Best programme about food I’ve seen in over a year. What makes the guy from El Bulli tick?
Rated as Apr 26 2007 by Conor O’Neill/5 on
I’ve been a big fan of Anthony Bourdain since I read Kitchen Confidential and my opinion of him just grew and grew with the TV shows and his Les Halles cookbook.
I was flicking around Sky the other night and spotted “Anthony Bourdain decod….” in the channel guide on UK TV Food. I pressed the info button and was thrilled to see that he was going to meet with Ferran Adria of El Bulli, rated best restaurant in the world for the past two years.
Adria is famous for a type of cooking which some coin “molecular gastronomy” and for which Heston Blumenthal in The Fat Duck is also famed. The basic idea is that you analyse what you are doing from a rigorous scientific viewpoint which enables you to come up woth new processes, tastes and textures that more traditional chefs could never do.
At the low-end you have things like “foams” which are already hackneyed and being done by people of far less talent in many restaurants around the world. These are whipped up foams of things like carrot so you get taste but no “body”.
The programme started well with Bourdain saying he didn’t think much of this view of cooking. It lacked heart or passion and seemed to be more concerned with shock than taste.
But he headed to Barcelona and was told first to check out a “ham” shop caled Jamonissimo. I was in heaven watching them thinly slice various types of Jamon Iberico like Salamanca. The fat was almost melting at room temperature. Pure food porn. The point of the exercise was to give Bourdain some idea of where Adria is coming from in terms of pure taste and pure texture.
Aside: We get small blocks of Serrano and Jamon Curado from my parents when they come back from Spain. Sibéal, aged 3, loves it and calls it Special Ham.
Bourdain then headed to the workshop to meet the team. And it was a proper team where everyone had equal say. Adria just sees himself as the front-man for the team. This was an incredible place where they spend hours every day trying ideas out, rigorously documenting them and then deciding if they could go on a menu.
A few things they showed included cooking sardines in such a way that they looked raw but were fully cooked, searing a peach so it had the texture of fois gras and trying a chemical that you can either taste as bitter or not taste at all depending on your genetic make-up!
Then it was time for the meal which was just mind-blowing. You get up to 32 courses over 5 hours in a restaurant which has 55 chefs and 55 seats. Each course is barely a mouthful or two but each one is amazing in execution. I’m only going to list a few but I was drooling at every one.
Apple Caviar: Somehow they can make tiny balls which have the shape and texture of caviar but burst to reveal a taste of pure apple.
Pasta-less Ravioli: Large globules of pure pea puree held together only by willpower.
Jamon-Tuna: Fat belly of tuna cured like jamon and sliced wafer thin. You get a tweezers to pick it up.
The amazing thing about the whole meal was that it was very relaxed, the restaurant looks pretty standard Spanish style and is not overly formal at all. I have no idea how much a meal costs and I know the waiting list is a year but some day, SOME DAY, I’m eating in El Bulli.
Oh and Bourdain was utterly convinced by the end.