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Louisa Chu

El Bulli 2005 Reservations

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Thanks again to you both, Louisa and Silly.

Louisa, I have just begun to explore your blog. It is outstanding.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I supsect Rafa's and SnackMar are going to see a disproportionate number of members this summer.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Muchas gracias, otra vez.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Doc, regarding Rafa, it's relatively slim pickings in summer, but still great, especially the cigales. However, go at lunch because at dinner there will be a lot of customers and he will be too busy to talk except, perhaps, if you go right when he opens for dinner. He's a bit of a character and his wife is sweet.

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Lunch would probably be my preference. I have almost as much of a desire to eat there as I do El Bulli. they appear to be opposite but complementary ends of the food spectrum.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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complementary ends of the food spectrum.

I haven't eaten at Rafa's, but my first meal at El Bulli, a lunch some four to five years back, was followed by a simple meal of seafood at Can Majo in Barcelona. I don't recall the first course, it may have been gambas a la plancha or some other such straightforward dish followed by a Catalan wet rice with lobster. As superb a meal and an powerful an experience as the meal at El Bulli was, one of the things it seemed to do, was to heighten my appreciation for fresh seafood simply prepared. I know that sounds like I'm saying "after all that haute cuisine, what I really need is a steak to satisfy me," but I think you understand they're a one, two punch either way. To appreciate one and not the other is to suffer some gap in the love of food, from my perspective.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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What a scrumptious blog, Louisa! You must be tired already of so much gratitude and, indeed, whenever you've posted lately, I feel like one of those 18th Century courtiers who, from so much bowing, walk about with a permanent hunchback - and not only that, but backwards. But I'd burst a blood vessel if I didn't thank you again. So *bowing a little lower, not without concern, since only approximately four inches now separate the tip of my nose from the shellfish and rosepetal-littered floor*, obrigado once more!

P.S. It may be a telling sign - a warning even - that I'm becoming too attached to fellow eGulleteers and eGullet but last night I had this happy dream that, for the duration of the entire Spring and Summer of 2005, Roses and all surrounding areas - whether in Catalonia or France - are entirely populated by eGullet's cool customers, bumping into each other and annoyingly brushing each other's eager fingers whenever one reaches for a "cigala", being obliged by the stern, binding rules of eGullet to cede ownership of all shellfish, however rare and tasty.

Already I've had the good luck of my mid-May reservation for El Bulli coinciding with Bux and his party's reservations - as well as a less stressful, tentative collective commando raid of Rafa's, mission being to exhaust all fresh stocks and guarantee that it will be closed on the morrow, satisfyingly disappointing many equally deserving and early-rising lunchers who, despite their indisputable sincerity and general human goodness, had the gall to appear in that sacred area without the previous imprimatur of eGullet.

I promise - even if it requires my wife stuffing a napkin or two into my mouth - I shall resist the temptation, while merrily delighting in Adrià's masterpieces, to chummily enquire "And so how is our good friend Louisa". This is an embarrassment I must spare you - and will.

Thanks too to all the other members who've shared state secrets about the surrounding areas. A dream might just be a dream but, even very early in the morning like now, I logically envisage a lot of bumping-into-each other of eGulleteers in the coming season!

:)

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Just another question: I received last week 11 DVD's of Ferran Adrià's series on daily cooking (in Spanish). Does any one know whether these DVD's will be released with subtitles?

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A question for the Q&A next week, perhaps. :wink:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Robert - Rose who works with Rafa is not his wife - "just an employee" - in her words.

Miguel - I'm really not worthy of your high praise - but it sure is funny! And much appreciated.

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What a scrumptious blog, Louisa!  You must be tired already of so much gratitude and, indeed, whenever you've posted lately, I feel like one of those 18th Century courtiers who, from so much bowing, walk about with a permanent hunchback - and not only that, but backwards.  But I'd burst a blood vessel if I didn't thank you again. So *bowing a little lower, not without concern, since only approximately four inches now separate the tip of my nose from the shellfish and rosepetal-littered floor*,  obrigado once more!

