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

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,306 ratings  ·  120 reviews
WHAT GOES ON BEHIND THE SCENES AT ELBULLI? Elected best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine an unprecedented five times, elBulli is where chef Ferran Adriàs remarkable cuisine comes to lifewith dragon cocktails that make the drinker breathe smoke and caviar made from tiny spheres of olive oil. elBulli is also the object of culinary pilgrimagemillions clamor ...more
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published March 22nd 2011 by Free Press
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  1,306 ratings  ·  120 reviews

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Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
The key to appreciating molecular gastronomy, at least as practised by Ferran Adria, is to cease all idea that restaurant food is something you choose from a menu, comes in well-defined courses and is served by silent waiters who place and remove the dishes rather than explain each item and tell you how to eat it.

What you have to appreciate is Ferran Adria is an artist whose medium is food, not paint, clay or glass. Through this medium he will create very small portions, just one or two bites,
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: miscellaneous
I've just had a disconcerting experience - reading both The Sorcerer's Apprentices and Waste: uncovering the global food scandal at the same time. The first, which I am reviewing here, is a book about elBulli - a restaurant in Spain with three Michelin stars, and voted "best restaurant in the world" five times by Restaurant Magazine. It closed in 2011, but while it was open it was a mecca for food connoisseurs everywhere. The restaurant could accommodate 8,000 diners a season, but every year it ...more
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has just become the gold standard against which I will measure culinary writing.

I've been vocal in my complaints about the writing of Ruhlman because he's so self-absorbed and can't get himself out of his writing. By contrast Abend is a true journalist. She reports, she don't enter the narrative. Though she must have asked questions from time to time (she thanks everyone at the end for putting up with her interviewing), she comes across as an observer only, not pushing herself in,
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the best-written nonfiction book I've read in recent memory, describing the professional development of chefs' apprentices, who commit to a "stage" at a restaurant for little or no pay. In exchange, they expect to learn techniques and skills, and of course, enjoy "family meal" alongside the chefs. Ferran Adria, perhaps against his own wishes, is most famous for introducing airs, foams and spherification to haute cuisine through his 30-plus course tasting menus at elBulli. The book tracks ...more
Dec 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: foodies,
Shelves: non-fiction-read
I'm kind of pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this. I'm not a fanatical foodie, I'm someone who enjoys good food, and I enjoy occasionally watching Top Chef, and that's about it. While I think this book is very suited to foodies, I also think it's entertaining and well-written for those who simply 'like food.'

Lisa's accounts of the drudgery in the repetitive work sometimes made me worry that I would begin to feel that reading the book itself was a big of a drudge (it can be dangerous
Paula Gallagher
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Madrid-based journalist Abend spent stretches of time observing the operations of the legendary destination restaurant elBulli during its 2009 season. Abend focuses her story on the dozens of unpaid apprentice chefs (stagiaires) who form the backbone of the restaurant.

Chef Ferran Adria became famous for his innovative approach of presenting diners with a multitude of small courses that challenge and surprise. What appears to be artichoke leaves are actually rose petals that have blanched three
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in restaurants
Shelves: nonfiction, food
In 2009 journalist Lisa Abend chronicled the inner workings of elBulli, Ferran Adrià's groundbreaking restaurant. Always experimenting, Adrià opened during the summer/autumn season, rather than his normal spring/summer season. The change opens up new foods, new techniques, and new types of customers. At the core of his decisions is always the question: What if.... His innovations include responses to question like, what if a sauce's flavor could be intensified without flour or starch thickening ...more
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Review posted to MADreads:

I am not a foodie reader. I haven't read Anthony Bourdain or Gabrielle Hamilton. If I've read anything about the preparation of food, like Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, it's because my book group was reading the book. Such is the case with my latest foray into the foodie book world. And as with the Reichl, I'm glad I was pushed.

Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant on the Spanish coast has been named the world's best restaurant
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
'The Sorcerer's Apprentices' is an engaging, warm and smartly-written book about life behind-the-scenes at the legendary Spanish restaurant ElBulli.Under the leadership of chef Ferran Adria, the restaurant made a name for itself due to its wonderous, incredibly imaginative cuisine, going on to accrue three Michelin stars and numerous awards. 'Apprentices' gives readers a look at the people who helped run the place over the course of a season.

For many people, their first behind-the-scenes look
Jonathan Lin
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
This is my favourite book this year. From a technique perspective, this book demonstrates the pinnacle of the "weave" of non-fiction narration, first taught to me by Canadian author Daniel Wood. The interspersing of in medias res narration, exposition, history, and theory, back and forth, forms the basic structure of the book. It is a mechanism, and it works. Period. I feel it is very well constructed.

Now that I've gotten over with the "critique" of the book, let me tell you about the favourite
Rishiyur Nikhil
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of elBulli before (ignorant me!), but apparently amongst the haute cuisine cognoscenti, it's very famous, and repeatedly voted "Best Restaurant in the World" in some foodie magazines. It's a Michelin 3-star restaurant, located in Catalunya on the Mediterranean,
literally on the way from Figueres (Dali museum) to Cadaques. The celebrity chef is Ferran Adria, and the dishes are "avant garde", i.e., it's food, but it's also meant to shock and surprise. Reservations fill up a year
Serge Pierro
Aug 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: food-and-wine
I was really looking forward to seeing what it was like to work in the "number 1" rated restaurant in the world and it's resident genius Ferran Adri. Having finished the book I was left "wanting". Although Abend was able to give a glimpse of life at elBulli, it seemed somewhat shallow and I didn't get a real feel for working in its kitchen. Unlike other books that portray life in a top kitchen, the writer wasn't actually involved in any of the work, and therefore unable to pass along what it ...more
Dec 01, 2011 rated it liked it
The best parts of Lisa Abend's behind the scenes peek in Ferran Adrià's kitchen at El Bulli introduce the reader to his stagiaires; by tracking their progress over the course of several months, readers like myself with no experience working in the industry learn more about it and what drives the people who want to cook amazing food for us. Surprisingly, though, I came away from The Sorcerer's Apprentices disinterested in Adrià's food. As Abend mentions repeatedly, El Bulli can revolutionize food ...more
Jen Ryan
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this a while ago but forgot to update my status. Obviously, this was a must-read because my daughter's Uncle Dan and Aunt Kim were featured. (Yes, they are still together.)

Dan and Kim didn't give too many details on their adventures at the restaurant, so it was interesting to get an outside perspective of their Spanish adventure and the lifestyle they live as part of their profession.

The book itself was well-written, and I appreciated that the book provided insights into the restaurant,
Caroline Hostettler
Aug 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
an almost journalistic recount. the author had a material for a big series of books but masters to tell everything that is important and impressive in one, easy to digest book. this is an art. - what we learn is not only pleasant and sometimes surprising. still every line is fascinating (for food and restaurant people like me, at least).
Ellen Worling
Oct 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent read on an incredible restaurant.
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great foodie book; learned ever more interesting stuff about what happens in the restaurant world.
William Colsher
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Really well done view into the inner workings of ElBulli. Highly recommended!
Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Was surprised how much I enjoyed this, not being a foodie. Need to see the Nelson Atkins installation with notebooks and menus from El Bulli!
Julia Holloway
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Such an interesting look behind the scenes of one of the world's most famous and innovative restaurants. Loved reading about Katie Button's time there since I love her restaurant, Curate.
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent piece of journalism if not entertainment. A clear-eyed glimpse into the inner workings of the most famous restaurant on earth. But really it's just one aspect which gets covered - admirably, the stagiaires - so it falls short of being a truly great food book due to its specificity and neutrality.
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-writing
I have read two other books about Ferran Adria.... this one though is my favorite. The other books have focused on the man, the myth, the chef, and his restaurant which deserves the acclaim as the greatest in the world.

