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El Bulli--From wonderful to absurd


lizziee
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Robert and Robert--thank you for the talk of Picasso and the bicycle seat/handlebar analogy--I have not been able to get it out of my admittedly bullish head all morning.

And Richard, I am not intentionally trying to provoke you but if I am, know that I also admire your extreme sensitivity and poetic expression.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Richard's description of the effect of location on film reminds me of the best lobster I ever had, near Bar Harbor, Maine. It was a rough lobster establishment where we ate outdoors at tables under the stars, with minimal lighting and electric bug attractors that sizzled all evening. The lobsters were kept in a big tank filled with local sea water. Every week, I was told, a local marine biologist came by and checked the temperature, salinity and other factors which I don't remember. In other words, the water environment was as close as was practical to what they had lived in. They must have been doing something right, because the result was spectacular. (Though a Cape Codder by birth, I must admit that the lobsters get better the further north you go, up to a point -- something to do with the results of struggling, like hillside vines as opposed to valley vines.)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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***Hi Jinmyo,

Re: Have you seen…thread on Steingarten and terroir

Thanks for the link.  I see that the war against the infidels ;) ;) is being waged on other fronts.  I have been up to my neck in work and have not had a chance to read through it carefully.  It seems to be a discussion of epic proportions and the ideas/observations on this subject articulated there seem to be among the best thought-out and refined to be found anywhere today.  I have also just found the extraordinary "Chef of the Century" thread (after leafing through a hundred different pages looking for it) and am grateful to be able to learn the "pre-history" of this El Bulli thread here.  I noted that this thread took several months to unfold and to reach a certain grandeur: this is really the proper way: "hard" ideas in a conversation often need time, thinking and rethinking to reach a "critical mass".  Again I must say that I am quite awed by the twists and turns those threads have taken.

Now if someone would kindly point out the so-called "Foam on the range" thread to me: I have not had any luck looking for it.  There was also a reference above to a certain discussion on Alain Chapel in 1987…?

***Robert Brown,

Re: Stan Brakhage

I don't think that any experimental filmmaker working today can escape the monumental shadow of this great artist.  I have to check my references but if I remember correctly, Brakhage was once an instructor at the Art Institute and Gatten just left a teaching position at the school, so there is THAT connection at the very least.  Coincidentally, the city is celebrating a sort of Brakhage festival at the moment.  There was a presentation at the U of Chicago last week and for three nights this week (starting last night), three different institutions (Filmmakers, Film Center, Columbia College) have put together programs of works chosen from his oeuvre of 400+ films.  I was at the viewing last night, which included the great prelude to "Dog Star Man", "Visions in Meditation #2", "Interpolations 1-5".  At the same time, the Chicago Review (humanities.uchicago.edu/review) has just released its latest issue (Winter 01/Spring 02) which is devoted to Brakhage.  I have not had a chance to look through it carefully but the discussions seem to be far-ranging and substantial.  It also includes selections of his correspondence with Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Guy Davenport, Charles Olson etc.  Leafing through the volume just now, and looking at Eirik Steinhoff (editor's) introduction, I see an assessment of his work that can almost be applied to Ferran Adria (substituting a few words of course) as well and am reminded that a discussion of Brakhage may ultimately not be completely irrelevant within the context of a discussion of Adria:

"(Brakhage/Adria)…has forcefully expanded the boundaries of film (Adria: cooking), turning it into a medium that can sustain intensive epistemological inquiry and visionary insight…(it is an) extensive body of work…that intransigently frustrates the mimetic habits we've slipped into by the "movies" (Adria: by "received" techniques) and reorients his audience to the elemental roles that light and time (Adria: taste and the primal ingredient) play in film.

Re: do you think Adria is a "fad or aberration"

Robert, the answer should be even more apparent as this thread unfolds.  I think you must have an inkling by now that I am in the Adria-for-Chef-of-the-Century camp.  And yes, I agree with Steve Klc: "his technique is nothing special, it's his palate".  More later.  

