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El Bulli 2006 reports

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On May 3, 2006, we had the pleasure of dining at El Bulli. Needless to say, it was an excellent meal, which ranks up with the French Laundry and Pierre Gagnaire in my experience. Highlights of the meal were probably the brioche-mozzarella-rose foam, Iberico ham and potato course and the cheese course. The seafood dishes, however, were very disappointing, as all of mine had strong "fishy" tastes, which I found surprising. Details are below. (Note that I've listed the courses in Spanish from the menu, but have tried to provide some sort of translation based on what I remembered and with the help of an online translation service).

Here is El Bulli from the "camping" hotel next door, where we stayed. As you can see, they are a short walk from one another, which is quite convenient.


Kitchen in full swing.


First course: "fresas/mandarina campari" (strawberry/mandarin campari). The strawberries were infused with tangerine flavor and the liquid tasted of strawberries. This was merely ok. The texture of the berries was a bit flabby.


"Aceitunas verdes sfericas": they tell you they're olives, but, if you've done your research, you know they're more than that. The essence of an olive encased in a thin, gelatinous sphere that bursts when you bite into it. Very good.


Starting at the bottom left corner: "croquanter de guanabana", "waffles de olive negra", "serpiente", "corteza de salmon" and "parma/passion". I'm not sure if the "serpiente" and "corteza de salmon" descriptions are right; I recall the green twigs being some sort of crisp seaweed and the next dish looks like squid.


The "parma/passion" was absolutely delicious. What a great flavor combination -- shaved parma in a passion fruit tuile.


"Galletas heladas": we were told these were butter cookies. Some sort of frozen butter concotion, merely ok as they weren't too flavorful.


"Esencia de mandarina": tasty essence of mandarin.


"Nitro-fresas, parmegiano": frozen strawberry and parmegiano.


"Caviar sferico de melon": melon caviar. Interesting play of textures, included passion fruit seeds.


One of the standouts: "bricohe al vapor de mozzarella al perfume de rosas". This was basically a very light brioche bun, filled with warm, gooey mozzarella and topped with rose foam. I could eat this every morning for breakfast.


"Deshielo": I don't remember all that was in this dish, but there is some peanut powder.


"Migas de almendra, tomate raff, sauco y gele de almen": tomatoes with almond flowers and foam.


"Esparragos en escabeche": asparagus five ways.


"Guisantes al jamon con ravioli cremoso a la menta fresca y aire de eucalipto": Peas and jamon with little bits of a cream jelly. The flavors of mint and eucalyptus were also worked in. Delicious.


"Mejillones sferificados con sopa de patata al bacon y crema doble": mussels in spheres with a potato bacon essence and cream. The potato bacon essence/soup was amazing -- the perfect distillation of those two flavors. My mussels, however, were very fishy. I couldn't even finish them, which was a shame. I probably should have said something, but I didn't feel as comfortable doing so since I don't speak Spanish.


"Ventresca de salmon con encurtidos": salmon belly with various items, including pickles. Some of the salmon was a bit fishy, but the dish was pretty good, with all sorts of interesting bits of flavor.


"Ostras con panceta iberica ahumada, sopa montada con su grasa": I think I have the right description here. These were oysters and, again, mine were very strong. I didn't finish this dish, either.


"Perrechicos escaldados": I don't know what mushrooms these are, but the dish was extremely tasty. The yellow balls are spheres, but I can't remember what they were filled with.


"Colmenillas a la crema": I think I have the right description off the menu. Morels in foam. Very intense.


"Virutas ibericas con pure de patatas": shaved Iberico ham with potato puree. How bad could that be? Delicious and a generous serving, I might add!


"Patas de pollo crispy": crispy chicken feet with seaweed. The feet had been deboned. Nice and crispy, but not terribly flavorful.


"Torta canarejal con merengue de miel": excellent cheese, perfectly ripened and served with honey meringues. One of the highlights of the meal.


"Liquid de melocoton": peach liquid


"Helado de coco con merengue ligero de zanahoria": coconut ice cream with carrot meringue.


A sort of raspberry bar. We also ordered an excellent tea.


"Galletas": crisp wafers in various flavors.


At the end of service, they set down these three bowls covered with inflated white gloves that are supposed to be waving "goodbye". Seemed a little silly to me, but there was a present in one of the bowls (see next photo).


Passion fruit chocolates -- delicious!


