The new Ferran Adrià biography, reviewed.

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Nov. 10 2010 10:08 AM

Raw Rabbit Brains in Dill Broth

The new Ferran Adrià biography, reviewed.

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In the inevitable chapter on Adrià's detractors, Andrews lances the arguments of most of those who complain about the additives in Adrià's cuisine. He cites Adrià's own defense that the ingredients he uses are legal and safe. "A fuet (a thin, dry Catalan sausage) is a thousand times worse for you than anything I have ever made," the chef told Andrews. Andrews is somewhat sympathetic, however, to the Can Fabes chef, the aforementioned Santimaria, who seems, in his attacks on Adrià, to be mourning a spiritual loss in the increasingly tenuous human connection to food. "Vanguard cuisine [ie the work of Adrià and other highly-technical chefs] has broken the kitchen's relation to local culture," he complains to Andrews.

Santimaria is but a colorful member of the supporting cast in the biography, but with his outsized ego and messy, romantic humanism, I feel like I know what motivates him almost better than I do the book's protagonist. To some extent, Ferran feels like it is missing Ferran himself, or at least, an extended analysis of what animates him. For a man whose creations have created such uproar, Adrià's personal history reads with disappointing familiarity—on the order of a VH1 Behind the Music about a not particularly hard-living rocker. Boy comes from a stable home, likes to party, starts cooking to finance said partying. Continues to have fun until he becomes the chef of an isolated two-star restaurant, buckles down, starts creating wildly inventive food, gets a third Michelin star, becomes an icon, gets married, gets even more serious-minded.

There are many direct quotations from the chef and his allies throughout the book, but I kept wanting Andrews to frame them more strongly. Perhaps he holds back from speculating on Adrià's psyche out of deference to a subject who granted him so much access: extensive interviews and unfettered time in Adrià's workshop and restaurant. Perhaps Adrià simply keeps his messier emotions locked down (at least near a journalist). In any case, the book left me wondering what really drives Adrià. Does he seek external recognition (he does seem to take disproportionate pride in honorary degrees) or is he motivated by a purely interior pull (after all, he finessed his creative process for years when El Bulli was just an obscure restaurant with almost no press).

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"What we want at El Bulli is to wake up in the morning and have the unique excitement of seeing if we're able to do something new," Adrià tells Andrews. It is this obsessive pursuit of progress that has always fascinated—even alarmed—me about Adrià's work, and yet, after reading this biography, the impetus for that creative drive still feels underexamined. The true Adrià seems as distant as the likelihood of me ever tasting powdered foie gras noodles high above the beach at Cala Montjoi.

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