by Jay Rayner
One of the pleasures of my working life – it's a very long list – is that I am forced, by dint of my job, to create a lasting record of all the fun I have. In the reviews I write, I document the delicious things I get to eat. Well this time, with my trip to meet Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, I've gone one better. The whole thing's been filmed and you can watch the result above. Or at least almost the whole thing; the one part they wouldn't let us film was me having dinner. No cameras in the dining room.
Frankly, while I knew it left a gap in the film, I was delighted. I wanted the full experience and I knew I couldn't have that with a lens stuffed in my face. Still, you can at least get a sense of the effect the meal had both on me and my companion, the chef Stephen Harris, from The Sportsman pub in Kent. The last scene, as we leave and give our considered opinion of the meal, giddy as children, is possibly the most authentic portrait you will ever see of two smug middle-aged gits hugging themselves with glee.
I will confess that I had assumed I would never get to El Bulli. Don't mistake; I did want to eat there. After all the things I'd read and heard, how could someone with as developed an interest in his dinner as me not want to go there? But I am just not the sort to strive for such a thing. The bookings procedure seemed too much a lottery – there are two million requests for just seven or eight thousand seats – for a man like me, with a back bone of marshmallow, to make the effort. I chalked it up, alongside the flight on Concord and the threesome with Cameron Diaz and Dita Von Teese, as something that was NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.
And then, praise be, it fell into my lap courtesy of the publication of the new book, A Day at El Bulli. If the film doesn't completely sate your appetite for all things El Bulli while you're waiting to get hold of the book, you can read my account of my meeting with Ferran Adrià in this weekend's Observer Food Monthly.
These are indeed rich times for those of us intrigued by what's going on at the very sharpest diamond edge of gastronomy. For, alongside the Adrià book, comes the publication of Heston Blumenthal's Big Fat Duck Cookbook, a behemoth of a volume with a retail price of £100, about which more total cobblers will be written than has been written about any other book in recent history. I have been dragging my copy around the country with me for the past few days as I prepare to write a review – read wet-knickered piece of fan mail – and I can't imagine how anybody could be anything other than amazed by it.
Let's be clear: the Big Fat Duck Cookbook is only a cookbook in the sense that El Bulli is just somewhere you go to eat if you're feeling a bit peckish. El Bulli is a once in a lifetime event and so is Heston's opus. It is a document, a complete account of everything he has done or tried to do at his restaurant in Bray. It carries remarkable illustrations, fabulous photography, and is rich with detail, analysis and acute self-understanding. It also happens to be very well written.
The conventional wisdom, of course, is that what people like Adrià and Blumenthal are doing is only for the total propeller heads; that its appeal is thoroughly limited. Well let's look at the numbers. Not just those two million requests for tables at El Bulli. How about the hundreds who have booked into see Ferran Adrià speak and answer questions at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on November 24? Or the fact that, at the point of writing, Blumenthal's £100 book is standing at number 68 in the Amazon.co.uk rankings, ahead of titles by Ken Follett, Jackie Collins and Ian Rankin? Or that Adrià's book, is really not that far behind at number 195?
The point, I think, is made.
Hear that noise? It's the sound of an army of propeller heads getting excited. And I'm one of them.