As far as logisitcs, we rented a car at the Barcelona airport and drove up to Roses. We decided to stay at Ciudad de Vacances, the camping hotel next door. It's very basic and I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, EXCEPT for the fact that it is very convenient.


Edited by mukki (log)

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Nice report, Mukki. Thank you. I was beginning to despair of seeing any reports on El Bulli this year. A number of the dishes you had, I had last summer, but the vast majority of yours were certainly new to me. I am surprised by your seafood experience though as I found the seafood dishes to be highlights last year. It is nice to see the presentation as interesting as ever.

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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Our receipt shows that the tasting meu was 165 euros per person. In addition to that: 2 waters = 6 euros; 2 cavas = 20 euros; 1 bottle wine = 65 euros; and 2 teas = 7 euros.


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So, how much did it cost to eat at El Bulli? ;)

The degustation menu this year is 170 EUR if I'm not mistaken.

Still a bargain, especially compared to its peers.

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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Someone once told me that there is a special 80 (yes, 80 :wacko: ) course tasting menu at El Bulli. According to my (highly dubious) source, it takes several hours, and is drawn out over the course of an entire evening. Something like from 5pm-2am according to this person. Is this true?

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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The dishes you had are very different from the ones we had at the beginning of the season (April 14). The only ones that were the same were the olives (delish), melon caviar, steamed brioche, the peas, tomatoes, morels (ours were very gritty), oysters and peach liquid. So assuming we had the same number of dishes (30 plus the "morphings"), they changed more than 2/3 of the menu.

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Not a bargin if several courses, especially a range (here seafood), are "substandard" to everything else - you tellin' me that they can't cook fish? This is a real problem at some 3-stars: weak courses. Infuriating.

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I am surprised by the number of dishes that are surrounded in foam. Seems a little overused to me. Did you think the meal was value for money or more of a theatrical play with food as the main character?

Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose. - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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I am surprised by the number of dishes that are surrounded in foam. Seems a little overused to me. Did you think the meal was value for money or more of a theatrical play with food as the main character?

Yeah, while looking at the pictures I was reminded of Bourdain's "foam dude" remark. Foam doesn't seem like it'd be too satisfying of a food element. I think the foams just provide "essences" of foods. but several of the plates don't have much else. I hope there are a lot of courses - none of the plates look filling!

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How are the spheres for the olives and mussels made? Are they just puffed up gelatin?

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I am surprised by the number of dishes that are surrounded in foam. Seems a little overused to me. Did you think the meal was value for money or more of a theatrical play with food as the main character?

Looking back, there is a lot of foam, but it didn't bother me at all. The meal was certainly a value for the money: the price was in the same ballpark as other 3 star meals I've had and I was introduced to some excellent dishes and preparations I had never experienced before. I was actually surprised that the middle courses felt as substantial as they did considering all I had read about foam, airs and vapors. In fact, I was a little disappointed that I wasn't served any dishes based on the latter two (like the vaporized pound cake or the Parmigiano-Reggiano air I've heard about). The meal turned out to be less about theatrics than I had anticipated.

Not a bargin if several courses, especially a range (here seafood), are "substandard" to everything else - you tellin' me that they can't cook fish? This is a real problem at some 3-stars: weak courses. Infuriating.

Well, I wouldn't say that they can't cook fish, as I haven't heard anyone else report the same problem. I think my mussel dish was particularly bad since my SO's was only mildly strong; when I gave him the rest of mine, he took one bite and refused the rest. It was disappointing, but, like I said, I could have said something, but didn't.

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Our meal had at least two airs: one was parmesan with home-made meusli and the other I can't remember.

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A possible theory on some of the perceived fishiness, especially with the mussel dish. I have found that some dishes made with sodium alginate, a seaweed derivative, do impart a noticeable ocean-y flavor, especially with lightly flavored ingredients. Some individuals pick up this nuance better than others and find it objectionable. Also the calcium chloride bath can turn the spheres bitter, if not properly rinsed afterward. This probably wasn't the case, but it's a thought.

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It went right over my head, that they had opened.

Nice report, Mukki. Thank you. I was beginning to despair of seeing any reports on El Bulli this year. A number of the dishes you had, I had last summer, but the vast majority of yours were certainly new to me. I am surprised by your seafood experience though as I found the seafood dishes to be highlights last year. It is nice to see the presentation as interesting as ever.