Re: Duchampian sensibilities in Adria.

I would invoke the works of Raymond Roussel who was a major influence on Duchamp.  The procedes (accents on the 2 e-s; how does one put accents on this forum?) with which Roussel created his strange "novels" are clearly the forerunners of "Conceptual" practice and are very reminiscent of Adria's playful reworkings/undermining of "mimetic habits".   But then, as I argued, Adria's techniques (despite that "Conceptual" dimension) really can be abstracted as "techniques" only retrospectively.  To see it apart from the original impulse (to rethink a certain food) that led to it is to misunderstand Adria's art.  These are not technique-for-technique's-sake.  Which leads us to the question of foam in Adria.

Re: Foam in Adria//Quote: are there antecedents? 1987 Chapel mushroom cappuccino

I have not read this thread (can you refer me to it?) so do not know the context of this "previous discussion".  But I must say that there is so much BS being said and written out there about Adria's foam that obscures the true nature and the true significance of this innovation.  There was a ridiculous Chicago Tribune article about 2 weeks ago on the subject of "foam" that starts by interviewing Rick and Charlie Trotter on their visits to El Bulli and ends by talking about Chef Charlie's "frothed" "emulsions" (!!!) on one hand and Starbucks foam (!!!) on the other.  A lot of people think that they have "experienced" Adria just bec some recent graduate of culinary school put the word foam on the corner bistro menu.  Adria's foam in fact was a solution to a very specific problem: how to capture the intensity of flavor/maintain the "truth" of a certain taste in a form that is also expressive of a certain lightness/airiness/evanescence of texture and being.  Here and elsewhere (more later on this re: Cigalas en texturas and on the fermenting/rising soup) he rejects the classical solution (cf souffles etc) which relies heavily on butter, cream, eggs to cause the mounting and which does not, in his opinion, quite approach the "essence" of the taste…No, I would say that there were no antecedents to Adria's use of the siphon: it's a true innovation from every perspective…

Re: Grids in Sol Lewitt

The most obvious parallel development to this to someone living in Chicago (with our wealth of sublime International-Style architecture) is the "gridding of the world" by Mies van der Rohe.

Re: "I did not adhere to my original plan to dine at El Bulli" + "Steve Plotnicki changed his travel plans" + "become a parody of himself" + "post-Fluxus food event"

I think you gentlemen should give it a chance.  El Bulli will never be a travesty even if, as Lizziee's 2001 experience suggests, Adria might be pushing some envelopes in a major way of late.  There is so so much more to that experience than those "techniques".  Judging Adria on the basis of his followers' works or on the basis of the "techniques" is like saying one does not like Shakespeare on the basis on a reading of Cliff Notes.  If anything, go for the extraordinary quality of the seafood (more on this later) which is some of the finest to be found anywhere in the world.

Re: is this an endorsement of the internationalization of cuisine?

No!

Re: "gastronomic landscape" is a more legitimate phrase than "terroir"

This deserves another thread but I think "landscape" is too vague (but then "terroir" is too "loaded").  "Landscape" does not quite capture that interconnection, that matrix of Man + Nature//Culture + Primary Material that "terroir" does.  

Re: Adria and Italy//Pinocchio in Borgomanero

There are now several little restaurants in dusty provincial towns with young 20-something "rebels" fired by the example of Adria and producing dinners with hookahs, gas masks, cardboards-to-be-licked etc.  Davide Scapin is probably the most prominent among them.  I don't know if you saw the Gambero Rosso from about 5 months ago.  It was the issue with their annual choice for best restaurants of Italy.  There were side bars devoted to every selected chef (Nadia Santini, Annie Feolde and so on) and each one was asked what was the most interesting thing you ate all year.  Shockingly, every one of them listed a dish by Adria-even those chefs-like Romano Tamani-who are exalted by working within the context of an ancient tradition.  (By the way, I have seen your posts in the Italy board: for me the greatest, most evocative, most unforgettable Italian restaurant is the Tamani brothers' L'Ambasciata//for this matter, Pinchiorri is the most grotesquely overrated).

