POPSUGAR Food

23 Commandments of El Bulli's Cuisine

Sep 5 2013 - 4:25am

While most are familiar with the characteristics of traditional cooking methods, molecular gastronomy is still making its way into restaurants and homes across the world. In 2005, Ferran Adrià and his team at El Bulli [1] — the restaurant that spearheaded this movement — compiled 23 points called the Synthesis of El Bulli Cuisine [2]. That synthesis can be seen at the museum exhibit El Bulli: Ferran Adrià and the Art of Food [3] at the London Somerset House until Sept. 29. Without captivating imagery and examples, the commandments can make your head spin; that's why we've paraphrased the commandments for you. Read on to learn more: whether you're intrigued by his movement or know nothing about it, these tenets are shaping the food world as we know it.

Source: Getty [4]

1) Cooking Is an Expressive Language

The "gorgonzola balloon," made from frozen gorgonzola cheese, takes on an unusual, air-filled form that evokes many of the emotions that the El Bulli team hopes to express through their food, such as "harmony, creativity, joy, beauty, poetry, complexity, magic, humor, provocation, and culture."

Source: Flickr user Edsel L [5]

2) Quality Ingredients Lose Their Value If the Cook Lacks Culinary Training

Ferran Adrià knows that as important as it is to use quality ingredients, it's just as important to staff a kitchen of passionate, skilled cooks. Grant Achatz and José Andrés are just a few cooks who did their training placements at El Bulli and have gone on to become renowned chefs.

Source: Getty [6]

3) Treat a Carrot and a Filet of Steak With the Same Value

The value of a food product does not correlate to its price tag, according to El Bulli. Therefore, this plate of "grilled vegetables" was treated with as much respect, care, and attention as a filet of steak.

Source: Getty [7]

4) Use Less Meat and More Vegetables

The team at El Bulli gives preference to "vegetables, seafood, and fish" to create a "very light form of cooking" versus the traditional meat-heavy French cooking. An example of an El Bulli entrée would be a filet of "red mullet a la Gaudí," topped with vegetable brunoise. Even the serving vessel is light; the fish rests on a sack, filled with water and sea shells.

Source: Flickr user Edsel Little [8]

5) Preserve the Food's Purity

"Although the characteristics of the products may be modified," says the El Bulli team, "the aim is always to preserve the purity of their original taste." For example, the green cubes on this plate are apples, transformed into hot jelly cubes. This technique preserves the flavor and purity of the apple while altering its natural temperature, texture, and shape. The team recognizes there are certain exceptions, like the Maillard reaction [9], which actually enhance the flavor of the food for the better. Enter in this caramelized "civet of rabbit."

Source: Flickr user Edsel L [10]

6) Know Classic and Modern Cooking

In order to explore the full potential of food, cooks must become experts in both classic cutting and cooking techniques as well as modern molecular gastronomy.

Source: Getty / Robert Marquardt [11]

7) Experiment With New Cooking Tools, Gadgets, and Equipment

You don't see successful computer scientists still using the first Macintosh computer from 1984, do you? To make advancements, cooks should experiment with the latest cooking tools, gadgets, and other equipment.

Source: Getty / Josep Lago [12]

8) Explore Lighter Bases

While important, veal stocks and creamy Mother sauces [13] don't need to make it to every dish. Instead, El Bulli's synthesis encourages lighter bases like waters, broths, consommés, clarified vegetable juices, and nut milks such as this "carrot air with coconut milk."

Source: Flickr user Edsel L [14]

9) A Dish Should Engage Every Sense

Yes, you smell, see, taste, touch, and hear the food, but the food must also provoke what Adrià calls the "sixth sense [15]," or that of reflection. This "chocolate in textures," for instance, begs the question, "How did they make that?"

Source: Flickr user Edsel L [16]

10) Let Food Stimulate and Surprise

Every dish should stimulate and surprise every sense, from taste to touch to smell to sight. This dish plays with the texture of air. The Parmesan wonton is a crispy pocket of air, and the basil foam is simply aerated basil juice. It's a perfect example of something that tastes like its essence, yet the appearance and texture are exciting and different.

Source: Flickr user Charles Haynes [17]

11) Concentrate on Forming New Techniques, Not Recipes

El Bulli the restaurant has closed down to form the El Bulli Foundation [18]. Adrià is currently focused on researching and innovating new cooking techniques, not recipes.

