What's the Big Idea?
Ferran Adrià, avant-garde chef of the famed restaurant and gastronomic think tank El Bulli (which closed in August 2011 to make way for the even more exciting El Bulli Foundation), does not eat beetroot and yogurt ice-cream lollipops every day. But he does eat well. And he wants you to eat well, too.
The Family Meal, Adrià’s new cookbook, gathers thirty-one three-course meals that the chef created for nightly staff dinners at El Bulli. The goals were ease of preparation, availability of ingredients, and affordability – after all, at one point El Bulli employed 42 chefs. There were probably some waiters and buspeople, too. Feeding all those people well required, as Adrià describes in the book’s opening pages, both ingenuity and careful preparation. In publishing The Family Meal, he aims to share with the harried home cook the fruits of those labors, abolishing the TV dinner worldwide. As he told Big Think:
It’s different than other home cookbooks because [the food is] eaten in the professional world. It's a compilation of three years of work, based on what we ate in the restaurant . . . And what we are doing is sharing it, because we have to reflect upon what kind of of cuisine we can make in the home.
Cooking everyday food with Ferran Adrià involves buying some tools, it turns out. You will need a mini blow-torch and a home co2 dispenser for some of the recipes. If you want to eat like the master, a microwave alone won’t cut it. Happily, the book’s opening chapters walk you systematically through the necessary stockpiling of equipment and staples (dried beans, sauces you can make and freeze in conveniently dispensed portions, and so on). Working families - if you add up the costs of frozen dinners and last minute take-out, you’ll probably end up healthier and wealthier by submitting to Adrià’s regime.
One interesting factor here is that each meal includes a dessert. I don’t know about you, but if I eat dessert once in a week, it’s a lot. There’s always an entree, too, and an appetizer or a side dish. For me (and I’m planning to cook straight through the whole book à la Julie and Julia), dessert every night will be kind of a culture shock. But then again, so will good food.
In this You Tube video, Chef Adrià discusses The Family Meal:
Chef Adria's Baked Apples are Really, Really Good
Cheating a little on the project, I made Adrià’s baked apple recipe the other night. We had gone apple picking with my toddler and acquired a biblical portion of apples (an ell, perhaps, or a cubit). The recipe called for Golden Delicious, but flexibility is one of The Family Meal’s virtues. We had Empire, which turned out to be only slightly problematic because the thick skin turned leathery and inedible after cooking. The only other substitution was a kind of high-fat Mexican sour cream for the whipped or clotted cream the recipe suggests. I know, I know, Chef Adrià: I’m a terrible student. But it worked.
The cookbook provides step-by-step photographic directions, which is brilliant. It wouldn’t fly in a massive compendium like The Joy of Cooking or How to Cook Everything, but with 93 recipes, it’s manageable and a huge help. I followed them. I made some unbelievably delicious baked apples. The piece de resistance: a sauce of honey, butter, and brandy that forms as these ingredients melt within and bubble through the apples during cooking. You then spoon this over the apples and cream. It’s definitely better for the soul than Mrs. Smith’s.
What remains to be seen (though I want to trust Chef Adrià on this) is exactly how practical these meals are for the home cook who does not live with 42 chefs. I'll get back to you on that, as soon as I get the blowtorch.