I would love to see someone write a study on the wide influence of Adria in Italy and its relation to the collective memory of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's exhortations in the "manifesto of futurist cuisine".

Re: Hookahs and gas masks and so forth

What these guys, or Liebrandt or Heston Blumenthal are trying to achieve may not have anything to do with Ferran Adria-except perhaps on the superficial level- as a brilliant example/forerunner, an inspiration and a model for procedure.

Re: coddled egg + Beluga caviar + yogurt foam + crushed almonds

Sounds yummy.  And sound like a play/reworking of Savoyard flavors.  Egg + caviar is a classic of course but could the presence of brininess/caviar here in relation to the presumably "cheesy" yogurt foam (think "fonduta" + other butter- and cream-based sauces) also be a reference to the use of anchovy in Piemontese cooking (cf bagna cauda)?

***Patrice,

Re: Michel Bras in Japan

Hi Patrice.  I asked around but no one seems to know anything about this.  Can you supply more information?  This is exciting news.

***Robert Schonfeld,

Re: Signora wagging finger and saying "I knew that calf.  He was no good."

That cracked me up.  Thanks.

I also loved that reference to Picasso's "I've spent my entire life learning to draw like a child."  I think this also applies to Adria's attempts to learn/invent new ways ("techniques" if you will) of making food new and fresh once again.

***Steve Klc,

Re: Being provoked

Heh heh I was just kidding of course.  If I had truly been provoked I would have eviscerated myself in the melodramatic manner of the sea cucumbers as described by Alan Davidson.  THAT would be quite messy. ;)

***Jennifer,

Re: the use of the word "espardenya" in menus

Thanks again for pointing out the Oxford Companion entry.  I have read it many times in the last few days and have chuckled each time.  Such clarity and simplicity and precision in the writing!  How does one learn to write like that?

I thought about what you said.  Given Catalan national pride, I really doubt that Adria (or anyone else) would feel the need to justify the use of the word "espardenya" with quotation marks specially since the alternative is the rather grotesque sounding Castillian cohombro (although note: Catalan cogombre is cucumber).  In all the Castillian versions of Adria's books and menus, the word is translated with the Castillian cognate "espardena" (tilde ~ over the n).  Adria also lists "llongos" and "pastissos" as other words used by the locals along the coast to refer to Stichopus regalis.

***Steve Klc again,

Re: "bleeding edge of a trendy post-Adria backlash.  A has-been parody that never was"

Yes.  The 2001 season saw a deluge of media-attention and the full hysterical force of the media-circus…Hundreds of renowned chefs finally made the trip during this season-not just those listed (for instance) in Dornenburg/Page's new book.  One unfortunate upshot of this "American" invasion may be the decision to close for lunch and serve only one meal per day.  Apparently they founded the rhythm of serving late lunches to Europeans (decent Spaniards don't dine before 9) and continuing on (virtually without a break) to serve early dinners to Americans too punishing.  See next post on this.

***News flash:

A friend sent me a link (I've lost it but will try to find it again) to a surprisingly comprehensive and substantial recent interview (in Spanish) with Ferran Adria published in…(gasp)…Hola!  Yes, the society magazine!  The most prominent bits I remember: they ARE closed for lunch for the 2002 season and Adria specifically mentioned cultural differences in dining times among their guests from the two sides of the Atlantic as putting too much of a burden on the staff.  He also cited the need to spend more time thinking.  

Also: (gasp again) they will be opening their first "Fast Good" place in Madrid in 2003.  "Fast Good" as in: neither "Fast Food" nor "Slow Food"…  

***Tech question:

Would someone kindly show me how to add accent marks on this forum.  My usual html codes don't seem to work.  Also: is there a way to edit for typos?

