chefs and restaurants have documented their creations with the detail and systematic
approach that Ferran Adria, Juli Soler and Albert Adria have taken. The trilogy
El Bulli 1983 - 2002, which will be followed by a new volume (already published
in Spanish) documenting the years 2003 and 2004, gives unique insight into the
history of El Bulli -- which is to say a unique insight into the avant garde movement.
Taking advantage of the upcoming publication of the volume corresponding to the
period 1994 -1997 in English, French and German, we present a series of four excerpts:
what happened at El Bulli during 1994, and a peek at the style developed in 1995
that revolutionized cooking: deconstruction. Twelve years later, much of what
the El Bulli team created has been adopted in high-end cuisine the world over.
We'll learn how products are analyzed; how senses are used as a starting point
for creativity; how the frontiers between preparations in savory and sweet dishes
began to blur; and the philosophy behind El Bulli service and dining. Finally,
we'll learn how one of El Bulli's most pervasive techniques came to be: 1994 is
the year of the first foam.
Controversy, challenge of the established mindset, and cuisine have always gone
hand in hand at El Bulli. To this day, foams and deconstruction are questioned
in some circles, though their creation dates back more than ten years. I'm sure
that the members of the eGullet Society will find food for thought in this series.
And of course, food for discussion.
reflections on products led us to develop a work system that all chefs use
to a greater or lesser degree, but which at that time we decided to take
to its ultimate consequences. This was something as simple as going to the
market and buying a product, not for the daily requirements of the restaurant,
but in order to study it, to try and understand all its characteristics,
and then get as much use as we could out of it. A product should be touched,
turned over, looked at from all angles, as a sushi expert does with a tuna
fish, in order to assimilate its shape, density, weight, volume and so on.
is an example to illustrate this process: the mango. We know that it is
a tropical fruit, which tells us that it is available all year round. It
has a wide range of flavours and subtle features, reminiscent of the peach,
the banana or the passion fruit, while at the same time it is easy to combine
with other flavours because of its balance between acidity and sugar. There
are some sixty varieties, and in each one there is a distinction between
the mango (male), fibrous, smaller and tastier (usually used to make purees)
and the manga (female) which, because it has a more pulpy texture, is easier
to manipulate. It can be zested (and the skin mixed with mango puree
to take advantage of its resinous flavour), and it is then that we see that,
unlike other fruits, it does not go brown, which increases its usage potential.
Because of its size, we can cut it up in various ways: julienne, matchsticks,
brunoise, etc. It can be sliced, and if we do so thinly with the slicer,
we see that its texture is similar to pasta al dente. This may lead us to
treat it as a new pasta and shape it into tagliatelli, ravioli and so on.
In addition, a mango puree could give rise to a good many preparations:
sorbets, foams, coulis, etc. The example of the mango could be expanded
even further, and perfectly illustrates a way of observing products that
is of great use to us for developing creative ideas.
recently, it was a given that going to a gourmet restaurant meant eating
products that were expensive: caviar, foie gras, truffles, lobster and other
products that had become veritable myths of cuisine. We too had this view
of haute cuisine, but in 1994 we began to consider the scant logic of this
concept if it is thought about completely objectively. In fact, the price
of a product is set by the law of supply and demand: if the product is scarce
and much sought after, its price is high; if there is a glut, and not many
people want it, then it is cheap, with all possible conditions in between.
This is how the situation stands. A good example of this phenomenon is salmon,
which was the luxury fish par excellence until salmon farming began a few
years ago. Since then, its consumption has spread widely and it is affordable
to a large public today.
new perspective opened our eyes to the fact that every product, regardless
of its price, is magnificent as long as it is of good quality, and can play
a role as important as any other product. A young almond does not enjoy
the same gourmet prestige as a Norway lobster in traditional terms, but
we believe that both products have the same culinary value. So we decided
that as far as we were concerned, a sardine was as important as a sea bass,
or an artichoke as a truffle, and that what should govern our choices was
sensibility, not price or prestige. This does not mean to say that we place
little value on products that, like truffles, caviar or many others, we
consider to be divine.
|As stated |
previously, from 1994 onwards our evaluation of a product was focussed not
so much on its gastronomic prestige as on its flavour characteristics --
the features that made up its individuality or, to borrow a term that should
only be applied to humans, its personality. In El Bulli we have called this
set of a product's refinements and characteristics, the product's
"gene". For example, this "gene" is what enables
us to taste asparagus and identify its flavour, to be aware that it is,
in fact, asparagus.
Our memory stores data about the various product "genes",
thanks to which we can tell what we are eating. Some products have a very
strong personality and only a small amount needs to be eaten to tell us
what they are. For example, spices and aromatic herbs have a stronger
flavour concentration than other products. Furthermore, it is easier to
tell half a dozen vegetables apart than half a dozen types of fish.
