In fact, apparently, you grate some fresh Parmesan, chop pine kernels (or cashew nuts), add garlic and fresh basil leaves and chuck it all in a food processor.Just as we were sniffing the basil and Parmesan, a tall, spiky-haired, handsome figure in jeans strode in Kevin Dundon looks like the TV chef that he is. My fellow students were an eclectic array of professional chefs, enthusiasts and general foodies.After coffee, we plaited a loaf of bread out of the dough that Phelim had made (surprisingly tricky) and folded a spring roll (extremely fiddly). He is also the owner, with his wife Catherine, of the hotel and cookery school, and executive chef of the restaurant.Next, we tackled balsamic roasted red onions, onion marmalade and oven-dried tomato crisps When I say "we", I mean Byrne, actually We sat and watched. As the date drew near, Doreen started sending me e-mails containing links to various culinary forums And that's when we both got a little scared. There are people out there who would eat their own hands for a chance to dine at El Bulli. Plus, we were actually going to meet the maestro himself, Ferran Adri?the chef that most other chefs acknowledge to be the most brilliant in the world.Talk about intimidating.
It was as if we were about to be granted an audience with Beethoven, and all we'd ever listened to was Girls Aloud. Mind you, I had a suspicion that as an opera buff and former restaurateur, Doreen would probably acquit herself rather better than me in either scenario.It's a two-hour drive from Barcelona to Roses, a pleasant but unremarkable seaside town on the Costa Brava. And El Bulli is a hairy 15-minute drive from Roses, via a narrow and perilous mountain road. The first of many surprises is the restaurant's location - it's in the middle of nowhere, perched on the cliffs above a small bay, shared with a snack bar and a campsite.An hour before service, the place was humming with activity, but not in the way you'd quite expect. The kitchen, a light-flooded modernist space more stylish than most restaurant dining rooms, was eerily quiet, as umpteen saturnine young males applied themselves intently to their mise-en-place.
In a corner, a photo shoot for Adri? next book was taking up most of the maestro's attention. As he prepared plates for the camera, I whispered to Doreen, "Look! He's taking a special knife out of a box." She gave me a forebearing look. "All chefs keep their knives in boxes," she replied.Adri?oined us for a brief chat between set-ups, but the language barrier meant that our questions were only as complex as our rudimentary French could accommodate. Thus, my planned enquiry about the laboratory's current project to identify the genome of cooking was downscaled to "So, do you live around here?" Doreen fared rather better, prompting Adri?o explain how each of the 15 tables in the restaurant gets a different menu, usually consisting of around 30 dishes. "We ask each diner what they can't eat, we know if they've been here before, so we can avoid repeating any dish they may already have experienced. Each of those tables is special."A meal at El Bulli is a synaesthetic experience; Adri? kitchen plays with texture, taste and temperature, often using techniques developed in the lab, such as his pioneering of the now inescapable foam. I wondered which of this year's scientific innovations we should be watching out for during our meal.