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The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli

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WHAT GOES ON BEHIND THE SCENES AT ELBULLI? Elected best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine an unprecedented five times, elBulli is where chef Ferran Adrià’s remarkable cuisine comes to life—with dragon cocktails that make the drinker breathe smoke and caviar made from tiny spheres of olive oil. elBulli is also the object of culinary pilgrimage—millions clamor e WHAT GOES ON BEHIND THE SCENES AT ELBULLI? Elected best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine an unprecedented five times, elBulli is where chef Ferran Adrià’s remarkable cuisine comes to life—with dragon cocktails that make the drinker breathe smoke and caviar made from tiny spheres of olive oil. elBulli is also the object of culinary pilgrimage—millions clamor every year for a reservation at one of its tables. Yet few people know that, behind each of the thirtyor more courses that make up a meal at elBulli, a small army of stagiaires—apprentice chefs—labor at the precise, exhausting work of executing Adrià’s astonishing vision. In The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, Lisa Abend explores the remarkable system that Adrià uses to run his restaurant and, in the process, train the next generation of culinary stars. Granted more access to Adrià and the elBulli kitchen than any other writer in the restaurant’s history, Abend follows thirty-five young men and women as they struggle to master the cutting-edge techniques, grueling hours, furious creativity, and interpersonal tensions that come with working at this celebrated institution. Her lively narrative captures a great cast, including a young Korean cook who camps on the doorstep of elBulli until he is allowed to work in the kitchen; an ambitious chef from one of Switzerland’s top restaurants struggling to create his own artistic vision of cuisine; and an American couple whose relationship may not withstand the unique pressures of the restaurant. What emerges is an irresistible tale of aspiring young talents caught, for good or ill, in the opportunity of a lifetime.Taken together, their stories form a portrait of the international team that helps make a meal at elBulli so memorable. They also reveal a Ferran Adrià few ever see, one who is not only a genius chef and artist but also a boss, teacher, taskmaster, businessman, and sometimes- flawed human being. Today, food has become the focus of unprecedented attention, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentices also explores the strange evolution—in less than two decades—of a once-maligned profession into a source of celebrity.


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WHAT GOES ON BEHIND THE SCENES AT ELBULLI? Elected best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine an unprecedented five times, elBulli is where chef Ferran Adrià’s remarkable cuisine comes to life—with dragon cocktails that make the drinker breathe smoke and caviar made from tiny spheres of olive oil. elBulli is also the object of culinary pilgrimage—millions clamor e WHAT GOES ON BEHIND THE SCENES AT ELBULLI? Elected best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine an unprecedented five times, elBulli is where chef Ferran Adrià’s remarkable cuisine comes to life—with dragon cocktails that make the drinker breathe smoke and caviar made from tiny spheres of olive oil. elBulli is also the object of culinary pilgrimage—millions clamor every year for a reservation at one of its tables. Yet few people know that, behind each of the thirtyor more courses that make up a meal at elBulli, a small army of stagiaires—apprentice chefs—labor at the precise, exhausting work of executing Adrià’s astonishing vision. In The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, Lisa Abend explores the remarkable system that Adrià uses to run his restaurant and, in the process, train the next generation of culinary stars. Granted more access to Adrià and the elBulli kitchen than any other writer in the restaurant’s history, Abend follows thirty-five young men and women as they struggle to master the cutting-edge techniques, grueling hours, furious creativity, and interpersonal tensions that come with working at this celebrated institution. Her lively narrative captures a great cast, including a young Korean cook who camps on the doorstep of elBulli until he is allowed to work in the kitchen; an ambitious chef from one of Switzerland’s top restaurants struggling to create his own artistic vision of cuisine; and an American couple whose relationship may not withstand the unique pressures of the restaurant. What emerges is an irresistible tale of aspiring young talents caught, for good or ill, in the opportunity of a lifetime.Taken together, their stories form a portrait of the international team that helps make a meal at elBulli so memorable. They also reveal a Ferran Adrià few ever see, one who is not only a genius chef and artist but also a boss, teacher, taskmaster, businessman, and sometimes- flawed human being. Today, food has become the focus of unprecedented attention, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentices also explores the strange evolution—in less than two decades—of a once-maligned profession into a source of celebrity.

