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We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: Chef Ferran Adrià discusses his creative process, the importance of cookbooks, and why he loves store-bought ravioli.
In the venn diagram of "devoted home cooks" and "devoted followers of Ferran Adrià's every move," the intersection is likely quite narrow; the Catalan chef is known more for the innovative ways he distills flavors and transforms ingredients than he is for, say, creating recipes you can whip up with a wooden spoon.
But this crazy-brilliant person, you must remember, has also written four books about home cooking. (Three are out of print; here's the fourth.) His advice, according to Colman Andrews' biography, sounds something like this:
"Take advantage of commercial products, but always the high-quality ones. Let the pros clean your fish, cut up your meat, etc., giving you more time for other things. Don't try complicated dishes unless you have the time and the materials. Avoid things that take too long to cook. It's better to buy a good sardine than a mediocre crayfish."
More: When you buy that good sardine, turn them into a lemony pâté.
Adrià's latest book, the seven-volume opus elBulli 2005-2011, records every dish served in his famed restaurant within those years -- most of which are near-impossible in a home kitchen. But we still wanted to know how it could better inform our own cooking and our creativity, even if we won't be spherifying olives any time soon. Read on to learn which cookbooks have inspired Adrià's career as a chef, how he records his creative process, and how he wants to empower cooks around the globe.
More: What's easier than spherifying olives? Warming them in anchovy-infused oil.
What was your primary motivation in writing elBulli 2005-2011: to record, or to teach?
It was to organize all of the information from elBulli so that people could study what we had done. But it was also useful to us: It was a fundamental part of the creative audit that we conducted every year so that we could see what we had done and evaluate what we would be doing. It was a way to prevent us from copying ourselves.
What were the most formative cookbooks in your development as a chef? Do you still reference them?
The books of Michel Guerard, Trois Gros, Alain Chapel, Robert Lafon. These were the bibles for me. I still use them as a reference point to this day -- to study. I’m not bringing them into the kitchen to cook.
How important were cookbooks in the development of BulliPedia?
They are central to it. That's where all of our information is being drawn from. The books allow things to exist in a way. To be made visible. The first cookbook is from 1370. Before that we don’t have any printed record of cuisine. There is the history that has been documented and then there is the undocumented history. Books are crucial for documentation. If we had books all the way back to the Neolitihic period we would know a lot more. I would know what I’m talking about.
What do you like to cook for yourself at home?
I hate to cook at home, but because I like to eat, I cook at home. When I did The Family Meal, it was a serious reflection of the things we cook for each other at the restaurant. Any chef that says they cook a lot at home, that’s a lie. They are working at that time of day. When I cook at home, I’m done in a half hour. It’s very basic. It’s fast. Like a fish a la plancha. Or I may buy pre-made raviolis or very good bolognese sauce for my home. If it’s very good quality I may just make that.
More: Give Nigel Slater's genius bolognese sauce a try.
How did the process of writing elBulli 2005-2011 beget your soon-to-be-released Bullipedia project?
It’s all part of a natural evolution. When you’re looking at it, it all falls into place. The whole idea of Bullipedia would not make any sense without having done the catalog first. It provided the structure to think about and analyze the rest of cuisine in a similarly objective manner. The important part was to create the model for how to study the creative process. Without that model, we would not have been able to move forward. All of the MBA programs and major universities of the world are going to be studying the model we used for Evolutionary Analysis [the last of the seven volumes] for an objective audit of our creative process.
With your current projects, how do you hope to change the way we cook and eat food?
The main thing is for people, when they cook, to know what they are doing. So that they have the maximum knowledge about the subject. And also that it serves as a tool for culinary students and schools throughout the learning process. They are a tool for teaching. A way of understanding.
Photo of Ferran + Books courtesy of Phaidon. Food photos by James Ransom.