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I visited for the first time on may the 18th and had many of the similar courses with a few differences later on, notably avocado tempura, a parmesan ravioli/boat floating on a broth to be scooped up with "basil air"/foam, bone marrow and the deserts were very different.

I thought the meal was fantastic, the overall theme of the meal seemed to be seaweed, which was present throughout many dishes, as was thai basil that made a few appearences.

The meal came to approx €450, the wines they recommended were only €30 and they must of refilled my Cava 4 times but charged me once, though this could of been down to the fact the sommelier being delighted his team Barca had won the champions league the previous night.

I thought the place was a bargain for what we got and the whole experience superb and well worth the effort.

BTW the yellow spheres were egg yolks

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Due to the extreme kindness of friends, we got a reservation to El Bulli essentially handed to us for June 15, 2006. One does not turn such a thing down. So! We're going to Spain in June! Cool! Never been to Spain.

We drove up from Barcelona and stayed in Roses for two nights and sensibly took a taxi over the very narrow road over the mountain from Roses. The bay has only 4 or 5 buildings in it and the restaurant sits tucked into the hill over looking the water. From the size and color of the timbers in the dining room it appears to be an old building but they have dug the kitchen into the hill, making a huge room.


We were invited to see the kitchen as soon as we arrived and had our picture taken by the every helpful staff before being seated.

The dining room is uncrowded, no tables smooshed together. We were given the option of sitting across from each other or side-by-side where we could watch the room. We took the latter of course, so much more fun to watch people and food.

Cocktails first

1. gintónic de pepino alexandrino

This was foam from a siphon into a martini glass with cucumber instead of an olive, and an orange peel twist. There was definitely ginger in the foam too.

After this we suggested to the sommelier that we would like to try local Catalan wines to compliment the Catalan food and he suggested a Cava Augusti Torelló Cava-Penedès, Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2002


2. aceitunas verdes sféricas-l

The cava arrived with the famous essence of olive in a gelatin globe. This was sooo much the essence of olive. I've not read the cookbooks but I've been wondering if this isn't actually a distillation, it was so potently 'olive' including some very emphatic overtones of the bitterness as well. Noticeable on the back of your tongue but not necessarily unpleasant.


3. hojas de mango y flor de tagete

Mango 'leaf' with a flower from the marigold family. A hint of black pepper in the dried mango. Magically fragile and melted in your mouth.


The next four arrived together as an ensemble.

4. "animals"

5. waffles de lechuga de mar y sésamo blanco

6. lo garrapiñado: platano con sésamo a la nuez moscad

7. pistachulines tous

The 'animals' were rice crackers in the shape of Prawn, Octopus, and Squid rings and one other flavor we neglected to write down.

The sesame seaweed waffles were heavy on the seaweed, very wakame like flavors in them and a bit light on the sesame but delicious too.

Banana freeze dried with a lovely coating of something hard and sweet with sesame and something else. Lovely even for the one who doesn't care for banana at all. Unsure if the freezing happened before or after coating.

The 'soft' pistachios were a sort of pistachio butter formed around what we believed to be a boiled peanut. A fragment of nut being stuck in a tooth and discovered later evidenced this. :)



8. esencia de mandarina

A spoon of Mandarin soup with a hint of mango in it.


9. caviar sférico de melón

The classic dish. It was perfect. To look at it I would have sworn it was the same sort of fish eggs with which I baited my fishing hook as a kid. :) The passion fruit seeds added just a hint of tartness and edge to the incredible melon tastes of the dish. It is such a perfect illusion from the can upward. We weren't the only ones to laugh delightedly when served this. Biting into them certainly was very like caviar only to have melon burst into your mouth.


With this dish arrived a Can Ràfols dels Caus Penedès La Calma 2002. This was very good white wine, local that impressed us more as it opened up. Super price performance too since it wasn't expensive (€45) and compared very well to other chenin blancs we've had for twice to three times a much.


10. piñones tiernos con banda de agua de piña verde

This was an all white dish that they carefully showed us the base ingredient -- a very large but immature pinecone. There was a pine nut meringue made of the unformed kernels as I understood it, a cream based also on the nut and what looks like rice is actually the immature nuts. Not terribly memorable, very delicate slightly astringent taste.