This way of looking at things came to us along with the previously-mentioned
assessment of products. In El Bulli we began to accentuate this "gene" in 1994, in an attempt to highlight its characteristics, and we decided
that it was a priority for us to preserve this personality even when we
submitted the product to manipulation or preparation. For example, we
had always dreamt about making a basil jelly with as much or more flavour
than a fresh sprig of basil, or an asparagus sorbet with as much flavour
as the vegetable in its natural state.
|In 1997 |
we mentioned in Los secretos de El Bulli the existence in Roses of a magnificent
restaurant. Luckily, Rafa is still running his establishment, and we still
go there when we want to eat fish that tastes only of fish. In the book,
we said that Rafa's cooking, thanks to the honest flavours he was
able to extract, was something we could learn from. We might say that the
most important thing in his cooking was to preserve the pure flavour of
reflections were in response to ideas that we had every now and then between
1983 and 1993, particularly regarding molluscs, cooking vegetables, shellfish,
fish etc. on the griddle, and they caused us to review a good many habits
in preparing certain foods. For example, molluscs and crustaceans are usually
overcooked, when in fact this reduces the intensity of their flavour, no
matter how delicious the accompanying sauce is. Overcooked meat, fruit and
vegetables consumed out of season (that is to say, often after they have
been in cold storage, which reduces their freshness, aroma and flavour),
or canned truffles, lacking all the aromatic potency of this product, are
just some examples of customs which, if we want to be true to our philosophy
and fully respect the flavour intensity of each product, should be looked
at again. In fact, we are getting used to doing this in our daily life with
certain products that do not have all the flavour that potentially they
could have. This is a pity, but it is so true that perhaps when we taste
a product whose flavour characteristics are intact, we may find that it
has "too much" flavour. 1994 marked a change in this respect, as the sporadic
concerns of previous years came together in an idea that we have been applying
trying to understand a product it is essential to know how it can be consumed
and the best way of preserving its original flavour. There are three ways
of consuming a product: raw, cooked and by modifying its texture. The first
way enables one to appreciate its original flavour and texture, and in many
cases this is the usual way: oysters, fruit, certain vegetables, etc. By
means of the second method, the product is cooked in some way. If the cooking
time is short, the final flavour will be nearer the original (griddled,
barbecued, sautéed). Long cooking tends to remove the natural element from
most flavours (casseroles, stews, etc.) and although the result may be appealing,
it could be said that the product’s “gene” has been overmodified.
way of consuming a product is perhaps the most complex. It consists of preparing
and modifying its texture (soups, jellies, foams, sorbets, ice creams, mousses,
etc.) while attempting to preserve as much as possible its original flavour.
It has been claimed that a prepared product can never beat the perfect flavour
of the original, but this should not be taken as gospel. Sometimes a new
texture is just as pleasing as the product in its raw state. Back in 1992
we set out on this path with our cold jellies and liquidised soups; by 1994
(with foams, savoury sorbets, etc.) products in prepared textures were incorporated
in a big way and started to become a feature of our cuisine.
Finally, two observations. Firstly, there was criticism for a while of this
idea of preparing products in textures other than their original state in
the savoury world, even though this was common in the world of desserts.
Nobody claims that a pear jelly, banana sorbet or raspberry mousse perverts
the product’s flavour and yet the opposite seems to apply in the savoury
world. This does not mean that we must only offer prepared products; there
should always be a balance in a menu.
Secondly, there are products that
have been prepared and become other products, often as pleasing as the unprepared
product or even more so. One only has to think of tinned molluscs, which
offer two completely different flavours (either prepared in this way or
au naturel), or a product as singular as wine, the result of a preparation
that is so sophisticated that one almost forgets the grapes.
to 1993, our relationship with dairy products had given rise to a few results,
as we attempted to understand the characteristic of each product. It was
probably parmesan whey that led us to analyse dairy products in a different
way, and this opened up a broad range of uses, no longer limited to just
textures. Thus, in 1994 we began to use yoghurt as a sauce, brie and other
soft cheeses as a soup, or mascarpone as a sort of garnish. In addition,
some of these dairy products enabled us to introduce a touch of sourness,
which was added to our range of flavours.
the moment we began to think of playing with basic flavours in our cuisine,
we started to broaden the range of ingredients that could be used in the
sweet or savoury world. In our culinary milieu, it is quite clear at what
point in the meal savoury or sweet dishes are served. The development of
the symbiosis between both worlds in our cuisine opened our eyes as to how
relative these dogmas can be.
In fact, when we analysed a series of products
that were usually consumed in the savoury world or in the sweet world, we
realised that their usage was somewhat bound by convention. Marrows, carrots,
tomatoes, peas or beetroots are more sweet than savoury, yet until recently
they had appeared mostly in savoury dishes. Our contribution was to look
for the necessary harmony for them to be included in sweet dishes effectively.
It is true that some fruits had already often been used in the savoury world:
oranges, pears, apples, grapes and plums. But there was room for further
diversification: raspberries or passion fruits, which possess acidic properties
similar to those of lemons, could replace them in a good many savoury dishes.
Lychees are similar to grapes, mangoes can replace peaches, providing their
own character. The possibilities are endless. All one has to do is rid oneself
of one’s prejudices and concentrate on the intrinsic flavour properties
of each product.
association had been one of our main creative methods up to 1993. We had
thoroughly systematised and explored it, and we established the foundations
for certain flavour combinations which had accompanied us and had been added
to over the years. In 1994, our creative approach focussed on other methods
(mainly the search for new concepts and techniques), but we were still open
to new discoveries. One of these was really interesting: the combination
of molluscs and fruit provided us with a superb contrast between the savoury
and sometimes slightly bitter flavour of the former and the sweetness and
acidity of certain fruits. This happy alliance between two families resulted
that year in our rock mussels with coriander foam (with a blood orange reduction),
cold/hot clam chop suey (with lychees), and scallops in holy oil with mushrooms
This is the first part in a multi-part series. Part two is here.
El Bulli books may be purchased here.
Our thanks to Juli Soler for his invaluable assistance in this project.
Copyright Ferran Adria, Juli Soler, Albert Adria © 2006. Photographs by Francesc Guillamet.
Introduction by Pedro Espinosa.