Book Review: A Knead To Read

Sit down with a book when it's too hot to cook

A Knead To Read

The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli

by Lisa Abend
Free Press, 304 pp., $26

Most food fans know that elBulli, Ferran Adrià's temple of creative cuisine on Catalonia's Costa Brava in Spain, was the world's ultimate dining reservation – it closes its doors as a restaurant on July 31 to reopen as a "creativity center" in 2014, and it was already so booked for its last year that no reservations were accepted. To have been able to dine there was on every foodie's bucket list, a culinary pilgrimage of the highest order. Most diners don't think about it, but for any chef to be able to say that you were an Adrià stagiaire, a barely paid apprentice in elBulli's laboratorylike kitchen, was the opportunity of a lifetime, an open invitation onto the staff of any restaurant, anywhere. Lisa Abend, Time magazine's Spain correspondent, follows 35 of these young men and women through elBulli's 2009 season as part of the brigade, and in the process brilliantly illustrates that rarified world.

Abend was allowed access to the elBulli kitchen like no journalist before. Imagine a kitchen with 45 chefs, cooks, stagiaires, and dishwashers from all over the world and the work and concentration required to turn out 30 to 40 precise courses per diner during the six months that the restaurant was open every year. Three thousand applicants a year vie for 32 slots, in order to work 14-hour days for six months and in exchange for a free meal each day, a bed in a cramped apartment, no pay, and a résumé notch on their knives like no other.

Abend provides an intimate look not only into the harried life of the apprentice, but into the life of Adrià and his lieutenants, and the constant pressures of running the world's best and most exclusive restaurant. She brings each character (think of the egos involved at this level) alive brilliantly through her words, and you actually get the feel of what working in that kitchen must be like. With The Sorcerer's Apprentices, Abend ably describes the creative process of culinary genius and that pressure cooker of an environment, on a par with Heat by Bill Buford. Each paragraph is as captivating as one of Adrià's little culinary gems – a mesmerizing and highly entertaining read.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More El Bulli
Sci-Fi 2008
Sci-Fi 2008
The tools of molecular gastronomy

Mick Vann, July 25, 2008

More Food Reviews
I Am a Filipino and This Is How We Cook
I Am a Filipino and This Is How We Cook

Kahron Spearman, Oct. 26, 2018

Buttermilk Graffiti
Buttermilk Graffiti

Jessi Devenyns, Oct. 26, 2018

More by Mick Vann
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Good things come in small packages

May 8, 2015

On the Cheap: Taquito Aviles
Taquito Aviles
Getting our goat on Braker

Feb. 20, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

stagiaire, elBulli, El Bulli, Ferran Adria, Ferran Adrià, Costa Brava, Spain, apprentice, Lisa Abend

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle