Even with his famed elBulli restaurant closing at the end of the 2011 season, star chef Ferran Adrià is not slowing down. On a recent tour with author Lisa Abend to promote her new book The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, the pair (and Adrià’s translator) sat down to discuss the book, elBulli and the future.
It is well known that each year at elBulli, between 500,000 and 2 million people apply for just 8,000 reservations. But less well known is the fact that each year over 3,000 accomplished chefs from around the world vie for one of 35 slots in the kitchen. The apprentices, including acclaimed chefs like Will Goldfarb, George Mendes, José Andrés, Noma chef René Redzepi, and currently none other than Anthony Bourdain, work 14 hour days for the entire season, for no pay, just for the knowledge that they glean from working with the master.
Abend spent the entire 2009 season in the esteemed kitchen, trailing the stagiares; she was the first person to ever do so. She had visited the kitchen as a journalist and diner before and been “struck by the intensity and precision of the kitchen and the fact that there were 25 identically dressed cooks removing the nuts from pine cones—which is where it turns out pine nuts come from.”
Abend had no restrictions in her reporting, something that Adrià himself was insistent on. “Lisa had no censorship,” he says “What this is, it’s a notary act of elBulli. A record of what it is like right now.” Which is increasingly important to Adrià as the restaurant is ending. “The idea of this is that true life at the restaurant is reflected—the beauty yes, but also the harder, tough parts.”
For Adrià the book is more than just a record of a moment in time. “The most important aspect of the book is that it reflects important values,” he explains. “To be constant, passionate, committed. I believe that if you follow through on those rules throughout your life, extending to all aspects of your life, then modern society as a whole would be much better off.”
The day that we speak Abend and Adrià have just found out that the book has been optioned for a film, a thought which pleases Adrià greatly. Not for the added fame, however. This is a man who shuns the title of greatest chef in the world with a modest explanation of “I’m a cook.” Instead, what he is excited about is the fact that the film will provide the same warts-and-all perspective that the book does. “It will show the world that cooking and high-end cuisine is a hard life, hard work.”
It’s unlikely that Adrià will have enough free time to see his own film though. After the season ends he will be launching into his normal off-season schedule of speaking engagements, launching a new cookbook in October called The Family Meal, and turning elBulli into a research foundation. Retreating into the world of research will not be any less public for Adrià. The kitchen will reach out to the masses by publishing daily on the Internet. ”It will be even tougher, because there will effectively be far more people waiting to be ‘served’ on the internet.” But there will be much less of a wait.
Ever been to elBulli? Well then you are lucky! Tell us about it in the comments.
Think you are up to the challenge of executing an elBulli recipe? Start with something simple(ish) and sweet. His pine nut marshmallow recipe is here.