30 review for The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra Eggs

    The key to appreciating molecular gastronomy, at least as practised by Ferran Adria, is to cease all idea that restaurant food is something you choose from a menu, comes in well-defined courses and is served by silent waiters who place and remove the dishes rather than explain each item and tell you how to eat it. What you have to appreciate is Ferran Adria is an artist whose medium is food, not paint, clay or glass. Through this medium he will create very small portions, just one or two bites, o The key to appreciating molecular gastronomy, at least as practised by Ferran Adria, is to cease all idea that restaurant food is something you choose from a menu, comes in well-defined courses and is served by silent waiters who place and remove the dishes rather than explain each item and tell you how to eat it. What you have to appreciate is Ferran Adria is an artist whose medium is food, not paint, clay or glass. Through this medium he will create very small portions, just one or two bites, of food that will entrance several of your senses at once. Maybe it is how it is presented, dry ice curling up from your dragon cocktail that is itself a sphere and not liquid. Maybe it is in the taste, the texture or even the sound. This is art at the cutting edge for which ElBulli won the best restaurant in the world award from Michelin an unprecedented five times. If one looks at El Bulli as the artist's studio, one can see why so many chefs and would-be chefs come to do a stage at the restaurant, without pay, only accommodation and one meal a day provied. Otherwise for such a high-price restaurant, it's exploitation. Adria Ferran doesn't have the usual problem of a high turnover of staff. The main chefs have mostly been with Ferran since they were young. In season they cook, out of season they work on the development of a completely new dishes. Dishes, not menu - there is no menu, you eat what Ferran decides you should, 35 courses for €350. The restaurant is closed now as Ferran concentrates full-time on development of his “techno-emotional cuisine” as he prefers to call his molecular gastronomy. For those doing a stage the work was regimented, repetitive and rarely creative. But they had a taste of food as art and no matter whether they remained at the cutting edge of food or went back into traditional cooking, they learned that perfection in food rests in the absolute quality of the raw ingredients and in extreme attention to detail. And that if the food is good enough, people will pay whatever you ask, drive 20 miles on a dangerous mountain road after booking a year ahead. Now that's something to aim for.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    I've just had a disconcerting experience - reading both The Sorcerer's Apprentices and Waste: uncovering the global food scandal at the same time. The first, which I am reviewing here, is a book about elBulli - a restaurant in Spain with three Michelin stars, and voted "best restaurant in the world" five times by Restaurant Magazine. It closed in 2011, but while it was open it was a mecca for food connoisseurs everywhere. The restaurant could accommodate 8,000 diners a season, but every year it I've just had a disconcerting experience - reading both The Sorcerer's Apprentices and Waste: uncovering the global food scandal at the same time. The first, which I am reviewing here, is a book about elBulli - a restaurant in Spain with three Michelin stars, and voted "best restaurant in the world" five times by Restaurant Magazine. It closed in 2011, but while it was open it was a mecca for food connoisseurs everywhere. The restaurant could accommodate 8,000 diners a season, but every year it got more than two million requests from people wanting to book a table. The second book, a treatise about how we waste food, is written by Tristram Stuart, a freegan, who forages for food in supermarket dumpsters. Haute cuisine/dumpsters, haute cuisine/dumpsters.....my head is all in a whirl. Except it isn't really. The fantastic disciplines and challenges of haute cuisine leave me feeling rather deflated. I love good food, but the promise of the ultimate eating experience presses none of my buttons. My heart lies much more in the Tristram Stuart camp, as he and fellow freegans create (often delicious) meals from society's excesses, and try and persuade the rest of us to stop wasting our precious and finite resources. But, to get back to The Sorcerer's Apprentices, this is a book about the unbelievably esoteric food cooked at elBulli, and the lives of its hordes of minions who slaved in its kitchen in 2009, toiling remorselessly over minuscule details and making this weird and wonderful food possible. Avant garde cuisine... molecular gastronomy... "food as provocation, food as art". This is elBulli. The restaurant only opened from June to December every year, and customers would be treated to about 35 courses, some just a mouthful, of strangeness and bliss. The man behind the restaurant was the chef Ferran Adrià. Each year the menu would be different. The essence of the restaurant was "constant reinvention". The people serving at the tables at elBulli often had the task of explaining to clients how to eat the food. For instance for one course a large wine glass of truffle shavings had to be sniffed, before the actual dish with truffles was eaten. Herewith an extract illustrating the type of dishes served at elBulli (view spoiler)[ Some products resist manipulation - in fact, they resist creativity altogether. Meat has proven notoriously difficult of elBulli to reinvent..... (but) every now and then the chefs will find a way out of the protein trap - one of the great innovations of 2009 was to create a sequence of game dishes, so that the diner moved from a snifter filled with squab consommé to a rabbit loin with cocoa-dusted foie gras ravioli to rabbit brains in hare "juice". ....But mostly Ferran gets around the protein problem by using cuts of meat that no one else would. This predilection goes far beyond the taste for offal that is so trendy today. Rather than calf's liver and pig's feet, elBulli serves cow tendons and goat kidneys and tiny little bunny tongues. There are woodcock heads, served with the beak intact (the better for clutching while you such the brains out of the skull). There is cartilage, taken from the back of the chicken and deep-fried, so that it is both crunchy and gelatinous. And there are those rabbit brains - fried, poached sautéed. (hide spoiler)] I do not have it in me to convey the exquisite happiness that the eating experience of elBulli brings to people. I am a dullard when it comes to this level of eating experience. But the book can do it for me (view spoiler)[ "And then one of the first "tapi-platos" comes out (tapi-platos are how the restaurant refers to its "main" courses....), and it's a hideous, shaggy black mass that resembles volcanic rock but has the feel of a damp sponge. The waiter tells you to eat it in two bites. You look at your dining companion nervously, then look around the room. No one else seems to be suffering. In fact, they seem almost joyfully happy with what they are eating. At the table next to you a woman is actually laughing between bites. And so you put the ugly, shaggy, squishy thing in your mouth and tentatively chew. It turns out to be delicious: slightly sweet, with the toasty flavour of black sesame and a delightful texture somewhere between layer cake and sea sponge. It reminds you of something, though you can't quite say what." (hide spoiler)] I was glad I read this book. It opened me up to a world of gastronomy that I had no idea existed. But I wish it had been shorter, and concentrated more on the food, rather than the lives of the people who worked in the kitchen. Finally, even as a plebeian palate, I have one criticism of Ferran Adrià's cooking. He uses foie gras. This is not acceptable. Later add: Since looking at various You Tube videos on molecular cooking and the elBulli restaurant, I've changed my mind. I would love to have had a meal at elBulli, or a restaurant like it. Just once in my life - I would love to have that experience. The Wikipedia entry for elBulli is interesting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ElBulli And herewith a wonderful video showing the process of making a molecular gastronomy dish... It's well worth watching for the uninitiated, like myself. Highly recommended.... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPNo7...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

