Book Review: “A Day at elBulli” by Phaidon Press

elbuilliI purchased a copy of Ferran Adrià’s “A Day at elBulli” today, although I wondered if I even had any business doing so. After all, Catalonia’s famed elBulli restaurant is at the epicenter of the molecular gastronomy movement, and Adrià’s culinary techniques often employ chemicals and equipment that would be very difficult to turn up, even in the most well-stocked kitchen. Liquid nitrogen? Surgical tubing? Sous vide rigs? I consider myself pretty far ahead of the curve, especially when it comes to culinary gadgetry, but I certainly don’t have any of these items at home. And who does?

Considering the level of expertise required to replicate one of Adrià’s dishes, I surmised that few people could actually put the recipes in “A Day at elBulli” to practical use. But then again, how many of these fancy cookbooks actually see any time in the kitchen anyhow? Most of these books tend to be cumbersome and unwieldy in size, and to spill something on a $50 book seems like a sin. To be sure, many of these restaurant-themed cookbooks are no more than coffee table books in disguise, featuring lavish, full-page layouts of exquisitely photographed food (what has commonly become known as “food porn” among many circles).

In the case of “A Day at elBulli,” however, it’s only fair to note that recipes, of which there are but 30, play just a small role within the book’s overall content, so this one was always destined for the coffee table. To wit, Adrià’s book boasts nearly 1,000 photographs, which are spread out over a whopping 600 pages. The title of the book is quite literal, as scenes from just one day in the elBulli kitchen are documented hour by hour. Considering that two million people attempt to procure a reservation at elBulli each year (with just 8,000 getting past the door), a book like “A Day at elBulli” may be the one opportunity for the average gastronome to have a peek into this unique culinary world. From this perspective, Adrià’s book may be a bit more egalitarian than it may seem.

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