11. tempura de aguacate: al cilantro/peppermint/caipirinha

Three pieces of avocado tempura, Wasabi (not very much cilantro that I could tell), Peppermint and Caipirinha flavored. All very good with rich avocado and delicate batter. This would be worth trying some variation of at home.


12. won-ton campestre

This was so fun. First we were presented with small bowls of Basil foam. Then a large bowl of chicken soup looking broth with this HUGE looking floating balls in it. These were Parmesan wontons and we were instructed to eat them in one bite. The server gently scooped them out with a perforated spoon and placed them in the foam. We looked skeptical since the broth was steaming quite vigorously and the wontons looked like a lot more than a single bite. But popping them in our mouths, we find they were hollow inside, warm not hot and not a flour based dough at all.


13. pasas de PX y moscotel con foie-gras de paty y brioche

Foie Gras with Brioche croutons with fennel foam. Each of the dotted sauces on the plate was an intense and different flavor: coffee, cardamom and white chocolate. We may have missed one but each complemented the foie gras on very different levels. The 'raisins' were each a wine reduction in a slightly deflated sphere - sauternes, port and a muscat I believe.


14. blanco

An all white dish obviously. This was also Pine based as well as fennel. The more solid foams were arranged around what looked like a continuous mound of fluffy grated white stuff. But at the bottom end the fluff was freeze dried and fluffy and at the top end it was frozen with the slice of anisy ice cream delineating it. More interesting for textures than flavors though eating what felt like 'astronaut ice cream' is always fun.


15. sopa de maravilla de guistante

Pea soup with pork rinds. No really. Except the soup was thickened with semolina so instead of creamy you had the texture of very thin Cream of Wheat that tasted intensely of peas. And the little pork rinds were so good. They may actually have been cracklings but mmmm.


16. sopa de pan con Laurencia y yemas sféricas

Bread soup with 'egg yolks'. I think this had something like a daikon fish stock base, certainly lots of seaweeds. Intense satisfying flavor with more of the spheres, which I have to confess I cannot remember the specific flavors encased within.


17. pasta / almendra

Almond raviolis with Anchovy gelée and a fresh half cherry. The nuts had been blanched and were slightly soft. The sauce was rich and buttery and the bits of anchovy were bursting with that salty sweet flavor that Spanish anchovies have. The acids in the bit of cherry then cleansed that away.


18. falso tartufo con aire de melón y virtuas de panceta virtu

Truffle 'skins' with melon foam and then the dried nuggets of 'fat ham' and hazelnuts. The dried skin dissolved leaving tiny bits of truffle in your mouth. I know the title says 'false truffle' but they only said truffle to us and they did have a nice turffle-y taste to them.


19. trufa sférica

Spheres in consommé. The larger white ones were truffles, the smaller were clam with nice pieces of clam in them. First sphere that sort of didn't vanish in the mouth but had to be chewed. The small golden ones were 'corn' and were the most astonishing corn flavor, as if you distilled all your memories of the most perfect sweet corn and popped it in the spheres. Discussing this we thought perhaps they may have sprouted corn and then processed that. There was a hint of malt in them that spoke of sprouts to me.


20. ackees/sopa de ternaer a la albahaca, albondiga de pe

In some ways this may have been the strangest dish. This was Akees. The waiter assured us this is the national fruit of Jamaica. I'd never heard of it but by gum he was right. It didn't have a strong flavor but it's texture was somewhere between raw and cooked chestnuts. I thought it must be a relative of that at first; the texture was so reminiscent of chestnut. Melon slices and a milk cream floating in a Basil and 'meat' broth.


With this dish we moved on to another selection of the sommelier, an Allende 2001 Rioja. Very round and nice, not too heavy for any of the dishes. I really liked letting the sommelier select local wines for us. I can buy a $200 bottle of wine in any restaurant. I wanted to stay with their ideas of how to compliment their food.

21. el mar

Seaweed salad consisting of at least 16 kinds of different seaweeds spiraled around a bit of watermelon in a seawater foam. It was amusing how very different each kind of seaweed was. Some delicate, some salty, some iodine flavored. Great fun but I saw other people look at it a bit askance. I think they must not have tons of dried seaweed in their kitchens as we do.


22. buey de mar marrackech

Spider crab Marrakech style. Oh this was so good. The crab was lovely big pieces with coriander raviolis, each with a single leaf pressed between two thin pieces of pasta. The Couscous was spicy and toasted or fried after cooking so it crunched in your mouth. Floating in the broth were little slices of citron gelatin.