    This book has just become the gold standard against which I will measure culinary writing. I've been vocal in my complaints about the writing of Ruhlman because he's so self-absorbed and can't get himself out of his writing. By contrast Abend is a true journalist. She reports, she don't enter the narrative. Though she must have asked questions from time to time (she thanks everyone at the end for putting up with her interviewing), she comes across as an observer only, not pushing herself in, whi This book has just become the gold standard against which I will measure culinary writing. I've been vocal in my complaints about the writing of Ruhlman because he's so self-absorbed and can't get himself out of his writing. By contrast Abend is a true journalist. She reports, she don't enter the narrative. Though she must have asked questions from time to time (she thanks everyone at the end for putting up with her interviewing), she comes across as an observer only, not pushing herself in, which gives her writing a stronger ring of authenticity. Every writer interprets, but the reader here comes away with the sense that what the author has presented is simply fact, unembroidered. This is not a book for brand-new "foodies" (how I dislike that word), as equipment, techniques, even ingredients go undefined (don't know what "spherified" is? Look it up before beginning to read). But as the author intimates, if you're into food enough to searc hout an opportunity of reading about Ferran Adria you're unlikely to need these things explained. The book was inspiring to my cooking, I found myself putting it down from time to time to jot down notes of things I could do in my own kitchen, not copying but leaping off of Adria ideas. The author uses "she" for the generic as much as she uses "he", which I appreciate, especially since she was honest but not harping about the continued inequality of gender representation in the culinary world. She also used the word "heterosexual" in a context that subtly acknowledges that it's not the sole options. These are little things, but I appreciate writers who incorporate them into their work. The book read like a novel and was hard to put down for any length of time. The layout was interesting and effective, one month per chapter and essentially one stagiaire focused per month. The Kindle edition contains a fully linked index, which takes up the last 30% of the book (so the end of the book is at 70%).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pia

    I'm kind of pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this. I'm not a fanatical foodie, I'm someone who enjoys good food, and I enjoy occasionally watching Top Chef, and that's about it. While I think this book is very suited to foodies, I also think it's entertaining and well-written for those who simply 'like food.' Lisa's accounts of the drudgery in the repetitive work sometimes made me worry that I would begin to feel that reading the book itself was a big of a drudge (it can be dangerous I'm kind of pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this. I'm not a fanatical foodie, I'm someone who enjoys good food, and I enjoy occasionally watching Top Chef, and that's about it. While I think this book is very suited to foodies, I also think it's entertaining and well-written for those who simply 'like food.' Lisa's accounts of the drudgery in the repetitive work sometimes made me worry that I would begin to feel that reading the book itself was a big of a drudge (it can be dangerous to describe drudgery a little too well!), but it was thankfully broken up with interesting explorations into some of the different stagiaires (those who work for free, for six months, at elBulli). I came to have my 'favourites' stagiaires like Kim and Katie, as well as Luke and Gael, and so found myself appreciating the 'breaks' from long descriptions of tiresome work (it is in this latter where the author loses a star for me). The book overall is warm, observant, cleverly paced and intelligent. It had me contemplating things I did not expect to contemplate as a result of 'reading a book about a restaurant.' I wondered about the philosophy of food, about the purpose of food, and the purpose of patrons in a restaurant. About whether it's worth striving for perfection and what sacrifices are worth it and what is gained from the process. And, as a two-dimensional artist, I also learned some more about the fickle beast that is Creativity, and how different people may go about cultivating it. I'm happily keeping this in my non-fiction collection. It may be the only book I ever have in the genre, but I'm happy to have it. A lovely read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is the best-written nonfiction book I've read in recent memory, describing the professional development of chefs' apprentices, who commit to a "stage" at a restaurant for little or no pay. In exchange, they expect to learn techniques and skills, and of course, enjoy "family meal" alongside the chefs. Ferran Adria, perhaps against his own wishes, is most famous for introducing airs, foams and spherification to haute cuisine through his 30-plus course tasting menus at elBulli. The book tracks This is the best-written nonfiction book I've read in recent memory, describing the professional development of chefs' apprentices, who commit to a "stage" at a restaurant for little or no pay. In exchange, they expect to learn techniques and skills, and of course, enjoy "family meal" alongside the chefs. Ferran Adria, perhaps against his own wishes, is most famous for introducing airs, foams and spherification to haute cuisine through his 30-plus course tasting menus at elBulli. The book tracks one six-month season for the stagiares. While the drive and "sorcery" of work at elBulli are compelling, I personally find the descriptions of the food, which requires worldwide ingredients sourcing and at times excruciating labor, somewhat offensive to my values. Some of the apprentices complain that the food isn't about "nurturing" diners, because Ferran will put things on the menu that he knows diners won't even like but he finds successful in his aesthetic. Reading about his dishes, it sounds as if nutrition and sustainability are overlooked in favor of a drive to surprise and delight. Is it all worth it? Some of my favorite books are work-oriented, and a good portion of my brain is occupied (even in unemployment!) with thoughts about innovation, entrepreneurship, teamwork, self-development. For me this book is a wellspring of inspiration about drive, both on the part of individual stagiares and the permanent staff at the restaurant. The mental and physical effort that goes into working at and running the best and most famous restaurant in the world is...well, just read this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paula Gallagher