***John Whiting,

Re: suffering

We MUST talk about this some day.  Why this philosophy of suffering?  Why this ideology of poverty?  This is a specially poignant question when one considers the horrible deprivations in Europe in mid-century.  Given the promises of modernity, why the choice to follow a certain difficult path?  Why, in the midst of hunger, prefer the low-yielding?  Was it mere cussedness? Or is it a part of the European spiritual heritage? (You understand of course that I am talking about something else apart from/beyond the unequivocal superiority of vines/lobsters that have "suffered") I saw your reference on the other thread to Pig Earth and Life and Food in the Dordogne.  Have you read Camporesi's Bread of Dreams?  I don't think that you will find a more horrifying exploration of the history of hunger in the whole literature of food.

***Bux,

Re: pairing

This is a very complicated subject which I would prefer to argue elsewhere.  But briefly: I think that this idea of a perfect match has been fetishized to such a point and the pairing process has been standardized/streamlined to a such an extent (yes, SPECIALLY within the tight rhythms of the all-degustation restaurants) that people have forgotten that wine and food are about time and flow and process and mood and individuals…and that that Wow moment, that magic comes, not as a preordained selection for each dish but as a function of a certain meeting (presided over by a truly great sommelier I would like to think) of food, of wine at a specific moment of its being and of the guest at a specific moment of his enjoyment.  I was reading an interview with Max McCalman somewhere recently and he was asked which wines are the perfect choices for each one of his cheeses.  And his answer amounts to (my paraphrase) "We taste cheese and wine every day and have attempted to find perfect pairings for years yet still have not arrived at a formula.  One finds oneself humbled again and again in the face of this challenge."  This is truly refreshing and contrasts so sharply with those (even on the highest levels) who train their waiters to pair by rote…

***Lizziee,

Re: "Therefore, Steve, I honestly do not agree with you that Bras would be Bras anywhere else"

Yes, Lizziee, you go girl!  ;) You tell that Steve, make him understand! ;)

Lizziee, you put some beautiful quotes on Bras re Aubrac on that post.  The landscape of the Aubrac has an almost spiritual quality to it.  The range of plant life and the specific quality of the herbs, seeds, flowers from here are incomparable.  Michel Bras supposedly uses a repertoire of over 150 of these plants.  And he doesn't just pluck them: only certain parts or even sub-parts are incorporated into the different dishes.  And it is not just the volcanic soil, it is the also the headiness of the altitude.  This is one of the basic philosophies of the whole "sotto il cielo" movement in Italian cheesemaking: the conviction that milk from cows pastured at high altitudes and on a diet of the rich diverse botanic life that could only flourish at such a height is fundamentally superior.

Re: great chefs are connected to their childhood

Hmmm…there's something very true to this isn't there?  Even without psychoanalyzing the chef…

Re: wines

I found two TYPOS: should be GranBAZAN Ambar: a superb wine from Galicia incidentally.  And Eloi should probably be spelled Eloy.  I was thinking of the occitan/Provencal spelling.  The wines that Eloy chose for me were "geekier" and far far more obscure choices than yours but then that's a thing between sommeliers ;).   The wines of Telmo Rodriquez when he was at Remelluri and of Jose Luis Perez at Mas Martinet are reference points for the "new wines" of Spain and I adore their work very much.  What…no whites?

***Steve Klc again,

Re: Bras' cookbooks.

Enjoyed your expressions of admiration for the achievement of these cookbooks.  Must try to find me my own copies.

Re: "I could have picked Newark or Trenton or Hartford" + Lizziee's "but why oh why did you pick Providence"

;) And you claim not to be provocative? ;) ;)

Re: Jose Andres' salad

Steve, I'm not done with you yet ;) but just to show you that we're friends despite your provocations ;), let me offer another passage from Piero Camporesi which your beautiful description of Jose Andres' salad reminded me of:

"The marvellous creation of the salad-a jewel box in which the mysterious virtues of its interlaced herbs were mixed-constituted a small treasure for hedonism and pharmacology: a miniaturized masterpiece of ephemeral art, overelaborate and affected and which, like the apothecaries' prescriptions, required shrewd experience in the "art of manipulation" (Francesco Formica) and the ars combinatoria ("art of arranging") of infinite variety.

