I just finished reading a review copy of The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli written by Lisa Abend, who wrote this inside look after spending the 2009 season with free access to the kitchen and to the people who worked at, what we learn is, much more than just a restaurant.
As someone who has worked in restaurant kitchens, I really enjoyed seeing the inner workings of the kitchen at elBulli. However, it is completely different than any of the kitchens I’ve ever worked! From the opening meeting to the final dinner and clean up of the restaurant, you get to see the methods that make elBulli what it is, and why is has been voted the best restaurant in the world 5 times. From what, in the beginning, seems to the new cooks as an inordinate amount of rules, to how over their 6 month stint they realize why they are all needed and are a crucial part of the restaurant’s success. Some of the cooks love every second of their time there and some can’t wait for their time to end.
For each season, thirty-five cooks are chosen to be stagiaires or apprentice chefs and put their lives and jobs on hold to come to work and learn from the master, Ferran Adrià for a period of six months. It is a great sacrifice in hopes of a golden ring. They often perform tedious and what seems to be mindless tasks that actually requires extraordinary focus and attention to detail in order to meet Adrià’s level of excellence. One example would be the artichoke rose which demanded the poaching of hundreds of rose petals each day which first had to plucked from their flowers and separated into individual petals, poached three times, blanched in ice water, passed through a pressure cooker before finally being arranged in perfect concentric circles on a plate. But, in the end, the artichoke rose tastes like an artichoke and is one of Adrià’s cunning surprises.
Though there is only one recipe in the book, Abend really gives you a glimpse and an understanding of the thought process that goes into many of the dishes served at elBulli. Each diner receives, on average, thirty courses and each one is a gastronomic revelation. But the system in place behind each dish is of equal marvel.
Not only are you privy to the inner workings of the most innovative kitchen in the world but you are also given a rare look into the lives and minds of these young cooks that come from every corner of the earth. This candid glance into their personal stories while they are there, as well as what brought them there and their plans after the season ends is what brings a human side to the food of elBulli.
There is the incredible story of Luke, a young Korean cook, who literally camps out on the doorsteps of elBulli until he is given the opportunity to be stagiarie. His dedication and perseverance were nearly unmatched and his work ethic commendable and fierce.
Abend’s book will astound you and make you feel as though you are actually an insider of the world’s greatest kitchen. You should definitely read this one! I can not recommend it enough.
About the Author: Lisa Abend is a journalist based in Madrid. For the past several years, she has been Time magazine’s correspondent in Spain. As a freelancer, she has written for The Atlantic, Wired, Ms.,The American Prospect, National Wildlife and for The Economist. She contributes to several major American food magazines, and has written features on a Marrakech cooking school (Bon Appetit); on culinary travels through Extremadura (Gourmet); on a collective of grandmothers in Catalonia who preserve traditional cuisine (Saveur); and on learning to love pig face (Food and Wine). Her food writing has also appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, and the Christian Science Monitor. She hosts an episode on Andalusia in the third season of PBS’ Diary of a Foodie.
In a previous life she was a professor of Spanish history at Oberlin College. The Sorcerer’s Apprentices is her first book.
The book will be available on March 22, 2011. For more information, you can go here.
You can also like The Sorcerers Apprentices page on Facebook.
And, if you happen to be in NYC on 3/24/11, you can attend a Talk with Ferran Adrià & Lisa Abend with Adam Gopnik moderating at the 92nd Street Y. Renee will be there taking copious notes!