Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ferran Adria and A Day at elBulli

I first heard about Ferran Adria from Anthony Bourdain's essays about him. Bourdain is my favorite food writer so when he talks about a chef as if that chef were an alchemist or a magician or Picasso, I take note. Unfortunately, Ferran Adria's cookbook was a multi-thousand euro affair only available in the Catalan or Basque and Adria's restaurant elBulli is located in an isolated section of Catalonia in Spain, serves only 8,000 sittings a calendar year and costs 250 euros per person per meal. So it was only through Bourdain's essays that I could experience anything Adria was doing.

Until Phaidon, the publisher that put out 1080 and The Silver Spoon (one of my favorite cookbooks), released A Day at elBulli. A Day at elBulli is not a cookbook with a list of recipes coupled with alluring photographs of the dishes, but an examination of the creative process.

elBulli is only open six months a year. The rest of the year, Adria and his creative team, including his brother, an organic chemist, and an industrial designer work to develop the next year's menu and this book is an examination of that process. The book starts with beautiful pictures of the Costa Brava and follows Adria and his staff on a serving day right up to washing dishes and closing the restaurant down. Along the way, inserts explain the details that go in to creating such a dining experience and expound Adria's dining philosophy. The inserts include; Creative Methods I, II, and III; Knowledge is essential for judging the products; Cooking and art; and, one of my favorites, What happens between a restaurant and its guests? which enumerates the responsibilities and factors involved in a dining experience including the "sixth sense" of the guest "which can be stimulated in these ways":

-transgression of restaurant conventions

-childhood memories



-irony and provocation



-a 'knowing wink'

-recognition of a cultural reference

-confounded expectations


There are recipes for the daring, but this book is for more than just foodies. In a way it is a handbook for creativity, by giving us detailed access into the mind of one of the world's creative geniuses. For example this definition of creativity is offered:

Creativity...can be measured: it is possible to document a technique and to establish whether it is new. But to be truly creative, a dish must be interesting as well as new. The aim at elBulli is to create dishes and techniques that engage guests' sensory, emotional and intellectual faculties to the full, to surprise them and to encourage them to experience food in new and unexpected ways.

I may never get the chance to actually dine at elBulli (most of us won't) but this book offers enough of Adria's creativity for us to still learn from the work he is doing in his kitchen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chris Adrian at the bookstore tomorrow

One of my favorite prose writers will be at the bookstore tomorrow, November 13 at 7pm. Chris Adrian is the author of Gob's Grief and The Children's Hospital (a staff pick of mine). He'll be reading from his new collection of short stories, A Better Angel. I've read and enjoyed the first three stories "High Speeds," "The Sum of Our Parts," and "Stab," and the collection contains one of my favorite stories of last year, "Why Antichrist?" (It appeared in the "Evil" themed issue of Tin House last year.)

"Why Anitchrist?" is a fresh take on the idea of the Antichrist and the nature of evil in general told in the first person of the Antichrist himself. It also manages to break new ground in exploring the effects of 9/11 on our culture. That story alone makes the collection worth a read.

Secret Suppers

While I'm not really supportive of the movement (there are, after all, good reasons for restaurants to be licensed and obey zoning laws, etc.), I'd like to bring to your attention a new book about the underground dining phenomenon that's spreading across the country. It's titled, Secret Suppers, by Jen Garbee. (Full disclosure: I attended an underground dinner as a guest of the publisher of this book last Spring while attending our industry's annual trade show in Los Angeles. The dinner was memorable not only for the excellent food and wine, but also the magnificent hillside garden setting and the hospitality of our hosts.) While I would have preferred a more colorful presentation rather than the black-and-white, "underground" design of the book, in Secret Suppers, Garbee gives a sampling, with recipes, of the many different kinds of dining experiences created by these outlaw chefs.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November 20th Michael Greenberg Event

Having just finished reading Michael Greenberg's powerful new memoir - Hurry Down Sunshine - I am now even more excited about his upcoming event here at PSB. Frankly and with a keen nuanced eye, Greenberg tells the story of his daughter's emotional crack up, hospitalization, treatment and how she moved forward, then backward, and forward again; her life an emotional roller coaster. As her father, he suffers pangs of guilt and moments of hope. This extraordinary book lays everything out in mesmerizing prose and unsparing detail. I urge you to join us on Thursday, November 20th at 7 PM to hear Michael Greenberg read and discuss Hurry Down Sunshine.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Brava, Strega Nona!

I am a virgin blogger, so here goes!

It's finally arrived - Tomie's POP-UP collaboration with master paper engineer, Bob Sabuda! A must for the holiday season for kids and adults alike. Check it out -

Brava, Strega Nona!: A Heartwarming Pop-Up Book!


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