    Madrid-based journalist Abend spent stretches of time observing the operations of the legendary destination restaurant elBulli during its 2009 season. Abend focuses her story on the dozens of unpaid apprentice chefs (stagiaires) who form the backbone of the restaurant. Chef Ferran Adria became famous for his innovative approach of presenting diners with a multitude of small courses that challenge and surprise. What appears to be artichoke leaves are actually rose petals that have blanched three t Madrid-based journalist Abend spent stretches of time observing the operations of the legendary destination restaurant elBulli during its 2009 season. Abend focuses her story on the dozens of unpaid apprentice chefs (stagiaires) who form the backbone of the restaurant. Chef Ferran Adria became famous for his innovative approach of presenting diners with a multitude of small courses that challenge and surprise. What appears to be artichoke leaves are actually rose petals that have blanched three times and then carefully dried in a way that their bases form a point before being plated in concentric circles and lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. To say that this kind of "cooking" requires hours of repetitive, dull precision would be an understatement. Such is the job of the stagiaire. Those who spend time in Adria's kitchen report a transformative experience. These positions are in high demand, and require a selfless, tireless devotion to Adria and his vision. Abend provides an insightful look at these unsung, essential men and women of elBulli.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    In 2009 journalist Lisa Abend chronicled the inner workings of elBulli, Ferran Adrià's groundbreaking restaurant. Always experimenting, Adrià opened during the summer/autumn season, rather than his normal spring/summer season. The change opens up new foods, new techniques, and new types of customers. At the core of his decisions is always the question: “What if....” His innovations include responses to question like, what if a sauce's flavor could be intensified without flour or starch thickenin In 2009 journalist Lisa Abend chronicled the inner workings of elBulli, Ferran Adrià's groundbreaking restaurant. Always experimenting, Adrià opened during the summer/autumn season, rather than his normal spring/summer season. The change opens up new foods, new techniques, and new types of customers. At the core of his decisions is always the question: “What if....” His innovations include responses to question like, what if a sauce's flavor could be intensified without flour or starch thickening agents? What if the eye could trick the palate into tasting artichokes from rose petals? Many of his creations were inspired that year by a recent food tour of Japan. Transparent wraps from potato starch reminded me of similar Japanese rice paper confections. Soy is explored in its entirety, including production of elBulli's own soy milk. Abend effectively captures the sense that magic happens in this kitchen. Learning its secrets, working under a chef with a world-wide reputation, and even hero-worship draws 32 apprentices to work without pay at elBulli each season. Their motivations transcend mere professional ambition. It's a chance of a lifetime to explore a new world, to be a part of history. Some reviewers have likened Adrià's creativity to art. His creations reflect a new relationship to his customers. He desires to confront, engage, and surprise. In 2007 he participated in Documenta, a high profile contemporary art event held in Kassel, Germany. (The invitation affronted “Shock of the New” art critic, Robert Hughes). The question, however, is in a sense irrelevant. ElBulli represents a revolution in attitude both for the diner and the preparer: The recognition of the role of personality. Abend touches on the profiles of some of the apprentices. She develops a close rapport with Katie Button, an American who was on a research track in medicine until doubts made her change direction. A food serving job in Washington DC awakened her interest in food. By the time she becomes an apprentice, her resumé includes working under José Andrés, a former elBulli chef. In fact, all of the apprentices carry weighty credentials, having trained under people like Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz. Yet, at elBulli they will again start from the bottom, learning to perform tedious tasks, hour after hour – perfectly. Take a close look at the photo on the cover. Both camaraderie and rivalry are suppressed to achieve one end: Perfect, machine-like concentration. My favorite apprentice was Myungsan “Luke” Jang, nicknamed “The Machine” for his focus and dedication. In order to get his foot in the door, he had to camp out in a tent near Adrià's house. Like all of the apprentices, he has a fierce self-confidence in himself. It's a self-confidence of youth which will help to assuage inevitable disappointments of the future. Another of my favorites was not an apprentice, but an apprentice's mother. Gäel Vuilloud was 14 when offered a prestigious apprenticeship with Chef Mauro Capelli. Chef Capelli, however, was apparently a bit of a sexist and would only address Gäel's father, and not his mother. Madame Vuilloud quickly vetoed the idea of the apprenticeship, declaring she did not want her son overseen by such a person. I have never eaten in a Michelin star restaurant, nor am I much of a cook. So what is the attraction of the professional restaurant world? What I find fascinating is it's culture. People like me will always be outsiders looking through the window. What we see is the demanding discipline of the restaurant kitchen whether it's here, or London or Paris or Tokyo. At the same time, it's a transient world. The apprentices have come from various countries, and after leaving, will scatter to other parts of the globe. It takes a special type of person to accept such a nomadic lifestyle, constantly embracing change. Adrià will demonstrate this himself when he announces that he is closing elBulli in order to embark on a new venture – an experimental teaching and research center under the auspices of the elBulli Foundation. Perhaps the most valuable advice he gives his apprentices is not about culinary skill but about life. In parting he repeatedly admonishes them: “Be brave....Because the world is not for cowards.” This book is part of a trio I would recommend to anyone with interest in the restaurant world. The other two are KNIVES AT DAWN and LIFE ON THE LINE.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Review posted to MADreads: http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/m... I am not a foodie reader. I haven't read Anthony Bourdain or Gabrielle Hamilton. If I've read anything about the preparation of food, like Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, it's because my book group was reading the book. Such is the case with my latest foray into the foodie book world. And as with the Reichl, I'm glad I was pushed. Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant on the Spanish coast has been named the world's best restaurant Review posted to MADreads: http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/m... I am not a foodie reader. I haven't read Anthony Bourdain or Gabrielle Hamilton. If I've read anything about the preparation of food, like Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, it's because my book group was reading the book. Such is the case with my latest foray into the foodie book world. And as with the Reichl, I'm glad I was pushed. Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant on the Spanish coast has been named the world's best restaurant by Restaurant magazine five times and has inpired thousands (perhaps millions) to try for a reservation each year during their six month season.** If a reservation was hard to get, apprenticing in the kitchen with chef Adria was near impossible. Each year the restaurant took on 35 stagiaires (apprentices). Though the apprentices are chefs in their own right - many of whom are already working in world-class restaurants - they will literally camp on the doorstep in order to become an unpaid apprentice for a season with Ferran. In 2009 Lisa Abend was given unprecedented access to the kitchens and staff. In The Sorcerer's Apprentices she details the repetitive, sometimes grueling, but ultimately rewarding work these young chefs undertake when they begin at elBulli. They start by having to cut carrots over and over again until they are the precise dimensions required. Next they learn to create and use the skin from boiled milk. And so on. Each process has to be repeated until perfected. There is no running in Ferran's kitchen. No shouting. No chaos. Just orderly perfection on every level. And a transformative experience for the chefs who survive. Though Abend's repetitive writing sometimes mimicked the work of the chefs, I was pretty fascinated by this book. Not least because my only other behind the scenes knowledge of a professional kitchen comes from Top Chef and Chopped. Sadly we can only experience the restaurant on the page. elBulli has now closed and become a foundation. There go my dreams (formed while reading) of flying to Spain and dining on the many dishes. Guess I'll just have to imagine what a gorgonzola balloon would taste like. **For a little more about the elBulli dining experience take a look at this review of the last supper served in 2011 - http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    'The Sorcerer's Apprentices' is an engaging, warm and smartly-written book about life behind-the-scenes at the legendary Spanish restaurant ElBulli.Under the leadership of chef Ferran Adria, the restaurant made a name for itself due to its wonderous, incredibly imaginative cuisine, going on to accrue three Michelin stars and numerous awards. 'Apprentices' gives readers a look at the people who helped run the place over the course of a season. For many people, their first behind-the-scenes look a 'The Sorcerer's Apprentices' is an engaging, warm and smartly-written book about life behind-the-scenes at the legendary Spanish restaurant ElBulli.Under the leadership of chef Ferran Adria, the restaurant made a name for itself due to its wonderous, incredibly imaginative cuisine, going on to accrue three Michelin stars and numerous awards. 'Apprentices' gives readers a look at the people who helped run the place over the course of a season. For many people, their first behind-the-scenes look at restaurant kitchen life came courtesy of Anthony Bourdain's 'Kitchen Confidential' (which the author references several times). Quite a different scenario is presented here. Rather than the chaos and rowdiness Bourdain wrote about, the team at ilBuilli was expected to operate as a tightly-disciplined machine. A new batch of cooks was brought in seasonally to work for free - in exchange, they get to put that experience on their resume. It's truly fascinating to see how these people, many of whom already had experience at top restaurants, adjusted - or failed to - their new situation. The vibrant diversity of backgrounds, the multitude of interesting life stories, make for great reading. There's really two things they all had in common - a love of cooking, and a certain remarkable drive. The latter particularly served them well, as many of them found life at elBulli quite far from what they could have expected. The restaurant's full-time staff aren't profiled as completely. After all, the book is entitled 'The Sorcerer's Apprentices,' not 'The Sorcerer.' But we do get some insight into the way they interacted with their team, they roles they played in helping turn this disparate group of people into the machine it needed to be. Following the group's ups and downs, their challenges and victories, painful lessons and even scary moments (note to self: be careful handling hot oil!) is completely engaging for anyone at all curious about restaurant life, particularly one as unique as ElBulli. Whether you're a gourmand or not, I highly recommend the book for a peek into a life most of us will never know. A life that, at least for elBulli, is now permanently assigned to the past - the restaurant completed its final season this past July.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Lin

