Book Review: A Knead To Read
Sit down with a book when it's too hot to cook
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 27, 2011
The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulliby Lisa Abend
Free Press, 304 pp., $26
Most food fans know that elBulli, Ferran Adrià's temple of creative cuisine on Catalonia's Costa Brava in Spain, was the world's ultimate dining reservation – it closes its doors as a restaurant on July 31 to reopen as a "creativity center" in 2014, and it was already so booked for its last year that no reservations were accepted. To have been able to dine there was on every foodie's bucket list, a culinary pilgrimage of the highest order. Most diners don't think about it, but for any chef to be able to say that you were an Adrià stagiaire, a barely paid apprentice in elBulli's laboratorylike kitchen, was the opportunity of a lifetime, an open invitation onto the staff of any restaurant, anywhere. Lisa Abend, Time magazine's Spain correspondent, follows 35 of these young men and women through elBulli's 2009 season as part of the brigade, and in the process brilliantly illustrates that rarified world.
Abend was allowed access to the elBulli kitchen like no journalist before. Imagine a kitchen with 45 chefs, cooks, stagiaires, and dishwashers from all over the world and the work and concentration required to turn out 30 to 40 precise courses per diner during the six months that the restaurant was open every year. Three thousand applicants a year vie for 32 slots, in order to work 14-hour days for six months and in exchange for a free meal each day, a bed in a cramped apartment, no pay, and a résumé notch on their knives like no other.
Abend provides an intimate look not only into the harried life of the apprentice, but into the life of Adrià and his lieutenants, and the constant pressures of running the world's best and most exclusive restaurant. She brings each character (think of the egos involved at this level) alive brilliantly through her words, and you actually get the feel of what working in that kitchen must be like. With The Sorcerer's Apprentices, Abend ably describes the creative process of culinary genius and that pressure cooker of an environment, on a par with Heat by Bill Buford. Each paragraph is as captivating as one of Adrià's little culinary gems – a mesmerizing and highly entertaining read.