However this book looks at the rising stars who make the restaurant truly what it is. It is a team effort at El Bulli and each season young cooks from around the world come to help out and train under one of the most stressful environments in cuisine.

Rather than just an overall
Vuk Trifkovic
I can see how judging this book depends on framing the topic. If you take it that it is about elBulli, then you might argue about how cutting or critical or exploratory it is. But I don't think this is about elBulli per se, but about its stagiaries in particular and the role of young chefs in haute cuisine today.

From that point of view, I think it was excellent read. The personalities are well-framed, explored and best of all while their foibles and flaws are not hidden, it is left to the reader
Dec 14, 2013 rated it liked it
I desperately wanted this to be a five-star book. I have been somewhat obsessed with elBulli since I first learned about the restaurant and Ferran Adria. Sadly, this was not the book I hoped it would be.

I thought the editing was poor. I found numerous blatant typos which, frankly, I find terribly distracting. I also had a hard time seeing the connection between the apprentices personal stories and the happenings in the restaurant. I don't actually fault the author for this because a good editor
I will begin by saying that if you are a foodie reader, you enjoy shows like Bourdain's No Reservations, then you will likely enjoy this book. The only reason I did not rate it higher is that it can get a bit technical at times in terms of the food preparation descriptions. However, what I found a bit heavy at times may actually be a strength for other readers. The book documents the 2009 season at El Bulli. We get both the story of the famous restaurant, its genius chef Ferran Adrià, and the ...more
Apr 15, 2012 rated it did not like it
My first degree is in Culinary Sciences so anything written involving food tends to grab my attention and make me a little lenient in writing styles. This book was sorely disappointing to the point I just couldn't finish it.

Lately I have been gravitating to more street food style fare and this book reinforced that trend. I got to the point where I didn't want to read about the ridiculousness or wastefulness of fine dining. The thought of all the food that is thrown out at elBulli because it
Al Durante
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," Abend takes us behind the scenes of Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant, in Roses Spain. This is not an expose of the deep dark secrets of culinary culture, or another fan-bio of an eminent celebrity chef. This book is not about Adria, or the stagiare kitchen apprentices that make elBulli possible. This book will appeal to readers with an interest in cooking, as well as those with interest in eating. In fact, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" may not appeal to those who ...more
Elizabeth Schlatter
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Such a good book! I have no experience working in restaurants, but Abend expertly explains the hierarchy of a typical kitchen and how elBulli is different while weaving in the lives and ambitions of the 30 or so stagiaires, who are essentially professional interns serving in Ferran Adria's kitchen to learn from the master. Abend doesn't pull any punches, which means you hear some of the stagiaires' complaints about the monotony of their tasks, the lack of movement to different stations in the ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Three stars= "I liked it". Seems like a funny rating system that Goodreads has. Anyway, I read this for my book group, and it was pretty good. It's an inside look at something it would be highly unlikely for me to ever experience. The Sorcerer's Apprentices are effectively unpaid interns working at "the world's best restaurant" for 6 months. The author, as far as I can tell, follows them the whole time. The restaurant serves 40-course meals for about $270 per person, and the focus is creativity ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kitchen-tales
This book was well written and accomplished the task of telling a difficult story- lots of scenes, not much plot line, a cast of thousands...-with some skill. Although I love to eat and used to love watching the real Food Network when there were actual chefs with training on the shows and not chefs with just attitude and/or bad hair. The book didn't move me because, while the concept of food as art may well be intriguing to some, eating foam and dishes created only thanks to science and ...more
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Lisa Abend is journalist based in Madrid. Since 2005, she has been Time magazines correspondent in Spain. She also contributes to a number of newspapers and magazines, including AFAR, The Atlantic, the New York Times, Food and Wine, The Nation, Saveur, Wired, and Slate. In a previous life (that is, about six years ago) she was a professor of European history at Oberlin College.

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