    This is my favourite book this year. From a technique perspective, this book demonstrates the pinnacle of the "weave" of non-fiction narration, first taught to me by Canadian author Daniel Wood. The interspersing of in medias res narration, exposition, history, and theory, back and forth, forms the basic structure of the book. It is a mechanism, and it works. Period. I feel it is very well constructed. Now that I've gotten over with the "critique" of the book, let me tell you about the favourite This is my favourite book this year. From a technique perspective, this book demonstrates the pinnacle of the "weave" of non-fiction narration, first taught to me by Canadian author Daniel Wood. The interspersing of in medias res narration, exposition, history, and theory, back and forth, forms the basic structure of the book. It is a mechanism, and it works. Period. I feel it is very well constructed. Now that I've gotten over with the "critique" of the book, let me tell you about the favourite dish I've ever made. It is called fidua, a pasta dish from Catalan, a pasta version of paella. This book returned me to the passion I put into that dish, the tension, nervousness and fear of screwing it up, and the subsequent elation and joy at tasting a food so filled with the essence of life. ElBulli is closed now, but this book makes me want to fall in love again and ride our bikes up the hill in a small sea side town in Spain called Roses, to the little unassuming kitchen where so much creativity is focused. It is my dream to have someone with me when I return to Roses again, this time for real, in 2014. --- The documentaary "El Bulli - Cooking in Progress" is a perfect companion to this book. It seems to be filmed during the same intern cycle as the book, so the same characters as well as the dishes are featured. El Bulli is a lot brighter than I imagined from the description in the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Serge Pierro

