The Soul of a Dish ….

Pondering the soul of food

I am one of the lucky few who made it to Club El Bulli  before closing 7/2011-I got a lucky break and knew people who knew people and managed to snag one of the last few reservations available to humankind!

However… even though I MADE it to El Bulli but I didn’t actually get to eat there!

The night before my dinner at El Bulli I ate at 10 different tapas restaurants in the old city of Madrid. I had mussels and sucked freshly cooked crawfish heads, sardines, patatas bravas, olives, sardines, potatoes with runny egg, lots of Rose wine and some sweet cherry boozy stuff for dessert.

Runny Eggs-all part of the tapas crawl

Sucking Crawfish Heads (photo: Gerry Dawes)

The next morning i was sick at the train station, passed out on the AVE (high speed train) to Barcelona and sick again at the rest stop on the way to Rosas. I went to the PHARMACIA in Rosas and they were very nice and gave me an assortment of over the counter drugs -but I was still so ill, I just wanted to curl up and die…

But!! I had to do it-I wasn’t going to let some silly food poisoning get in the way of my only chance to eat at El Bulli! So over the hill and through the woods.. to Ferran’s house we went, me and Boy Wonder (AKA Greg Grossman). 

Over The Hill and Thru the Woods-to Ferran's House We Went

 We took the obligatory pictures outside the restaurant and with Ferran-he was expecting us and we got to have a few minutes of chat with the master of modern cuisine! We then sat down and began our culinary journey through the Ferran’s 60+ dishes.  It started with a pillow like cocktail made with cotton candy and freeze dried pineapple, frozen alcohol and what appeared to be dipping dots! We then moved into the mojito apple flute (AKA the methylcellulose sandwich).

MethylCellulose Sandwich AKA Mojito and Apple Flute

There was an olive oil chip that I suspect was made with sugar-alcohols (not good for people with gatro-distress, but looks way cool!). Then there was a very simple no tricks boiled shrimp-I stared at it for awhile, trying to figure out what the science secret was, turned out it was just boiled shrimp. Simple and perfect! we had octopus Shabuway-boiling tiny itty bitty octopus then dipping them in freeze dried red pepper powder (available from Van Drunen Farms actually-they carry organic and conventional).  

octopus cooked in water, dipped in oil and coated in Freeze Dried red pepper powder Polydextrose Olive Oil Chip -same stuff in sugar free chocolate (sugar-alcohols)

And so the dishes continued on -truffled blini, foie cakes, steamed eels, tomato tartar, sodium alginate peas, and the desserts, all of which i missed because at that point I had to go lie down in the back seat of the car because I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I thought alot about that meal and even though I didn’t get to eat much, I did get to observe and taste. I could definitly see hints and accents of all the same ingredients that I use in my R&D lab and I saw techniques used that were clearly borrowed from manufacturers (IE cod fish crust was all puffy like a 3-D Dorito and freeze dried fruits and aerated chocolate (just like the AERO bar from England…) -seeing these techniques and ingredients used to make restaurant food didn’t impress me too much, after all-I have had to use similar techniques and ingredients AND get some serious shelf life out of the dish as well… BUT I do have to say that Ferran’s food has one thing that all my manufactured items don’t have…

They got Soul! I can create the most sophisticated shelf stable soft centered dry outside cake and use every modified food starch, gum and hydrocolloid on the market but at the end of the day no one is ever moved by a poptart or a box of retorted soup or even a jar of Paul Newman tomato sauce (yes, food science went into that… ).  But at El Bulli, every dish that was placed in front of me (and hardly touched) connected me to something-made me think of something, related to me, called to me, bonded with me in some way.  Every dish was connected to a time (in my life) or a place (that I have been) everything was familiar but twisted up to be unexpected.

This is the difference between him and us-same science, same equipment-but emotionally.. his food is alive and manufactured food is dead.

I rest my case!

bulli menu 2011 (in PDF for your viewing pleasure)

About rachel zemser

2 Responses to “The Soul of a Dish ….”

  1. docsconz

    Your conclusion is spot on! Sorry that you didn’t get to eat the meal. I had a similar experience my second time at elBulli. I was deathly sick on the way up, but rallied enough to go and still enjoy an incredible meal. Any other place, I would have been out for the count.

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  1. REPORTING #LIVE FROM @BEARDFOUNDATION #JBFA #awards! | The Intrepid Culinologist

    […]  All in all, a great time was had by all. I didn’t stay out too late because I accidently got stranded after the first party at @dbnewyorkny , had been hanging out with Wonder boy AKA @greg_grossman who is this up and coming rising culinary superstar who can’t legally drink yet. Greg and I had dinner at El Bulli in January, thanks to Gerry Dawes who somehow miraculously got us a last minute reservation. You can read about that HERE! and part TWO of that Bulli Story HERE […]