23. conejo con caracoles al ajillo

This was explained as 'rabbit with offal'. Ok. I have no trouble with organs but my sweetie is a 'recovering vegetarian' :) I ate both kidneys. Nice little rabbit leg with green pepitas, a few couscous pearls a tiny dollop of mashed celeriac. Not sure precisely what other parts of the rabbit some of the meat bits came from. Inside the spheres were bits of intense broth. It was yummy as seen in the pictures, since it was the only one we failed to take a shot of before diving in.


24. la oveja, el queso y su lana

This was a 'pre-dessert'. A lovely warm and runny sheep cheese pooled under 'wool of the sheep' which was very cotton candy like and made from the same cheese. We think we detected a hint of something herbaly like tarragon in the wool as well. A little Raspberry jelly accompanied this. I didn't lick my plate but wanted to.


With this we started on sweet wines with a Modegas Ochoa Moscatel 2005 from Navarra. Very floral and orange nose to it but not sticky sweet.

25. liquid de melocotón

Bonbon and soup of peach. The bonbon looked like it should have been a meringue but no no, too ordinary. Inside was a peachy syrup with peach liquor. The spoon was the peach equivalent of the essence of mandarin we'd had earlier. A complete capture of what makes a peach a peach.


26. pomelo

This was the official dessert. Grapefruit, powered green tea, candied violets and pistachio. Tiny hints of nutmeg in the leaves. Not too sweet and again the flavors each standing out but complimenting one another too.


après desserts

27. raspberry meringue

Looked like a pink dishwashing sponge and made me laugh. But it was a lovely semi-soft meringue with a cream center and a white chocolate and berry disc on top. I thought it each was centered in a pile of powered sugar or chocolate but no, that was just the lovely plates.


We had some green tea brought now and we quite fell in love with the spoons which were made just for El Bulli, stamped with MEN 3.3.2 elBulli on the side and are modeled on the throw away plastic stirrers many fast food places have.


28. fried brioche w/ blackberry

A variation on the national sweet 'churos" a sort of fried dough strip much like a donut, sometimes filled sometimes not, and usually eaten in the morning with thick chocolate to dip it in. The description they gave is was 'fried brioche' and indeed it was; lovely sweet dough with a blackberry-like filling of whatever the local brambleberry bushes seem to bear. I could eat these every day for breakfast.


29. chocolate leaves

A little metal flowerpot, filled with crushed cocoa nibs and a dried coriander branch with the little leaves growing from the soil. So amazingly delicate but with a very natural vein system painted on them.




The restaurant was starting to empty by now but we had spotted some interesting bottles on the drink trolley as we entered so we asked about that. No menu, we were told, what do you like? Well the answer to that is Armagnac, almost always.

1964 Darroze Bas Armagnac

1978 Dartiglalonge Bas Armagnac

They also had a Laberdolive, but we've drunk a fair amount of that and with Armagnacs I *always* try the ones I never had before when given a choice. I didn't get to examine the bottles to see when either of these was actually bottled but while the colors were remarkably similar, the 78 actually tasted softer and more mature than the 64, which if they still have some in the cask, I hope they keep it and let it sit for another 20-30 years so I can try it again in my dotage.



I am loath to designate 'best restaurant' labels. I frankly don't know if this is the best restaurant in the world. I haven't been to the Fat Duck yet, after all. But I do know it was the most inventive, most amazing, most remarkable food I have ever eaten. We were sated and overwhelmed but not gorged. That would be wrong for that food. It is a magical place and time where everything seems to glow happily and smiles abound even as the staff dances and avoids one another as dishes swoop in for appearance and vanish with a poof. I shall never forget it.

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Great photos Tamzen

and great report.

Interesting so see how many dishes were different from when we visited on May 18th

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Wow, the meal has changed almost completely from when we went in April. Only three dishes are the same - the olive, caviar and peach bonbon.

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Excellent report, Tamzen. Thank you. Your response was very similar to my own last year. Through your post I could relive a lot of the magic I felt then.

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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Tamzen, thank you. I really enjoyed that vicarious dining experience. You definitely have extremely kind friends.

Just to make sure in my own mind: You only ate the chocolate leaves and not the entire plant, right??

Question for you: Did you have any pre-conceived notions about El Bulli before your meal? What are your thoughts now, after your dinner?

