EIt may be that the Spanish celebrity chef Ferran Adrià will one day stand less as the inventor of bizarre edible objects using various tools, but above all as a great researcher and systematist of culinary knowledge. He would certainly not be averse to such a development. In any case, he considers his latest book from the “Bullipedia” series, “What Is Cooking”, to be the “most important book I have written so far”.
After the “Bullipedia” project, which started in 2012, now shows the first results that are internationally accessible through English-language editions, it becomes clear that working in Adrià’s famous restaurant “El Bulli” also served to a considerable extent in the systematic research of edible materials. The chef already had the project in mind in 2011. At a presentation in Berlin in July 2013, based on fewer, due to their lack of precision, very sobering Wikipedia entries, he showed that it is urgently necessary to collect and organize the diverse culinary knowledge of this world. At first it seemed that the exposure was too broad for a single “mastermind”, even if Adrià secured the collaboration of scientific specialists. Years ago, in his loft-like workshop in Barcelona, he showed a bookcase with dummies from the planned thirty-one large volumes with titles such as “The Fine Dining Experience” or “Tools for serving, serving and trying out”.
Knowledge from many sources
In terms of culinary art, the project, which wants to be an “encyclopedia of the fine dining sector”, can certainly be called “new science”. The systematist Adrià, born in 1962, broadens the topic because the top-class cuisine not only develops virtually all culinary novelties, but also all other culinary topics – such as ecology – are reflected in it.
At the center of knowledge accumulation is the term “sapiens”. Adrià means the sum of all available knowledge, the wisdom of the world, so to speak, which is not only reflected in quasi isolated and more or less scientific considerations on individual topics, but – particularly in the gastronomic field – is fed from many sources, be it encyclopedias, scientific ones Works from anthropology, cultural studies, sociology, psychology, medicine, chemistry or physics, cookbooks from international creative chefs or specialized magazines.
From ancient times to today
“Bullipedia” thus becomes a culinary Wikipedia with the big difference that the gatekeepers are Adrià and its organization and not just any, often unrelated administrators. “What is Cooking” is a powerful volume that has little to do with a classic lexicon. There are greater similarities in the transfer of knowledge with Nathan Myhrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine”: lots of pictures, graphics, graphically prepared information and limited amounts of body text. It is the first, largely successful attempt to explain the complex process of cooking not only in technical terms, but in a variety of aspects.
It starts with the explanation of the “Cuisine Sapiens”. This is followed by “lexical-semantic aspects” from the history of the subject and general encyclopedias. Then it is about the “birth of the kitchen”, whereby a period of time from the past to the present is illuminated. Typical are chapter headings like “What do people do when they cook? Why do they cook at all? ”Or“ Millions of people cook every day: there is no uniform profile for a cook ”.
Orientation to the top kitchen
This is followed by a “scientific and systematic view of cooking”, “Culinary resources, explained in detail”, “What do we cook and how do we cook it?”, “According to what we have said so far, cooking can have different meanings” and finally “As an action that is repeated over and over again, cooking develops consequences”, a chapter in which the arc is spanned again from the early days to modern times.
The sum of the information and questions dealt with – such as those about the influence of a political system on the type of cuisine in a region – is gigantic and should make everyone who likes to simplify culinary subjects think about. With “What Is Cooking” Adrià and his team demonstrate the complexity of the subject. Once sensitized, the reader may discover gaps that result, for example, from the fact that a kind of axis France-Spain dominates because of the orientation towards the top cuisine. There is also a tendency to make the work in “El Bulli” and in the current restaurants of the Adrià brothers appear in a good light. But these are petitessen in view of this excellent assemblage of knowledge, which culinary art finally shows up in all its diversity and density.
Ferran Adrià: „What Is Cooking“. The Action: Cooking, The Result: Cuisine. Phaidon, London 2020. 464 pages, ill., Born, € 82.