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A Day at elBulli

An Insight into the Ideas, Methods
and Creativity of Ferran Adrià

by Ferran Adrià, Juli Soler, and Albert Adrià


elBulli's Thaw 2005 dessert, made from pine nuts and pine cones
One of elBulli's desserts, Thaw 2005, made from pine nuts and pine cones

Some cookbooks are meant to be consulted in the kitchen, wearing greasy fingerprints and food stains as badges of honor. This heavy tome is meant to be displayed on the coffee table, or, at more than 500 very large pages, could even substitute for one. The jumping-off point for the book's point of view is spelled out on the yellow vest that covers the book jacket, which informs readers that Ferran Adrià is indeed the best chef in the world and elBulli the best restaurant in the world without even having to open the hagiography. The back of the vest, instead of lauding the book, extols the chef, quoting Joel Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay among other top culinary luminaries.

A Day at elBulli: An Insight into the Ideas, Methods and Creativity of Ferran Adrià

Those who take the plunge will quickly discover that this is no typical chef autobiography with recipes. This way-in-depth, soup-to-nuts look at the temple of molecular gastronomy starts with a table of contents constructed as a timeline covering a typical day at the famous Spanish landmark, followed by beautifully-photographed nature shots of the Costa Brava region and the restaurant, interrupted by a small insert which asks and answers questions about the gastronomic institution. The book is filled with these short factual inserts, which detail on smaller, cheaper paper such things as Adrià's biography, a history, map and daily deliveries of the restaurant and descriptions of its kitchens.

The timeline that acts as the through-line of the book is presented in excruciating detail. At 19:30 (military time), "The doors are opened" is illustrated by two full-page shots of the doors to the restaurant being—you guessed it—opened. Five minutes later is marked by a double-page photo of the road with the inscription, "On the way to elBulli, the excitement of not knowing what you will find is part of the experience." This is followed by ten more photos of the road (19:40), a shot of the area (19:45), and nine shots illustrating "The first guests arrive."  Since the book covers a span of nearly twenty hours, it is no wonder it weighs more than a Thanksgiving turkey.

The inserts that detail Adrià's creative methods make for fascinating reading, as does the map that traces the development of his cuisine. Most of his 30 recipes included are beyond the reach of readers who don't have access to a Pacojet, freeze-dryer, liquid nitrogen tank, candyfloss machine, Superbags, and other high-tech kitchen tools which Adrià relies on. Even the cocktail recipe involves a square Perspex mould, Lecite, Himalayan salt crystal, and a microplane grater to make a margarita. Like the rest of this book, the recipes are to be digested, not tested.

By the end, readers of this gloriously-illustrated volume will know more about the restaurant than if they had visited, and will recognize the staff on sight. It makes a great gift for anyone who has ever visited elBulli, or wanted to, but it certainly won't fit in a Christmas stocking.

Modern Gastronomy: A to Z by Ferran Adria on Amazon.com

(Updated: 01/10/12 CT)

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