Success within the culinary world has a recipe.
Cooking involves balanced, intersecting streams of experience, knowledge and creativity. Through listening to the whispers of the past and unabashed use of imagination as to what the future holds I hope to manifest a unique path within the culinary world myself.
The first steps of this still ongoing journey began by exploring the successful, infamous and interesting stories of the chefs who have gone before me. Divulging their autobiographies, cook books, podcasts and videos in an attempt to dissect their wins, losses, advice, dishes and overall culinary style.
Having this information so readily available is empowering as you’re able to fast-track these lessons for yourself, through contrasting them against your own experiences.
What are some of the ingredients to culinary success?
Standing on the shoulders of giants.
Ferran Adrià was the head chef and face of el Bulli, a restaurant that reshaped the gastronomic world through his exporting and popularisation of molecular gastronomy to the restaurant and fine dining setting. With help from his team and in particular, brother Albert, Ferran was able to pioneer new techniques, applying scientific principles to the culinary realm and push the ceiling of what both chefs and diners thought was possible.
On top of its coveted three Michelin stars, eBulli was recognised as the world’s best restaurant five times, four of them in consecutive years from 2006–2009, something that hasn’t been achieved since. The Adrià’s toiled away, with methodical process, new concepts and multi-sensorial experiences being the driving force. All of this was done at the expense of profit as the restaurant incurred consistent losses for the period of time where they experienced the majority of their success.
Their journey is well documented by themselves and others through various books, interviews and videos. Preceding their continual success, and the period that solidified their position in the culinary history books they actively started to share a number of their notes, ideas and recipes with the world. El Bulli’s success led Ferran to be one of the most celebrated, discussed, condemned and respected chefs in the modern era.
Creativity…forms part of my work, and I enjoy it as a gift, which is why I try not to give it more significance than it really has
The secret ingredient(s).
While reading through Colman Andrews ‘reinventing Food Ferran Adrià: The man who changed the way we eat’ there we two parts relating the approach taken at el Bulli relating dish design and creativity that resided with me.
1.There was nothing spontaneous about his ‘creativity’ — below is an example of the extremely organised process surrounding dish design
Problem: Ocean and mountains
Idea: Caviar and marrow
Definition of the dish: Marrow with caviar
Gathering of information: Is there something like it already? Has someone already done it?
Analysis of information: How can we make it?
Creativity: How can we combine the elements in the right form?
Materials and technology: What caviar should we use? How and where do we book the marrow?
Experimentation: Testing, trying things out
Final test: Tasting until it gets to the right point
Making it at the restaurant: Finding ways to reproduce what we’ve created
2. Part of the kitchen was dedicated to ‘play’ with food
- Nothing was off the table; any culture, ingredient or conceivable technique
- Chefs were required to keep extensive and detailed records of everything within the kitchen; failures and successes — including photos
- Whilst out and about or travelling abroad chefs were also required to keep notes and take photographs
- All notes and photographs were transferred to a large master notebook — a non-digital database of ideas
- Another notebook would catalogue the results of extensive testing for dishes that were being seriously considered
The consistency and scale at which the team of El Bulli undertook information gathering and development, still to do this day, 10 years after the closing of the restaurant an amazing feat. I believe it’s also one of they key contributing ingredients to their overall success. They were later able to monetise this work, their 1000’s of recipes, ideas and photos through publications, public talks and later an education center-cross museum dedicated to the culinary arts.
Everything is possible.
Interestingly enough I believe a lot of chefs already go through a similar process in their minds when tasting, developing dishes or designing menus. The devil seems to be in the details as these same chefs who might be asking some of the right questions during their creative process are not being as methodical or extensive with their processes, especially related to note and/or photo taking.
Another ingredient that sets El Bulli, Ferran and others like them apart from the millions of chefs that have come before and after is the ability to remove limitations, the boundaries around what people believe to be acceptable, let alone possible. Breaking the norms, paired with very conscious thought going into the processes undertaken, where you are right now and where you’re going all add up to (usually) delicious results.