Ferran Adrià, the chef of the revolutionary restaurant El Bulli, makes a concession in the introduction to The Origins of Cooking: Paleolithic and Neolithic Cooking. “This book is somewhat heavy-going, to be honest,” he writes.
It’s fair warning, even for those who know what it’s like to be ensnared in one of his extended postprandial discussions of the phantasmagorical meal they’ve just had. Before he shut down the culinary shrine on the Catalan coast in 2011, I had the good fortune of being waylaid on five or six occasions, happily held hostage to lectures that went on for an hour or more after other guests and much of the staff had left.
Origins is Adrià in a different, more serious mode. It’s the anchor volume of a planned eight-volume systematic history of Western cuisine that’s sensitive not only to his part in that history but also to the role of anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant. The 592-page tome, a collaboration between Adrià and a team of specialists, lays out an evolutionary timeline about why those in the industry—whether a chef or scullery minion, busser or maitre d’—do what they do. And he begins from the time before the first fire was lit.
This isn’t a caveman cookbook. It’s Adrià making interdisciplinary connections between chefs today and those from 2.5 million to 3,500 B.C., pointing out ties with the past to set the present in context. As such, Origins can be sober and dry at times. But, like any good host, Adrià is a master of conducive atmospherics.
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