    I was really looking forward to seeing what it was like to work in the "number 1" rated restaurant in the world and it's resident genius Ferran Adri. Having finished the book I was left "wanting". Although Abend was able to give a glimpse of life at elBulli, it seemed somewhat shallow and I didn't get a real feel for working in its kitchen. Unlike other books that portray life in a top kitchen, the writer wasn't actually involved in any of the work, and therefore unable to pass along what it wa I was really looking forward to seeing what it was like to work in the "number 1" rated restaurant in the world and it's resident genius Ferran Adri. Having finished the book I was left "wanting". Although Abend was able to give a glimpse of life at elBulli, it seemed somewhat shallow and I didn't get a real feel for working in its kitchen. Unlike other books that portray life in a top kitchen, the writer wasn't actually involved in any of the work, and therefore unable to pass along what it was really like - thus relying on the stagiaires to relay that information and her perception (which, as someone outside looking in, was essentially not very deep). Although I would liken Ferran Adri to Jimi Hendrix, (he does come across as a brilliant chef amongst his contemporaries), he does have some shortcomings as a person. I was very surprised to see how he separated himself from his workers and that he would actually charge them for party at the end of the year - after working for free for six months! The next book I will be reading is "A Day at elBulli" to see if my perception of him will change. After all, geniuses are different from everyone else, and I can accept his quirks and such - I'm just trying to get a clearer perspective on the man himself.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rishiyur Nikhil

    I had never heard of elBulli before (ignorant me!), but apparently amongst the haute cuisine cognoscenti, it's very famous, and repeatedly voted "Best Restaurant in the World" in some foodie magazines. It's a Michelin 3-star restaurant, located in Catalunya on the Mediterranean, literally on the way from Figueres (Dali museum) to Cadaques. The celebrity chef is Ferran Adria, and the dishes are "avant garde", i.e., it's food, but it's also meant to shock and surprise. Reservations fill up a year i I had never heard of elBulli before (ignorant me!), but apparently amongst the haute cuisine cognoscenti, it's very famous, and repeatedly voted "Best Restaurant in the World" in some foodie magazines. It's a Michelin 3-star restaurant, located in Catalunya on the Mediterranean, literally on the way from Figueres (Dali museum) to Cadaques. The celebrity chef is Ferran Adria, and the dishes are "avant garde", i.e., it's food, but it's also meant to shock and surprise. Reservations fill up a year in advance. Each table is given a sequence of 30-35 courses chosen by the house. The most engaging and fascinating parts of the book are about the "stagiares", the interns who come from around the world (including USA, Korea, India, Japan, Switzerland, ...), and the back-breaking work they undertake, the spartan life they live, without salary. Still, there are 3000 applicants for 25 positions. I'm not sure I'd enjoy the food at elBulli. Interestingly, many of the stagiares don't seem to buy in to the avant garde philosophy either; they all seem to want to go on to kitchens where the dishes are more "traditional", done with more "love", etc. I.e., the cuisine is too far a departure from "home cooking" for many people's comfort.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    The best parts of Lisa Abend's behind the scenes peek in Ferran Adrià's kitchen at El Bulli introduce the reader to his stagiaires; by tracking their progress over the course of several months, readers like myself with no experience working in the industry learn more about it and what drives the people who want to cook amazing food for us. Surprisingly, though, I came away from The Sorcerer's Apprentices disinterested in Adrià's food. As Abend mentions repeatedly, El Bulli can revolutionize food The best parts of Lisa Abend's behind the scenes peek in Ferran Adrià's kitchen at El Bulli introduce the reader to his stagiaires; by tracking their progress over the course of several months, readers like myself with no experience working in the industry learn more about it and what drives the people who want to cook amazing food for us. Surprisingly, though, I came away from The Sorcerer's Apprentices disinterested in Adrià's food. As Abend mentions repeatedly, El Bulli can revolutionize food because of the way it's run: most of the staff work for free as part of an apprenticeship; the menu is fixed--other than a concession for food allergies, diners do not have any choices; there's only one meal served, and it's only available six months out of the year. All this means Adrià can take risks unheard of in other restaurants, which is great, but what ends up on the plates never sounds very appealing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jen Ryan

    I read this a while ago but forgot to update my status. Obviously, this was a must-read because my daughter's Uncle Dan and Aunt Kim were featured. (Yes, they are still together.) Dan and Kim didn't give too many details on their adventures at the restaurant, so it was interesting to get an outside perspective of their Spanish adventure and the lifestyle they live as part of their profession. The book itself was well-written, and I appreciated that the book provided insights into the restaurant, I read this a while ago but forgot to update my status. Obviously, this was a must-read because my daughter's Uncle Dan and Aunt Kim were featured. (Yes, they are still together.) Dan and Kim didn't give too many details on their adventures at the restaurant, so it was interesting to get an outside perspective of their Spanish adventure and the lifestyle they live as part of their profession. The book itself was well-written, and I appreciated that the book provided insights into the restaurant, Ferran Adria, AND the stagiaires.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Hostettler

    an almost journalistic recount. the author had a material for a big series of books but masters to tell everything that is important and impressive in one, easy to digest book. this is an art. - what we learn is not only pleasant and sometimes surprising. still every line is fascinating (for food and restaurant people like me, at least).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Great foodie book; learned ever more interesting stuff about what happens in the restaurant world.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Was surprised how much I enjoyed this, not being a foodie. Need to see the Nelson Atkins installation with notebooks and menus from El Bulli!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Worling

    Excellent read on an incredible restaurant.

