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The Sorcerer's Apprentices by Lisa Abend

by Michael Chu
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Because elBulli is preparing to close its doors as a restaurant in a few months and reopen in 2014 as the elBulli Foundation ("a center for creativity" focused solely on experimenting and creating new food and food preparation techniques), a lot of articles have been written about Ferran Adrià and elBulli in the last year (including an illuminating biography by Saveur co-founder Colman Andrews). Nothing written so far has been as captivating to me as Lisa Abend's The Sorcerer's Apprentices which follows Abend and her fellow stagiaires through a season at elBulli (including the moment that Ferran decides to close elBulli).

Some people consider Ferran Adrià the greatest chef in the world. Whether he is or not is the basis of all sorts of fun discussions, but what is not up for debate is his impact to modern gastronomy and the world of haute cuisine. His invention and innovations in spherification, foaming, unlikely gels (hot "ice cream"), and other techniques has greatly contributed to the variety of tools available to creative chefs. Like traditional techniques (such as grilling), these techniques can be used well or poorly (just as a steak can be cooked perfectly or overdone until tough and chewy), and some people will prefer some over others. Their introduction opened the world of cooking up to several more dimensions and Ferran, his team at elBulli, and those who spent a season or more there continue to innovate and push the boundaries of culinary innovation.

Lisa Abend, a New York Times correspondent based in Spain, got the opportunity to stage at elBulli during the 2009 season. Her book isn't the story of elBulli or a biography of Ferran Adrià. Instead, it is an intriguing story of the thirty-plus stagiaires (including one who camped outside elBulli every night until he was allowed to work there) as they learn to master each of the techniques and recipes needed for each evening's dinner. Along the way, we get glimpses of culinary genius and creativity bordering on the imagination of a mad scientist (what type of mind comes up with the idea to make a dish that looks and tastes like an artichoke arranged in a giant rose but is in fact actually made out of rose petals?). By being there, working alongside other stagiaires, and taking detailed notes, Abend manages to paint a detailed (but sometimes incomplete due to the limited perspective) picture of Ferran Adrià, the life of a stagiaire, and the legends of those who have spent time working at elBulli. The best thing about the book? Abend's storytelling is a breeze to read and the book is hard to put down.



The Sorcerer's Apprentices is available in the following formats:
Hardcover
Kindle
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Written by Michael Chu
Published on March 24, 2011 at 04:52 PM
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