In an age when just the composition of a salad required a great knowledge of herbs, their flavors and combined tastes, it was commonly said that "In herbis et in verbis et in lapidibus sunt virtutes".  (There are powers in herbs, words and stones.)"  From Bread of Dreams

Richard

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"Aubrac runs in our blood. We were born on the plateau,  we spent our happy childhoods here, now we work here.  Aubrac provides us with our inspiration, our reason for  living.

Aubrac is also our crucible, the place where all our creative  energies converge: there where our vision is sharpened, our  hearing made more acute, our senses of taste, touch and smell  formed and developed. Like the waterfalls, the lakes, the beech  trees, even the cattle, we are born of Aubrac. We are formed  in its image, by its texture, its build, its bouquet .... its song.

I have eaten, slept and enjoyed several meals at Bras, I've also chatted with the man. He doesn't seem the type to come up with such a load Young Wertheresque rot.

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Richard, that was a very interesting post. The mood has already been broken, so allow me to add that when you speak

of food, of wine at a specific moment
I'm reminded that when someone asks me what goes with rosé wines, or the opposite--what they go with, I'm always inclined to say sunshine and al fresco dining.

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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Richard,

Speaking of "epic proportions", this post will take some time to digest.

As to

how does one put accents on this forum

I just nick something from somewhere like an HTML or doc file and paste. Here's one: é

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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In htmlspeak "é" is written as "é" which won't work here, unless you mean copy and paste from an html document viewed in a browser. At the bottom of all my windows, I see a message saying "Posting HTML is NOT allowed." It's right below the one that says "No Ballplaying" and above "Keep Off the Grass."

:biggrin:

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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Richard, that was an amazing post. I started the "Foam on the Range" post as I was Chapel's biggest American amateur client, I believe. However, after I wrote the post I did go to Madrid to wave the family flag at my brother's exhibition "Sale of the Century" at the Prado (not to brag, but to bring it to your attention as I am sure you would appreciate the conception even if you are a late 19th through the 20th century lad and this is 17th century). Of course I dined at La Broche where the chef had worked for four years in Rosas. What he made was a foam much different than Chapel's cappochino mushroom soup; much thicker, like shaving foam.

Your friend did indeed sound like he knows Stan Brakhage. I knew him fairly well in the early 1960s just after he made "Dog Star Man". Those films were amazing. Do they hold up?

I would like to try La Ambasciata. Maybe this summer. Until then, my favorites are Guido (soon about to move. See my Italy post), Gambero Rosso on the Tuscan Coast, and a French chef's place, Miramonte L'Altra near Brescia.

I raised the concept with Bux at dinner last night about the differences (in the context of Rosas) of a "chef's" cuisine; i.e. cuisine chefs make for other chefs, and the cuisine that us amateur gastronomic travelers seek out (not always the same). I will just have to get on the phone everyday this summer from Nice and hope to jump on a cancellation at El Bulli. There's too much talk and too much to find ouot. I've heard enough; now it is time to see for myself.

Raymond Roussel is adored by a good friend of mine and under-appreciated painter who does remarkable work: Trevor Winkfield. I believe he has also written about Roussel.

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Yes, Bux, that's what I meant.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Hi Richard

A chef from Montreal is now working at Bras. When he came to Montreal this year( while Bras was closed), he told me that.  

I had confirmation while reading Bras new book: ''Même s'il doit ouvrir, au printemps 2002, un restaurant au Japon, il réagit vivement quand on le dit sous influence japonaise.''

By the way, everyone should take a look at this fantastic new book: BRAS

Patrice Demers

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By the way, everyone should take a look at this fantastic new book: BRAS

I've been seeing more than a few references to Bras' book(s) and although some of the posts seem to speak of his new book, I have the impression that they refer to one of the older publications. The new book, which we bought for our son-in-law and delivered before I ever got a good look, is well described by "fantastic." I got a better look at it this weekend. It's a very beautiful publication. It ends with a section devoted to the Aubrac and it's full of small photos interspersed with text. Enlarged to full coffee table sized pages, most of these photos would be spectacular, but reduced as they are, they serve up a more fleeting and ellusive image. They are not restricted to food or even the earth, but convey the "terroir" of the Aubrac in so many thousands words each. Only in their small format, they are a poetic whisper, but that should come as no suprise--Bras' food doesn't shout either.