  19. 4 out of 5

    William Colsher

    Really well done view into the inner workings of ElBulli. Highly recommended!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julia Holloway

    Such an interesting look behind the scenes of one of the world's most famous and innovative restaurants. Loved reading about Katie Button's time there since I love her restaurant, Curate.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    An excellent piece of journalism if not entertainment. A clear-eyed glimpse into the inner workings of the most famous restaurant on earth. But really it's just one aspect which gets covered - admirably, the stagiaires - so it falls short of being a truly great food book due to its specificity and neutrality.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Will

    I have read two other books about Ferran Adria.... this one though is my favorite. The other books have focused on the man, the myth, the chef, and his restaurant which deserves the acclaim as the greatest in the world. However this book looks at the rising stars who make the restaurant truly what it is. It is a team effort at El Bulli and each season young cooks from around the world come to help out and train under one of the most stressful environments in cuisine. Rather than just an overall lo I have read two other books about Ferran Adria.... this one though is my favorite. The other books have focused on the man, the myth, the chef, and his restaurant which deserves the acclaim as the greatest in the world. However this book looks at the rising stars who make the restaurant truly what it is. It is a team effort at El Bulli and each season young cooks from around the world come to help out and train under one of the most stressful environments in cuisine. Rather than just an overall look at the operation, this book also looks at how the young cooks change over their time. It's not just their skill level when it comes to food, but also changes in their personality, their outlook on their career, their next steps in life professionally and personally. The book is also a different take on how a book can be written. There is one chapter for each month of their time at El Bulli. It was a great tool used by the author to break apart this story of each of their lives. It's also an in depth look at the workers at El Bulli who are lower than Adria yet higher than those being trained. It's an interesting look at the lives of these uncelebrated chefs who are vastly different from chefs at just about every other restaurant in the world. I would recommend reading other books on El Bulli or Adria before reading this one, however this is a must read if you enjoy all things foodie.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vuk Trifkovic

    I can see how judging this book depends on framing the topic. If you take it that it is about elBulli, then you might argue about how cutting or critical or exploratory it is. But I don't think this is about elBulli per se, but about its stagiaries in particular and the role of young chefs in haute cuisine today. From that point of view, I think it was excellent read. The personalities are well-framed, explored and best of all while their foibles and flaws are not hidden, it is left to the reader I can see how judging this book depends on framing the topic. If you take it that it is about elBulli, then you might argue about how cutting or critical or exploratory it is. But I don't think this is about elBulli per se, but about its stagiaries in particular and the role of young chefs in haute cuisine today. From that point of view, I think it was excellent read. The personalities are well-framed, explored and best of all while their foibles and flaws are not hidden, it is left to the reader to make their mind about them. Yes, writing on occasion is not absolutely top notch (she's excellent journalist, but one or two repetitions and flaws crack up in longer form), but the books keeps rolling nicely. Of course, you can't escape commenting on Ferran Adria, elBulli and culinary world today in the book as well. While she's happy to provide one particular perspective on it, it's certainly on others to fill the picture. Still, I found her viewpoint interesting enough. If anything, the book managed to humanise the entire elBulli endeavour which so far was too ethereal and distant from me. I guess I fell into the whole slow vs molecular dichotomy, which makes me feel I've rather missed the point. Anyway, I'm looking forward to picking up more on this particular subject and I just hope that people like Abend and Gopnik will show the publishers that there is marketplace for smart and insightful writing about food.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    I desperately wanted this to be a five-star book. I have been somewhat obsessed with elBulli since I first learned about the restaurant and Ferran Adria. Sadly, this was not the book I hoped it would be. I thought the editing was poor. I found numerous blatant typos which, frankly, I find terribly distracting. I also had a hard time seeing the connection between the apprentices personal stories and the happenings in the restaurant. I don't actually fault the author for this because a good editor I desperately wanted this to be a five-star book. I have been somewhat obsessed with elBulli since I first learned about the restaurant and Ferran Adria. Sadly, this was not the book I hoped it would be. I thought the editing was poor. I found numerous blatant typos which, frankly, I find terribly distracting. I also had a hard time seeing the connection between the apprentices personal stories and the happenings in the restaurant. I don't actually fault the author for this because a good editor could have solved all of the problems. I did enjoy the glimpse into elBulli. I thought Ferran Adria came across as an interesting, if mercurial, character. I liked reading about the individuals that made up the ever-rotating cast at the restaurant. Adria sometimes seemed like a complete jerk and totally full of himself and the mission of elBulli. The restaurant ran at a loss, which is so totally counterintuitive to me. For example, the stagiaires (unpaid interns) had to pay 27 euro to attend the closing party. On the other hand, they wasted tremendous amounts of food trying to achieve perfection in presentation. (I clearly don't understand haute cuisine like I thought I did.) In the end, I found myself turned off to the idea of molecular gastronomy and intrigued only by the thought of staff meals (which sound legitimately delicious from the descriptions in the book). I no longer feel disappointed that elBulli is closed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Angel