P.S.  It may be a telling sign - a warning even - that I'm becoming too attached to fellow eGulleteers and eGullet but last night I had this happy dream that, for the duration of the entire Spring and Summer of 2005, Roses and all surrounding areas - whether in Catalonia or France - are entirely populated by eGullet's cool customers, bumping into each other and annoyingly brushing each other's eager fingers whenever one reaches for a "cigala", being obliged by the stern, binding rules of eGullet to cede ownership of all shellfish, however rare and tasty. 

Already I've had the good luck of my mid-May reservation for El Bulli coinciding with Bux and his party's reservations - as well as a less stressful, tentative collective commando raid of Rafa's, mission being to exhaust all fresh stocks and guarantee that it will be closed on the morrow, satisfyingly disappointing many equally deserving and early-rising lunchers who, despite their indisputable sincerity and general human goodness, had the gall to appear in that sacred area without the previous imprimatur of eGullet.

I promise - even if it requires my wife stuffing a napkin or two into my mouth - I shall resist the temptation, while merrily delighting in Adrià's masterpieces, to chummily enquire "And so how is our good friend Louisa".  This is an embarrassment I must spare you - and will.

Thanks too to all the other members who've shared state secrets about the surrounding areas.  A dream might just be a dream but, even very early in the morning like now, I logically envisage a lot of bumping-into-each other of eGulleteers in the coming season!

:)

Just how many of eGullet members have reservations for mid-to late May, 2005? We are returning on May 26th, 2005. We are thrilled to learn that so many eGulleteers will be heading to Roses in 2005. If anyone is scheduled for the 26th of May, 2005, let me hear from you. It would be enjoyable to meet another eGullet supporter. If anyone has yet to pick a Roses hotel, I would recomend Almadraba Park H. It is right on the beach and you can watch the cars streaming down from El Bulli on the Montjoi road at 2 AM or later from your balcony.

They serve a marvelous breakfast buffet, if food interests you again the next morning. JGebhart

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Might there be a correlation between number of posts and success at getting a reservation? It sounds far out, if nor arbitrary, but think about it. Of course they would have to know somehow that one posts a lot on the site. (And I can't think of a better way to build traffic in the Spain/Portugal forum. :wink: )

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Hmm, egullet wasn't a factor in my snagging a reservation, since my egullet moniker is unidentifiable... I think writing a thoughtful letter/request and being flexible must play the biggest part.

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Uh oh, the exeception that proves the rule (or disproves it)? While my post is sort lof tongue in cheek, it did seem to me that forum hosts and avid posters all seemed to get reservations. I have to admit, however, that I haven't gone back to check this out.

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Well, we egulleteers are something of a self-selected group of obsessive-compulsive food lovers... Just the sort who would be prone to writing heartfelt pleas to far-flung restaurants and planning a cross-country/intra-continental/inter-continental voyage around available tables...

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Robert,

Louisa and others have lauded the "fairness" of the El Bulli reservation process. There's an element of "winning the lottery", but I don't think anyone has suggested that there's a mindless algorithm at work here. If anyone is favored by the "selection" process, I would think that it is loyal, long-term diners.

Consider Bob Noto, mentioned in the December 15 Wine Spectator profile of El Bulli:

"We happened by in 1993, led by some guidebook", Noto recounts. The meal included a tomato sorbet. "The DNA of the tomato was speaking to me. I knew I had found a genius." Noto shows me a list of the nearly 900 different dishes he has consumed since that tomato sorbet. "Every year gets better. It's a miracle."

Ferran Adrià prides himself on continually evolving his cuisine. If no-one comes along on the journey, what's the point?

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I agree with you, Edsel. It doesn't look like a mindless process to me either. Showing appreciation and flexibility seem to increase your chances of getting a reservation at El Bulli.

Of course, doing it at the right moment is a key factor.


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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The discussion reminds me of a recent story of how a high school teacher in, I believe, Durham NC, analyzed published letters to the editor at the New York Times and was able to have his students submit them such that a huge relative percentage of them were indeed published in the paper. In the interest of those who were denied reservations at elBulli, I think that those who were successful in this endeavor post their letters to Luis. Then we can see if there are certain characteristics, approaches, buzz words, etc. that might resonate in such a way to produce a reservation in the future.

