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Right now, I’m one of the few very fortunate people in the world who have a copy of the Modernist Cuisine book.  I’ve been a vocal fan(boy) of the project for nearly a year now.  As my wife can attest, discussing the subject of this book has been a favorite pastime of mine… at cocktail parties, friends’ birthdays, on vacation, to tech support call operators, at drive-through windows, and to just about anyone else who will listen.  About two weeks ago while I was driving to work, I got an email asking if I could swing by the Intellectual Ventures office to pick up a review copy.  I nearly drove my car through the median in my eagerness.

I got the books, brought them home, and posted an “unboxing coming soon” teaser article.  That was two weeks ago.  Since then – not a single mention.  The books that I’ve been salivating over for nearly a year finally arrive and I don’t post a word.  What happened?

I had an existential crisis.

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Reading time: 4 min

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I love discovering that someone is secretly a geek.  I love it even more when that person also happens to be a chef.

I had the recent pleasure of dining at Kirkland’s lowercase waterfront hotspot bin on the lake and I got to spend some time chatting with the newly-arrived chef Paul Hyman (disclosure: this was a hosted dinner).  Chef Hyman’s Louisiana roots were evident in his passion for food (everyone I know from Louisiana is a food fanatic), and his previous positions at highly-respected kitchens in Boston and Portland made him seem like a very natural fit for an upscale Pacific Northwest restaurant like bin.  However, I quickly realized that behind the mandatory Ranch Name + Organic + Popular Cut Served with Locally Grown Seasonal Vegetable (which was delicious, by the way) this chef was secretly channeling his deepest inner geek.

Take, for example, the dinner menu’s only pasta course: Corzetti.  Rather than opt for the more predictable handmade ravioli (which are to Seattle menus as Subarus are to Seattle streets), he chose a fresh pasta that I’d never seen on a menu before. I was intrigued.  The chef came to the table holding a pair of round wooden blocks and explained that they were handmade stamps for the little discs of pasta he served.  Not only does stamping the pasta create more surface area for it to hold sauce (winning geek points already), but these corzetti stamps are only made by a few people in the world and required a trip to Italy just to obtain.  Exclusive, nice.

Click through for more, plus photos of dinner.

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Reading time: 3 min

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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Reading time: 1 min