The photographs accompanying the recipes are stunning, but I'm not sure I, as an amateur cook, would find them inspiring or helpful in interpreting the recipes. I recall one particular photo with rectangles of raw lamb surrounded by spices, cooked garnishes and what appeared to be swirls of finished sauces such as might be on a plate for a diner, but this was all laid out in an abstract pattern on an endess white table. I had to review the recipe (this was the French edition) with my daughter to make sure the recipe called for cooking meat and that this abstract tableau was in fact very abstract. I can't begin to match my son-in-law's library, so I'm content to pass on ownership and maintain my nonmaterialistic existence.

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 found some notes in the depths of my archived files from our only visit to El Bulli. While these are 6.5 years old (October 1995), those who have been recently may get some insight into how the place has evolved (or not). One thing to bear in mind was that we only really ate here because looked an obvious choice in the guide books if one was visiting the Figueras museum. We knew nothing about what to expect.

Drinks on this relaxing terrace came with hand made crisps that were powdered with some sort of elusive nutmeg like spice, hazelnuts in a light batter and a fascinating but unusual crisp peanut tortilla.

We then moved to our table that also viewed the sea and embarked on what was, by quite a margin, the most dishes we have ever eaten in one meal. All of these dishes were recalled after the meal so one or two details will have been lost or transformed.

1. Banana wrapped in bacon, poached quails eggs topped with vanilla seeds, tomato sorbet and a white sauce (fromage frais or similar). Bizarre and somewhat of a surprise. The combinations didn’t clash, which is not to say a new combination has been discovered.

2. Curried chicken stock ice cream on some green apple sauce, onion rings and some coconut.

3. Mussels with sorbet made from their cooking water, guava fruit and a saffron jelly. Instructions were to eat the sorbet in separate mouthfuls to the mussels.

4. Octopus marinated with ginger, mango, avocado dice and soya sauce. The soya was a bit salty, otherwise this was a good dish.

5. Potatoes cut into scallop shapes layered with bacon and caramel sheets. There were several of these and instructions were to eat them whole.

6. Anchovies with mango spaghetti and basil with a red peppercorn sauce. This was better than it must sound.

7. A cappuccino of young broad beans and minute bits of ham that was hot on the bottom but cold on the very frothy top. Excellent as it was simple with the added dimension of hot and cold contrast.

8. Snail wrapped in bacon ringed by a pumpkin puree. Not bad but not a patch on Richard Neat’s snail dish.

9. Well cooked Quail in a reduced sauce with bits of leek tied in knots and well seasoned. Good and tasty but again a little salty for us.

10. A bowl featuring almond ice cream, peach sorbet, beetroot, cauliflower puree, tomato puree, corn puree, basil jelly and avocado puree. You could criticise it for being a pile of baby food, but although some were good, some just didn’t have any discernible flavour.

11. Cold clams on a bed of mushrooms, baby courgette and sweet corn.

12. Langoustine with a parmesan and Xerès (sherry) sauce with rice and mushrooms wrapped in bacon. An excellent tasty dish.

13. Sole on top of thin slices of artichoke hearts topped with brilliantly engineered small thin packets filled with a rosemary sauce. Another fine dish.

14. A piece of bone marrow topped with caviar and cauliflower puree. Very rich. I think the texture was the main point of the dish. It was certainly strange and alien.

15. A creation of fresh raspberries and light vanilla cream with a sweet pepper sauce. Excellent and a relief to have a change of scene.

16. Fennel and pineapple soup on a bed of poached fennel with other fruit purees. I though this was terrific. Light, refreshing, interesting texture and delicate yet firm flavour.