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The discussion reminds me of a recent story of how a high school teacher in, I believe, Durham NC, analyzed published letters to the editor at the New York Times and was able to have his students submit them such that a huge relative percentage of them were indeed published in the paper. In the interest of those who were denied reservations at elBulli, I think that those who were successful in this endeavor post their letters to Luis. Then we can see if there are certain characteristics, approaches, buzz words, etc. that might resonate in such a way to produce a reservation in the future.

I second Robert's idea, hopefully I'll learn something and maybe get a reservation in 2006.

Silly.


We''ve opened Pazzta 920, a fresh pasta stall in the Boqueria Market. follow the thread here.

My blog, the Adventures of A Silly Disciple.

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... In the interest of those who were denied reservations at elBulli, I think that those who were successful in this endeavor post their letters to Luis. Then we can see if there are certain characteristics, approaches, buzz words, etc. that might resonate in such a way to produce a reservation in the future.

Ugh! I hope it's not quite so formulaic as that! I have to feel a certain sympathy with the people who actually make these decisions. The notion of a forty-to-one (or more) ratio of applicants is an invitation to accusations of favoritism, etc. I feel that the well accepted fact that El Bulli is not the playground of the well-connected * reflects well on their sense of purpose (and integrity). I stand by my suggestion that loyal diners should be favored, if only for the sense of continuity they provide. My hopes of "scoring" a reservation at El Bulli (in 2006 - too late for this year) are not unfairly diminished by any recognition of loyal diners - I only wish that I could be considered in such lucky company.

* If Tony Bourdain shows up with a film crew, do any of us feel like complaining when he gets a kitchen-side table? For that matter, if Gwenneth Paltrow or Sly Stalone shows up on a moments notice, who are we to complain? Chef Adrià is free to seat anyone he pleases - it's his restaurant.

Edit to add: I don't disagree with Robert's suggestion to pool our collective knowledge of successful reservations. Any leg up on next year's applications is well worth it!


Edited by edsel (log)

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doing it at the right moment is a key factor.

Timing is everything. I suspect one of the reasons we have a high number of reservations is that members responded to a timely notice here. I can see pros and cons to the idea of posting reservation request e-mails. Most people would be curious to see what worked, but I'm afraid that any commonality might be seen as a path to follow and that next year we'd see a form letter mentality develop that could have exactly the opposite efffect of the one wanted. My guess is that you're much better off with a unique approach than trying to follow a pattern.

Mrs. B doesn't keep her e-mails and I don't understand Spanish all that well to even know exactly what she said. I can tell you that she mentioned our previous visits as well as that it's been two years since our last visit. Our hope was to imply that we are appreciative of the food, but not looking to hog space. We really don't know if first time applicants would play to a sense of fairness or if yearly regulars are likely to get preference. You go with what you've got and try and make it sound as if it's a strength. We met Alberto Adrià a few years ago at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, so we sent our regards. Does that get passed on or would Luis check to see that Albert really met us? I have no idea, but I'd be very cautious about lying. I placed most of our hope in the timing. We applied right after the notice was posted here.

To return to my earlier premise, I'll bet that if certain characteristics and buzz words start to reappear, they'll trigger rejections more than reservations. Put yourself in Luis' shoes when you write.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I have to agree with Bux. If a pattern starts to show in the reservation requests it might seem almost "spammish". My request consisted of a few sentences in English explaining that we would like to have dinner at El Bulli for our anniversary in May. I have no idea if my egullet connection had anything to do with us getting selected since I did not mention the site at all. However, my full name is in my signature, so I cannot be sure.