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

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Glad people are enjoying the report.

The cost 545 euros for the 2 of us. The tasting is 170/person and we had 4 bottles of wines (well most of each bottle) and 2 Armagnacs. :)

And yes we ate just the leaves of chocolate, though we did test the 'dirt' to make sure it was just cocoa nibs like Scharfen Berger sells. The 'tree' was just a branch of dried coriander.

Did I have any preconceptions?

I don't really think so. I mean I've read all the reviews here but it does seem like it's so random what sort of things you get served. We'd never been to Spain at all so just the journey to Roses was fun and exciting. We were certainly full of anticipation and were having fun already eating tapas and exploring Dali's house and everything else we did for the day and a half before. I think my only preconception was that it would be wonderful and it was!

I'm a bit surprised to find how vivid the physical memory of some of the dishes is. How the pea soup felt in the mouth, how the spheres burst, how warm the churo was. Often those sort of things fade faster than the memory of how something tastes.

I'd go back but I think it does need time and in many ways I'd feel kind of guilty if in a few years I tried for a reservation and got it. I'd feel like I was depriving someone who hadn't eaten there yet. :)

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I'd go back but I think it does need time and in many ways I'd feel kind of guilty if in a few years I tried for a reservation and got it. I'd feel like I was depriving someone who hadn't eaten there yet. :)

I won't feel guilty when I go back if I am lucky enough to do so. I think having a sense of the restaurant's evolution is part of its allure. The snapshot in time is great, but I really want to get a sense of it over time. I think that is a very important element for this restaurant more than almost any other. Alinea in Chicago is another that fits into that mold. These are things that appear to set them apart from The Fat Duck, which apparently, for better or worse, does not change its menu very often.

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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      The only moment - it request 1 extra effort: after you toss it over popcorn, you need to microwave it for 1 min, and stir after.
      So, I was wondering, if you like popcorn like myself - would this seasoning be interesting for you to purchase? Are you ready for a little extra work (microwave & stir) in the goal to flavor popcorn, or it feels too much effort?
      As I have no experience in manufacturing and retail, your answers would help me to make a very important decision - to dive in or not... 
      Thanks in advance for your answers, it means the world to me.
    • By lindaj1
      Is there any recipe from the modernist universe or any other galaxy to make ketogenic (low carb) puff pastry and strudel type doughs?  Unusual ingredients OK.  There must be a way...
    • By haresfur
      I got to thinking after the disgusting job of separating globs of fat from sous vide short ribs and debating never doing them that way again. If the fat renders out in a braise, but not in the sous vide, what temperature would you need to turn the fat liquid to get rid of it? Is it below well-done or do you really have to cook the shit out of it? Is it just temperature or a time&temperature thing?
      Along those lines, what happens with marbled, tender cuts? where is the sweet spot between solid fat and something more palatable?
    • By Daily Gullet Staff
      By John Sconzo

      The Daily Gullet is proud to present this, the first in a multi-part, front-row report on the recent "Spain and the World Table" conference. Watch for subsequent installments in this topic.

      In his introduction of Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller -- perhaps the most celebrated American chef ever -- described four elements that go into making a great chef. The chef must be aware. Once aware of one’s culinary and other surroundings that chef can then be inspired, which leads to the ability to interpret those surroundings. But a great chef does not stop there. Instead, the great chef continues to evolve. Ferran Adria, perhaps more than any other chef who has ever lived, is the embodiment of those four elements.

      The moment that Ferran Adria strode towards Thomas Keller on the stage at the CIA/Greystone’s World of Flavors’ “Spain and the World Table” Conference was electric -- as if a giant Van de Graf generator had been turned on. The feeling didn’t subside when Adria took the stage from Keller; it only became more pronounced as the packed crowd rose to its feet, raining applause, admiration and love on the Spanish master. Adria accepted the response with aplomb, and gave it right back to the audience -- and to his fellow Spanish cocineros, who were standing off to the side. He brought each one up to join him on the stage for a rousing thank-you to the conference organizers, sponsors and participants. Once this emotional release subsided, Adria got down to what everyone had been waiting for -- his discussion and demonstration.