    I will begin by saying that if you are a foodie reader, you enjoy shows like Bourdain's No Reservations, then you will likely enjoy this book. The only reason I did not rate it higher is that it can get a bit technical at times in terms of the food preparation descriptions. However, what I found a bit heavy at times may actually be a strength for other readers. The book documents the 2009 season at El Bulli. We get both the story of the famous restaurant, its genius chef Ferran Adrià, and the ta I will begin by saying that if you are a foodie reader, you enjoy shows like Bourdain's No Reservations, then you will likely enjoy this book. The only reason I did not rate it higher is that it can get a bit technical at times in terms of the food preparation descriptions. However, what I found a bit heavy at times may actually be a strength for other readers. The book documents the 2009 season at El Bulli. We get both the story of the famous restaurant, its genius chef Ferran Adrià, and the tales of trials and sacrifices of the stagiaires (the apprentices) who work for no pay and come to work there at their own expense. We get to see not only how the restaurant works but also the inner workings. Overall, the book is an interesting read. Personally, I wanted to read it after Bourdain featured it in his show, dining with the great master chef. Similar reads would be other epicurean interest books and those books one could label as "stunt books" (ones where the author either does or documents some kind of "stunt" for a fixed amount of time). Books I've read that may have similar appeal factor include: *Josh Peter, Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, & Bull Riders. This is another book documenting a season within a subculture. *Pat Willard, America Eats!. Food travel, plus American history. *Kyle Jarrard, Cognac.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    My first degree is in Culinary Sciences so anything written involving food tends to grab my attention and make me a little lenient in writing styles. This book was sorely disappointing to the point I just couldn't finish it. Lately I have been gravitating to more street food style fare and this book reinforced that trend. I got to the point where I didn't want to read about the ridiculousness or wastefulness of fine dining. The thought of all the food that is thrown out at elBulli because it isn My first degree is in Culinary Sciences so anything written involving food tends to grab my attention and make me a little lenient in writing styles. This book was sorely disappointing to the point I just couldn't finish it. Lately I have been gravitating to more street food style fare and this book reinforced that trend. I got to the point where I didn't want to read about the ridiculousness or wastefulness of fine dining. The thought of all the food that is thrown out at elBulli because it isn't perfect combined with the drudgery and repetitiveness of the stagieres was more than I could get interested in. Most recently I read about Grant Achatz's Alinea and not only couldn't put it down but went to the website and dreamt about a way to get to Chicago and eat the food I'd read about (still day dreaming). I had hoped this would be a similar experience and sadly it was not. I do think much of that could be from the authors disjointed and formal writing style. Perhaps she was attempting to emulate the restaurant she was writing about. I have no desire to eat at elBulli after what I'd read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Schlatter

    Such a good book! I have no experience working in restaurants, but Abend expertly explains the hierarchy of a typical kitchen and how elBulli is different while weaving in the lives and ambitions of the 30 or so stagiaires, who are essentially professional interns serving in Ferran Adria's kitchen to learn from the master. Abend doesn't pull any punches, which means you hear some of the stagiaires' complaints about the monotony of their tasks, the lack of movement to different stations in the ki Such a good book! I have no experience working in restaurants, but Abend expertly explains the hierarchy of a typical kitchen and how elBulli is different while weaving in the lives and ambitions of the 30 or so stagiaires, who are essentially professional interns serving in Ferran Adria's kitchen to learn from the master. Abend doesn't pull any punches, which means you hear some of the stagiaires' complaints about the monotony of their tasks, the lack of movement to different stations in the kitchen, the regimented chain of command, and the at times unappetizing creations that Adria and his senior team dream up. But simultaneously, the author conveys the incredible inventiveness of the restaurant and chefs and the passion for food and cooking shared by everyone working at elBulli. Once in a while I couldn't keep track of who was who, and I did wish for more information on the front of house experience. But otherwise, it was a fascinating and enjoyable read. And I'm so bummed never to have the chance to eat at elBulli. But maybe it's best just to dream about it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Al Durante

    In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," Abend takes us behind the scenes of Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant, in Roses Spain. This is not an expose of the deep dark secrets of culinary culture, or another fan-bio of an eminent celebrity chef. This book is not about Adria, or the stagiare kitchen apprentices that make elBulli possible. This book will appeal to readers with an interest in cooking, as well as those with interest in eating. In fact, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" may not appeal to those who a In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," Abend takes us behind the scenes of Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant, in Roses Spain. This is not an expose of the deep dark secrets of culinary culture, or another fan-bio of an eminent celebrity chef. This book is not about Adria, or the stagiare kitchen apprentices that make elBulli possible. This book will appeal to readers with an interest in cooking, as well as those with interest in eating. In fact, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" may not appeal to those who attracted to books like Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential." Adria's elBulli is not your typical restaurant, as a leader in "molecular gastronomy," every dinner at the restaurant receives the same array of approximately 40 predetermined dishes on a given night. Eliminating some of the chaos and tension of most resturant kitchens. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," is a study of obsession--of many types and desires. This book isn't an expose of the culinary world, but a sociology of the kitchen, or more accurately a sociology a kitchen.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Three stars= "I liked it". Seems like a funny rating system that Goodreads has. Anyway, I read this for my book group, and it was pretty good. It's an inside look at something it would be highly unlikely for me to ever experience. The Sorcerer's Apprentices are effectively unpaid interns working at "the world's best restaurant" for 6 months. The author, as far as I can tell, follows them the whole time. The restaurant serves 40-course meals for about $270 per person, and the focus is creativity Three stars= "I liked it". Seems like a funny rating system that Goodreads has. Anyway, I read this for my book group, and it was pretty good. It's an inside look at something it would be highly unlikely for me to ever experience. The Sorcerer's Apprentices are effectively unpaid interns working at "the world's best restaurant" for 6 months. The author, as far as I can tell, follows them the whole time. The restaurant serves 40-course meals for about $270 per person, and the focus is creativity and creating a sensory, artistic experience with high quality food & drink. It's pretty interesting, and I liked reading the background stories of some of the interns, or stagiares, as they are called.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    This book was well written and accomplished the task of telling a difficult story- lots of scenes, not much plot line, a cast of thousands...-with some skill. Although I love to eat and used to love watching the real Food Network when there were actual chefs with training on the shows and not chefs with just attitude and/or bad hair. The book didn't move me because, while the concept of food as art may well be intriguing to some, eating foam and dishes created only thanks to science and technolo This book was well written and accomplished the task of telling a difficult story- lots of scenes, not much plot line, a cast of thousands...-with some skill. Although I love to eat and used to love watching the real Food Network when there were actual chefs with training on the shows and not chefs with just attitude and/or bad hair. The book didn't move me because, while the concept of food as art may well be intriguing to some, eating foam and dishes created only thanks to science and technology does not intrigue me personally. Yes, I know. El Bulli is the most famous restaurant in the world. And I don't care. Even after reading the book, I don't care.

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