There was also an array of top notch and original friandises - lollipops of caramel, peel and spices, chocolate tuiles, mango sorbet and liquor in tiny cornets, a coffee cup of chocolate milk with orange, a Chinese soup spoon containing banana, avocado and caramel ice sheets, rosemary and fresh mint leaf chocolates, hazelnuts in chocolate.

What to make of all this? There are undoubtedly some top drawer cooking skills at work with amazing richness emanating from some very small pieces of food. There is lightness, although this is overdone at the expense of losing flavour with the numerous vegetable purees for example. There is also some clever use of hot and cold to give contrast to dishes. Also to be admired was the use, in the main, of humble ingredients and the sometimes bold attempts at some pretty weird combination. Beyond the cooking El Bulli is at least poles away from being a luxury dining palace. It is pleasantly spacious, but the decor is more or less every day and for the customers jeans with a T-shirt is almost the common attire. The staff are also pretty OK and deliver good service. Most of the wine and all the other drinks are also very reasonably priced. We selected a local Clos de l’Obac 1991 red that thanks to skill on both sides lasted until the dessert where a large glass of refreshing cava was very welcome.

All of this then should add up to something pretty special, but at the end of the day only a very few of the dishes we had really stood out (16 for me, 12, then perhaps 13 and 9 followed by 15, 6 and 4). It’s a bit like visiting a theme park. There is plenty of excitement and thrills along the way with some flat periods as well, but the whole thing is neither particularly profound nor memorable. If you’re into theme parks then this must be up there with best. At least for me it generated plenty of contemplation - this has been the hardest review to write since I started making personal notes in early 1994.

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Graham, I remember reading that quite some time ago. Was it on your site, or did you send it to me? In any event, at the time it served neither to convince us to go or to stay away, although it raised our curiosity level and thus I suppose, contributed to the decision to eventually go. It's interesting to read a unbiased report from one who had not gone because of the hype and who was thus unprepared.

Speaking of old notes, here's a comment I got from a correspondent in Spain about two years ago. The context is in response to questions about El Bulli and food in Catalonia.

When you're in Barcelona, and if you want to get away from steams and caramels and hot stuff inside cold stuff and the other modernities for a while, ...

It went on to recommend Hispania in Arenys de Mar for very traditional Catalan food.

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.

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It was on my site but I usually remove ageing detailed reviews.

We did have fairly high expectations of El Bulli because the 1995 Gault Millau gave it a heady 19/20, but the nature of the experience was totally unexpected. The other thing to note is that the clientele seemed to be "locals".

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I don't know if someone made mention of it somewhere, but in the April/May issue of The Wine News, there's an interesting story on Ferran Adria.  Beside giving the great importance of his contribution to cooking, they met some chefs who worked or did an internship at El Bulli: Jose Andres of Jaleo, Kenneth Oringer of Clio and Jordi Valles of the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne Florida.

Patrice Demers

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A little update on El Bulli for 2002. It's the 20th anniversay of El Bulli. According to the information on their fax letter head, they are editing three volumes of recipes in celebration of the past 20 years. Their degustacion menu this year will be featuring a retrospective of dishes intended to plese the palate and memory.

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.

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Bras' new restaurant in Japan is due to open in June(according to my sources) & is located in a resort outside Tokyo,forgotten the name.However the chef is Alex Bourdas,a native of Rodez,onetime youthful stagiare chez Bras & chef Patissier for a season(my first)so very much in tune with Michel's philosophy.I read with interest(the new book) the part where Michel's second specifies a talent for extracting strength's from his personnel,a talent i can testify too on a personal front.Such skills allied to a work ethic which is practically unheard of amongst 3 star chefs suggest that the new venture will retain a distinct Bras character with a high level of personal involvement from the man.

