51yJ9vY3ReL__SS500_Ferran Adrià is the most influential chef, living or dead, period.  He’s also likely the most controversial.  At his Catalonia restaurant El Bulli, Ferran has spent the last few decades turning the culinary world on it’s head, breaking rules, toying with emotions, and inventing never-before-conceived ways of imagining food. 

Unfortunately, you may know Ferran best by his most extreme techniques, which are often implemented poorly by far lesser chefs (yep, I’ve been guilty of that).  His most recognizable methods include making foams and turning liquids into encapsulated spheres, both of which quickly denigrate from masterful haute techniques into party gags rather quickly.  However, in the hands of (by all accounts) a master/genius/sorcerer/+5000 Mana Food Priest, these methods contribute to a transformative and even transcendent dining experience.

Through Colman Andrews’ unprecedented access to Ferran, we learn about his fascinating and serendipitous career progression from military dishwasher to short-order beach bum, eventually becoming the most renowned chef in the world.  We also learn much of the history of El Bulli and how the location, landscape and struggling seasonality of the restaurant ultimately contributed to its unlikely success. 

What we don’t learn, though, is much about Ferran, personally.  Although he dispenses a bevy of prolific statements throughout the chapters, nearly nothing is written about his life outside the kitchen, his wife or his relationships with friends.  In fact, reading about his many simultaneous projects and ventures, I began to wonder if there was any off-duty time to discuss at all!

Skeptics of “molecular gastronomy”, a term which Ferran and others abhor, may find this book less than satisfying – the brief chapter on the opposition to Ferran’s food only lightly grazes the surface of the common knee-jerk responses to modernist cooking, and regrettably does very little to dispel the pervasive untruths that are frequently held against Ferran and his disciples.  However, for a geek like me wishing to emulate the patterns and unbounded thinking that made Ferran Adria such a powerful force in the modernist food movement, this book was a fantastic glimpse into the mind of a genius. 

Amazon: Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food

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Yes, the box really does way 46 lbs.  Look for an update later this evening.

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mac-and-cheese

It is undeniably fashionable, these days, for an upscale restaurant to serve “their take” on macaroni and cheese.  I’ve seen it prepared at least a dozen ways: with wild mushrooms, with truffles, with bleu cheese, with cave-aged gruyere, in mini-cocottes, on oversized platters, broiled, baked, and deep fried.  For the record, there’s nothing wrong with any of these preparations.  In fact, we served a wild mushroom and truffle oil mac & cheese at my wedding!  However, I wanted to take the concept to the extreme and produce the most hyperbolic, modernist version of the dish I could… just to see what happened.  The result: maltodextrin-powdered Beecher’s cheese with a tableside hot cream to make an “instant” sauce.

I originally thought I’d post my results as a joke – an over-the-top preparation that was to comfort food what the Dyson Air Multiplier is to climate control.  However, I was delightfully surprised to find out that this mac & cheese actually tasted fantastic!  The flavors are extremely pure and the consistency of the instant sauce was perfect.  Watch out, Kraft… you’ve got competition.

Makes: 2 snobby servings
Total kitchen time: 4 hours (45 minutes working time)

For the Powdered Cheese:

  1. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (180-220°F).
  2. Combine the cheese, water and sodium citrate in a small saucepan.  Heat on low until completely melted.  Stir to ensure evenness.
  3. Transfer the cheese mixture to a small food processor and add 200g of tapioca maltodextrin and process until it forms a paste.  If you can’t fit all of the tapioca maltodextrin at once, add half and process, then add the remainder.
  4. Spread the paste in a thin, even layer onto a silicone baking sheet.  Bake until dry and brittle, 2-3 hours. 
  5. Crumble the cheese mixture into a food processor, or preferably a clean, electric coffee grinder.  Process until the mixture becomes a fine powder.  If necessary, add an additional 15g of tapioca maltodextrin.  The mixture should have the same texture as the powdered cheese in instant macaroni and cheese.

For the dish:

  • 1 cup pipe rigate (or any other type of macaroni you’d like)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Hawaiian black lava salt
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream to a simmer.  Just before serving, divide the cream into two mini sauce pots (I used glass port sippers, shown in the photo).
  3. To plate, sprinkle a two tablespoons of the cheese powder into a small bowl.  Top with pasta, sprinkle with a pinch of black lava salt, and garnish with thyme.  To finish the dish tableside, pour over the hot cream and stir well to make the cheese sauce. 

I owe a big thanks to Maxime Bilet (author of Modernist Cuisine) for giving me a hand with the powdered cheese recipe.  If you aren’t up for ordering a pound of maltodextrin online, you can also use my simplified powdered cheese recipe from the Beecher’s Cheddar Cheetos article I wrote for Seattle Weekly.  However, tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit) is pretty handy stuff for turning liquids into powders, and is a staple in modernist kitchens.

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