Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: The Sorcerer's Apprentices

The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A season in the kitchen at Ferran Adria's elBulli

Review:   This book was amazing. The author very successfully compared the motivations, history, recipes, tradition, and end results of elBulli with the classic French restaurant. She managed to present the positives and negatives of both viewpoints without interjecting her own opinion or a bias of any kind. As a result, the book ends up presenting a history of restaurants, cooking, and the way we view chefs in general and offers insight into the future. The author even manages to compare Adria's techniques to other restaurants with the same motivation. The differences abound as the motivation may be similar but the end result can span from whimsical to serious.

The author highlights the lives, motivations and inspirations of several individuals doing a stage at elBulli. Intended or not, these spotlights offer insight into the mind of Adria himself.
My thoughts: This book was an amazing summer read and got my mind going in several different directions.
- For instance, the insane, methodical, and intense focus on the details of mise en place reminded me of descriptions of traditional Buddhist meal times. The same focus on food is evident in both groups.
- The nature of elBulli, with it's ever-changing menu, means that there is no such thing as returning to elBulli to partake in a favorite meal. This speaks to Adria's motivation behind cooking - to "Never copy". The ever changing menu, and the speed which it changes, speaks to the fast-paced nature of modern society. Individuals are on a constant search for something new - the next great thing. This aspect of society sickens me but somehow I accept it in the food I eat. I have a tendency to try a technique, a recipe, a restaurant once and never return. I want that new flavor. Adria wants the customer to be excited and enthralled by his food - and I am sure he is successful. I feel the need to question the way in which he achieves that excitement and enthrallment. Classic, home cooking can achieve that as well. Something which Adria acknowledges as the author presents him watching a stage member cook a traditional fondue. He seems just as enthralled by this classic dish as the customers in his dining room are by his way of cooking. I wonder what applications the knowledge and awareness created by Adria will have for more traditional kitchens.
- The role of culinary school and academics more generally is also raised. Adria claims that they are going to "explain creativity" (19) to the chefs that stage at elBulli. Cooking is one of the few professions that still allows for discipleship in which one learns to cook from watching an expert do it. The role of culinary schools in modern society is lacking as it teaches the bare minimum of technique and does not focus on allowing the student to add to the discipline as more traditional academics aims to do.
- The role of customer appears secondary at elBulli. Adria states "What they like comes second. Creativity comes first.... We don't ask if a dish is 'good' or 'bad'. Here there's no such question. Our question is: Does it make your hair stand up on end? Is it magic?" (131)
-The discussion of creativity in the book was very intriguing. Which are perhaps best described in the author's own words...
"There's no secret to it, it takes hours and hours. If you don’t have time, you can't create." (152)
"... draw up a list of all the uses of corn in their country, which he then organizes into a culinary flowchart of sorts, with ground corn leading to tortillas and tortillas leading to enchiladas and tamales." (156)
"By deconstructing the soup so that its components were discrete entities exposed on the plate, he initiated a process of inquiry - What are our expectations of food? - that continues to inform what he does in the kitchen. (175)
"For that kind of reinvention to happen, creativity can't wait for something so fleeting as inspiration; it has to be codified. And indeed, one of elBulli's ironies is that the more widely Ferran is defined as an artist, the more businesslike his approach to creativity has become." (141) 



  1. Great review!!

    Love reading reviews before I go out and seek the books, makes it so much easier!

  2. I'm glad to hear that you liked the review! I hope to do more in the future. It may even be the theme for next VeganMoFo! :)