                        Whatever undertaking Michel initiated under my tenure within the kitchen involved a huge individual effort(e.g. The design of the restaurant,format of the books,design of silverware,3rd star celebrations,planning of his sons' wedding etc........)I was costantly aware that the scope of the man far exceeded his culinary endeavours,such undertakings were conceived & executed meticulously & simply Bras in style.Bras observes his environment(wherever he may be)& translates his observations in a way that can honestly be described as genius,a talent which few of us share.As far as translatable I believe he is not ,because of the very fact that his conception & execution of ideas together are most certainly unique,when i say translatable i mean at a level equivalent to his own ideas/standards of course a debased translation is possible.

       Just a spin on the El Bulli thread,have the food critics created a monster??? The ego is a powerful source, somebody mentioned that Adria looks towards the U.S as a creative inspiration, I perused a recent copy of Food Arts(A virgin no more) that was littered with "celebrity chefs" not cooking in their restaurants!!this does not illustrate the point I just thought that funny.

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Sean, there are a lot of us who have either been to Restaurant Michel Bras or are admirers of his books. Can you share some more of your experiences and insights about him? May I ask where you to tell us where you are posting from and what you have been doing since working Chez Bras? Thanks for the post. It is special.

P.S. Now I notice you imply you were there when the restaurant was in the town. Are you the fellow from California I met there and then went on to Mondrian?

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  • 4 weeks later...

We ate at El Bulli a few days ago and can report that the meal seemed to be the equal of the one we had two years ago. Not every course was eqully pleasing, but the overall meal kep our interest and we eagerly awaited each and every next course. They are celebrating the twentieth anniversary and each course appears on the souvenir menu with a creation date. The idea of a retrospective of the work of a chef is a very appealing idea to me. By the way, the friends who joined us for dinner, had dined at El Bulli just 10 days prior to dining with us and said their menu was completely different each time and they were equally pleased each time. Not only that, but one of them cannot eat fish or seafood, yet there were no repeated dishes on either of their menus.

We are in France dealing with a French keyboard, but I will post our complete menu when we return to NY. I should note thqt mostly we are eating at small resturants with friends in France qnd hqve our most anticipated reservations in Catalunya next week when we return via Barcelona.

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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Thanks, Bux. I'll be interested in seeing that menu.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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  • 2 weeks later...

We're in Barcelona at the moment and likely for a few days more than anticipated as there seems to be a European air controller´s strike today and tomorrow a general strike throughout Spain. I love Barcelona, but temperatures are in the nineties and this internet cafe is airconditioned--so I´m here.

:biggrin:

The interesting thing about the menu at El Bulli was that it is composed of dishes from the past 20 years. Thus we had a dish or two from various years and the meal may in no way represent his future path. There were a few dishes that had limited appeal for me, but with so much creativity and so many courses it´s both expected and acceptable. We had some really great food at Celler de Can Roca in Gerona, L'Esgard in St. Andreu de Llavaneres, and Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mer. The last is a Relais Gourmand. All three offered exceptional service and food that was both accomplished and creative, if less challenging than what is being done at El Bulli. L'Esgard is only one star--the others are two--but all three are compelling restaurants. We have no plans to visit El Raco de Can Fabes on this trip, but the more I think about it, that´s the most successful gastronomic stop in Catalunya for me. I think these five restaurants represent one of the great clusters of compelling restaurants outside of Paris. El Celler de Can Roca is outside of Girona and we took a cab to have dinner there. The two north of Barcelona we drove to for lunch from our less than central location up the coast. I suspect these restaurants can all be visited though a judicious use of the train and taxis from Barclona, although Girona is worth at least one overnight to see the city´s treasures. We were most aware of the access by public transportation while dining at Sant Pau as the electric commuter train passes júst between the restaurant´s garden and the beach. I assure you it´s not a distraction as it was quiet.

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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Bux,

You are making this excruciating. I can't wait to hear the details.

If you are stuck in Barcelona, consider a meal at Ca L'Isidre (tiny whitebait fried, quickly sauteed squid, roast baby goat - all perfect) or Jean Luc Figueras (rare duck chunks,  iced tomato with shrimp, snails with red pepper mousse, baby pork with peach honey and hot goat cheese - wonderful).

Again, can't wait for the full report.

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