Source: Getty / Robert Marquardt [19]

12) Create With a Team

Rome wasn't built by one guy, and El Bulli stresses that "creation involves teamwork," especially when researching new concepts that will shape the food world at large.

Source: Getty / Samuel Aranda [20]

13) Break Down the Barriers Between Entrée and Dessert

Why have "barriers between the sweet world and the savory world?" Any dessert technique can be served as a savory entrée and vice versa. The El Bulli kitchen was especially fond of creating frozen savory dishes, like this "sake sorbet," wrapped in nori and garnished with trout roe.

Source: Flickr user spersper [21]

14) Reorganize the Classic Structure of Dishes

Forget about the traditional "product-garnish-sauce hierarchy." Dishes don't necessarily need to have a sauce on the plate and a garnish on the top. Soup doesn't have to be served in a bowl (or even in soup form!). In this case, the pea "garnish" is served in a spoon, and behind it is a liquid pea ravioli made from pea soup. If that's not silly and different enough for you, this particular pea dish sways between savory and sweet because it contains flower buds, mint leaves, and honey.

Source: Flickr user jenny downing [22]

15) Participate With the Serving Experience

El Bulli pushed to rethink the serving process, whether it involved waiters finishing dishes at the table or even requiring the guests to get involved. In this "marshmallow service," three gloves filled with air cover metal bowls. One of the bowls contains passion fruit marshmallows, but guests are required to participate and play with the glove balloons and pull them off to find the bowl containing the marshmallows.

Source: Flickr user xmatt [23]

16) All Cuisines and Any Food Product Can Be Used in Molecular Gastronomy

Any product and any cuisine is "subjected to" El Bulli's modern style of cooking. This cuttlefish and coconut ravioli takes Chinese ingredients and flavors such as soy sauce and ginger but uses a different, modern method of cooking them.

Source: Flickr user Edsel L [24]

16) Preserve Local Cuisine

Preserve local traditions and dishes but update the cooking techniques. This "tomato soup with virtual Iberian ham" is recognizable by its traditional Spanish flavors, yet the presentation is completely modernized. The ham is like thin sheets of gelatin, and the soup is a clear liquid broth.

Source: Flickr user Charles Haynes [25]

18) Memory and New Combinations Make For Remarkable Dishes

Most if not all El Bulli dishes are memorable, because the food connects people to "memory (connection to local origins, adaptation, deconstruction, earlier modern recipes)," yet delightfully surprises them with "new combinations." The team would take something very traditional and familiar like a Spanish croquette yet completely change and surprise the diner's experience with it. While the croquette appears "normal" to the eye, inside is an oozy center (the something "new").

Source: Flickr user xmatt [26]

19) Art and Culinary Arts Share the Same Language

A "codified culinary language" is being created by the El Bulli team to establish "dialogues with the world and the language of art." Some of their dishes have poetic names like this "mint pond," which artfully describes a sheet of frozen water sprinkled with mint and brown sugar powders. Which begs this question: is this a dish, a piece of artwork, or both?

Source: Flickr user Edsel L [27]

20) Serve by the Spoonful

Many of the dishes on the tasting menu involve one bite, which encompasses all the sauces, garnishes, and other flavors for a harmonious experience, such as the case with this "golden egg" that features a caramelized shell with an egg yolk interior.

Source: Flickr user xmatt [28]

21) The Point of It All Is Gastronomic Reflection

Listen up: "Decontextualization, irony, spectacle, and performance . . . should respond to a gastronomic reflection," the El Bulli team explains. The "spice plate" showcases a bowl of apple gelatin, with 12 spices positioned around the plate in the fashion of a clock. Less like a dish and more like an exercise in taste, the spice plate forces diners to stop and reflect on what they are eating and attempt to detect which spices they are consuming.

Source: Flickr user K Tao [29]

22) Offer a Tasting Menu

Instead of the menu with choices, offer a tasting menu that controls the diner's experience and takes him or her through a journey of small bites featuring various flavors and techniques. This early menu item, a "coca of avocado, anchovies, and green onion," is an example of a course that is the size of an amuse-bouche, not a standard entrée.

Source: Flickr user xmatt [30]

23) Form Partnerships and Collaborations

At the end of the day, progress and evolution occur directly from partnership and sharing, especially when it includes chemistry and cooking. These "olives [31]" involve a process called spherification [32] that the El Bulli team learned from a food company called Griffith España. Because the company was willing to share its sodium alginate liquid, the El Bulli team developed liquid-filled caviar, ravioli, and other creations.

Source: Flickr user Edsel L [33]