divine. I have already made my own variation on the chicken wings with mushrooms and the barbecue spareribs. Is any of it reminiscent of what you'd eat at elBulli? No. But it's infinitely more practical (and if you really want to cook like they did at elBulli you can plunk down $49.95 for A Day at elBulli).