by Dean Tudor
El Bulli: 1998-2002 (Ecco, 2005, 496 pages, 22-page guide to book, CD-ROM, ISBN 0-06-081757-7, $490 hard covers in slipcase) is by Ferran Adria, the Barcelona chef in charge of El Bulli. He has been widely acknowledged as the world's greatest and most influential living chef. This book, a coffee table without the legs, details the development of El Bulli's unique cuisine from the four years 1998-2001. 2002 was a "sabbatical" year of refinement and book preparations (three in all). Two other books, not yet in English, cover the 1994-1997 and the 1983-1993 periods (Chef Ferran arrived at El Bulli in 1983; he was the guy who first sent out amuse-bouches on spoons). They too have CD-ROMs. The big 22-page guide explains the setup of the book and the CD-ROM, plus charts on the restaurant's philosophies, which have evolved over the years.
The books are in two parts. One is a catalogue of photos; the other is an evolutionary analysis of each dish. Both parts of the book are arranged by year and month. This is the picture and the theory. The CD-ROM (also one per book) contains all of the recipes for PCs and Macs, all of the schemes and summaries that complete the evolutionary analysis, plus videos (of the restaurant, of the people, of some of the preps) and menus. It even has some preps that were being planned for 2003 when the restaurant re-opened. Of major interest are the techniques involved in the preparations of foams, savoury sorbets, hot jellies, clouds and sponges. No longer do we need to say "how did he do that?" as secrets are revealed. Users do not need to be able to read Spanish, since the CD-ROMs are bilingual, the books in Spanish are mainly pictorial, and the preps and schemes are largely repeated on the CD-ROMs. Courses include cocktails, snacks, tapas, mains, pre-desserts, desserts, and follies. In the book, the restaurant also examines those dishes that didn't quite make the grade, presenting an explanation for the failure.
In total, there are 825 recipes in the three books. The English one has 371 recipes, beginning with #455. The crew shot over 3000 rolls of films for 1000 photos. It concludes with a glossary and pictographs for product codes. I just know that you will have hours of fun with this book. For more details about the restaurant, check out www.elbulli.com.
Audience and level of use: Every restaurant and cooking school.
Some interesting or unusual recipes: Rather than list recipes from the book, I'll just tell what they do to create the recipes. Take the combo of melon + grapefruit + mint + olive oil + salt. This is recipe #550, which is grilled melon and grapefruit kebab. The restaurant carefully explains how one can also make four other preps: a melon soup with mint and grapefruit segments in olive oil, mint jelly with grapefruit water ice and melon tagliatelli, a salad of melon shavings with seeded grapefruit and toasted mint, and textured olive oil with mint, with melon tapioca and grilled grapefruit.
What I don't like about this book: There are no wine recommendations, which I find puzzling.
What I do like about this book: This is a unique logbook of everything that they did in this time period. For a restaurant or hotel business, its purchase and use is a modest investment. The CVD-ROM recipes are fully indexed and numbered, along with the photo from the book.
Quality/Price Ratio: Although pricey, the book is available at Amazon for a mere $350. Indeed, all three volumes at Amazon cost only a total of $1000, a night out for some people. Let's say a 95.
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