The Sorcerer's Apprentices
The Sorcerer's Apprentices

The Sorcerer's Apprentices

Lisa Abend
Full Title
The Sorcerer's Apprentices
Last Highlighted
March 16, 2022 11:56 PM (CDT)
Last Synced
June 8, 2023 1:12 PM (CDT)


miserably in agreement. “At least you have plates.

Ferran’s creativity—the ability to totally reinvent his menu each year—rests in part on this stable collective memory, the confidence that, though the menu will change, everything else will be exactly as it should be.

Of all the aspects of the food revolution, this may be the most dramatic: by endowing restaurant cooking with respect, prestige, and a measure of glamour, it has drastically broadened and improved the pool of people willing to take on the labor.

It’s just that here the equation—learning for drudgery, learning through drudgery—is different.

and hit

For that kind of reinvention to happen, creativity can’t wait for something so fleeting as inspiration; it has to be codified. And indeed, one of elBulli’s ironies is that the more widely Ferran is defined as an artist, the more businesslike his approach to creativity has become.

is changed at a time, is the most important thing that elBulli does, the basis of its creativity. Roberto González, a cooking instructor and food writer who did a stage at the restaurant in 1998, remembers the first time they got agar-agar, which by now is one of the standard gellifiers that elBulli uses.

Most new dishes start with an interrogation: What happens if we freeze-dry foie gras? Can we come up with a new way to thicken a sauce? What is the best way to highlight the tartness in a lulo or the variety of flavors in soy? As the famously creative American pastry chef (and former stagiaire) Will Goldfarb explained to the New Yorker writer Bill Buford, the “operating principle was always ‘What if?’

elBulli, and, as the case of the Shabu Shabu proves, the words that describe a dish routinely go through as many iterations as the ingredients that make it up. “Naming is where the psychological work happens,” Ferran explains.

It is this ambition, this sense that his dishes are reaching for something more than simply tasting good, that irks his critics.

His crime is less that he breaks or refuses to acquiesce to long-established rules (savory comes before sweet; sauce is liquid, not solid) than that he dares to ask, demands to ask, really, can food be art?

But Ferran himself encouraged the connection by actively seeking relationships with scientists, especially the chemist Pere Castells, who first introduced him to xanthan gum.

But most of them say they do not want to cook like him. It is a curious truth that although they are thrilled to acquire the techniques and fight to have the opportunity to learn to use the Pacojet or the alginate bath, the great majority of stagiaires have no plans to produce avant-garde cuisine themselves.

They see cooking, in other words, as a form of self-expression equal to writing poetry or painting sunsets.

But like Ferran says, you have to have monotony to have anarchy.”

In general, the restaurant is open only five days a week, and after one of the monthly ten-day stretches, a luxurious four days off follow.

in 2009, it was an eight-hour documentary for Spanish television on the history of the restaurant. Nor

But maybe, he started to see, his true legacy lay with the people he trained who had, in turn, helped make elBulli so very exceptional. Perhaps it lay with is stagiaires.

The beginning that says: food can be whatever you imagine it to be.

A friend once said to me that a truly great restaurant is always about something more than what it serves. ElBulli is about change.