      Ferran Adria, with eyes sparkling like the finest cava, began speaking Spanish in a voice as gravelly as the beaches of the Costa Brava, while Conference Chairman Jose Andres translated. The crowd, hushed and straining for every word, moved forward in their seats as Adria explained El Bulli and himself, with a lesson in recent culinary history thrown in. Ferran explained that El Bulli is not a business. While offshoots of El Bulli are operated on a for-profit basis, the restaurant runs without profit as a primary motivation. For example, he said, the greatest difficulty they have is distributing reservations. Given the extraordinary demand and the severely limited supply, he explained that they could simply raise the price of a meal to the point where the supply and demand met. Indeed, the price of a meal at El Bulli is in itself quite reasonable given the stature of the restaurant and well within means of most motivated diners should they be able to get there, and this is how Adria prefers it. He stated that he was not interested in cooking solely for those with the most money. He prefers to work for people with a true interest in exploring the limits of cooking with him. To this end he showed a short film depicting “A Day in the Life . . .” of El Bulli set to the Beatles’ song of the same name. The film showed a couple’s response to the experience.

      Ferran’s voyage into creativity began with a visit to Jacques Maxima at Le Chanticleer Restaurant in Nice, France. He learned from Maxima that to be creative is not to copy. This idea changed his entire approach to cooking -- from making classic cuisine to making his own. Aware of elaborate books of French cuisine, Adria resolved to catalogue his work, the results of which are the richly detailed El Bulli books, published by period. These books, as wonderful as they are, are huge and extremely expensive. During his presentation, Adria announced -- and demonstrated -- that the individual dishes photographed and described in a chronology within each book are all now available online at elbulli.com.

      He finished the philosophical discussion by talking about the general style of haute cuisine that he and others are engaged in. While others have coined the term “molecular gastronomy” to highlight the scientific component of the creativity involved, Adria rejected it, saying that all cooking is molecular: most of his techniques are in fact rather simple and don’t employ radical new technology. Most of the technology that they do use has been around for some time; they have simply adapted it to their own purposes. Nevertheless, he applauds contributions to gastronomy from Harold McGee and other food scientists, and welcomes their collaboration in the kitchen. He has yet to find a term that describes the movement: as of now, he feels that there really is no good name for this style of cooking.

      More than any other single thing, Ferran Adria is known for the use of “foams” in cooking. While he is proud of his achievements with foams, he stressed that while appropriate in some circumstances, the real utility of foams is limited. He bemoans their ubiquity -- and wishes to not be blamed for others’ poor deployment of the concept. In the course of describing this and other techniques, Adria made a point of stating that using them should not be inferred as copying. Techniques and concepts are to be used and shared. He invited everyone to learn and harness whatever they found interesting, and to employ it in to their own pursuits.

      Another set of techniques discussed and demonstrated by the master and his assistant, Rafa Morales from Hacienda Benazuza, included three types of spherification. These included the use of calcium chloride (CaCl) and sodium alginate as well as the converse, and exploration of a new agent, gluconodeltalactone. The original combinations of alginate into CaCl for “caviar” production, and CaCl into alginate for larger “spheres” have chemistry-related limits as to what can be sphericized. In private correspondence, Harold McGee explained to me that Adria described encapsulating a mussel in its own juice. While this would make the dish technically an aspic, unlike conventional aspics it remains a liquid. Adria said that though gluconodeltalactone is very new, and they are just beginning to get a handle on it, he is very excited by it. He also demonstrated a machine for spherification on a larger scale than they had originally been able to do, as well as liquid nitrogen and freeze-drying (lyophilization) techniques. At the conclusion of his demonstration -- and thus the Conference -- the audience once again awarded him a standing ovation.

      While Adria’s appearance was the culmination of the conference, the energy it produced was not just because of his stature in the world of gastronomy -- it was also due to the excitement generated by the conference that preceded it. If there had previously been any doubt, Thomas Keller’s welcome of Adria was a clarion: Spanish cuisine has landed on North American shores and is finding a niche in the North American psyche. Spanish cuisine -- in its multifaceted, delicious entirety -- lives here, too.

      + + + + +

      John M. Sconzo, M.D., aka docsconz, is an anesthesiologist practicing in upstate New York. He grew up in Brooklyn in an Italian-American home, in which food was an important component of family life. It still is. His passions include good food, wine and travel. John's gastronomic interests in upstate northeastern New York involve finding top-notch local producers of ingredients and those who use them well. A dedicated amateur, John has no plans to ditch his current career for one in the food industry. Host, New York.
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