Elie


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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      In the physical realm, the Food Lab is a tangible space where the conventional and the unconventional are melded together in the quest for new culinary territory. With Alinea’s construction under way, the team must be resourceful. This meant that renting a space large enough to house both the office and the kitchen aspects of the food lab was out of the question.
      The decision was made to take over a large office space for the research and administrative aspects of Alinea and transform a residential kitchen into the Lab. Achatz and the team would work three days per week at the office researching all aspects of gastronomy and brainstorming new dishes, while managing the project as a whole. The remaining time would be spent in the kitchen executing the ideas formulated at the office. “At first I thought separating the two would be problematic,” says Grant “but in the end we are finding it very productive. It allows us to really focus on the tasks at hand, and also immerse ourselves in the environment conducive to each discipline.” The menus for opening night—containing as many as 50 never-before-served dishes--must be conceived, designed, tested and perfected. The Alinea team does not want to fly without a net on opening night.
      On a more abstract level, the Food Lab is simply the series of processes that continually loop in the minds of Chef Grant and his team. While there is no single conduit by which prospective menus--and the dishes which comprise them--arrive at Alinea, virtually all of them start in Chef Grant's imagination and eventually take form after brainstorming sessions between the Chef and his team. Menus are charted, based on the seasonality of their respective components, and the details of each dish are then laid out on paper, computer or both and brought to the kitchen for development. In this regard, the Food Lab provides something very special to the Chef and his team. “We consider the food lab a luxury,” says Grant. Once Alinea is open and the restaurant’s daily operations are consuming up to 16 hours of each day, time for such creative planning (aka play) will be scarce. Building a library of concepts, ideas and plans for future menus now will be extraordinarily valuable in the future. Otherwise, such planning sessions will have to take place in the 17th and 18th hours of future workdays, as they did when the Chef and his team were at Trio.
      Today, several projects are planned and the Chefs dig into their preparations as soon as their equipment setup is complete…
      Poached Broccoli Stem with wild Coho roe, crispy bread, grapefruit
      Stem cooked sous vide (butter, salt, granulated cane juice)
      Machine-sliced thin bread
      Dairyless grapefruit “pudding”
      Dried Crème Brulee
      Caramel orb shell made with bubble maker and heat gun
      Powdered interior made with dried butterfat, egg yolks, powdered sugar & vanilla
      PB&J
      Peeled grapes on the stem
      Peanut butter coating
      Wrap in brioche
      Broil
      Micro-grated, roasted peanuts
      Instant Tropical Pudding
      Freeze Dried Powders of coconut, pineapple, banana
      Young coconut water spiked with rum
      Muscovado Sugar
      Cilantro
      Candied Chili
      Jamaican Peppercorn
      Vanilla Bean
      The steps required to comprise each dish are, as one might imagine, intricate and numerous. For the Poached Broccoli Stem, Chef Grant begins by separating the broccoli stems from the florets. The stems are stripped of their fibrous exteriors and pared down until they are uniform in size. Grant comments on the use of the second hand part of the vegetable: “This dish started with the roe. Every year we receive the most amazing Brook Trout Roe from Steve Stallard, my friend and owner of Blis. Typically, we serve the eggs with an element of sweetness. I find it goes very well with the ultra fresh salinity of the week-old roe. This time around we wanted to take a savory approach so I began looking into complimenting flavors in the vegetal category. About the same time, our group had a discussion about secondary parts of vegetables and the stem of broccoli came up. I had a past experience with the stem and found it to be very reminiscent of cabbage. Knowing that cabbage and caviar are essentially a classic pairing, I felt confident that we could work the dish out. Now I'm struggling to decide if this is a broccoli dish or in fact a roe dish, I think they really battle for the top position and that helps makes the dish very complex."

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
      Grant is still displeased at the dish's appearance. "The dish tastes as I envisioned it....texturally complex, with the crispness of the bread, the soft elements of the floret puree and stem, and the pop of the eggs. The buttery richness from the bread gives the stem the flavor of the melted cabbage I loved at the [French] Laundry. And the hot and cold contrasts from the roe and broccoli …I like it…..I just don’t like the way it looks.” Another attempt and the group agrees, it is better but not “the one.” The use of the thinly sliced cross sections of peeled grapefruit energizes the group. In the next rendition, they make small packets with the ultra thinly-sliced grapefruit containing the roe...

      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
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