Cookbook review: Humble meals fit for a world-class chef

"The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria: Tenth Anniversary Edition" (Phaidon, $45)
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"The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria: Tenth Anniversary Edition" (Phaidon, $45)

‘The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria: 10th Anniversary Edition’ (Phaidon, $45)

In restaurants everywhere, it’s customary for employees to share a free meal together before service begins, typically using whatever excess ingredients the chefs can scrounge up. Chefs like Ferran Adria take these staff meals — or “family meals,” as they’re often called — more seriously than others.

Adria is the three-Michelin-starred chef who helmed the kitchen of elBulli, the legendary restaurant in northern Spain famed for its pioneering avant-garde techniques, from 1984 until it closed in 2011. During that time, he and his chefs perfected a system for feeding the 75 staff members a different three-course meal every day, based on their philosophy that “if we eat well, we cook well.” They collected the recipes for the most popular dishes and eventually organized them in a cookbook of 31 menus that could be adapted for restaurant or home kitchens, with quantities adjusted for two, six, 20, or 75 servings. Most notably, every step of every recipe — even the toasting of a bun for a cheeseburger — was accompanied by a close-up photo. The book became an international bestseller.

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Last year, Adrian and his team unveiled elBulli1846, a culinary academy and think tank for gastronomic innovation on the site of the former restaurant. In the introduction to the newly released 10th anniversary edition of “The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria” (Phaidon, $45), Adria notes that those same homey, timeless recipes are now feeding their new “family” of researchers.

You won’t find instructions for caramelizing quail eggs or making white bean foam to pair with sea urchin. But you will learn how to flip a potato chip omelet, slow-cook chicken wings with whatever mushrooms you have, and turn watermelon cubes into a dazzling little dessert with crushed menthol candies.

Following the helpful visual aids to make a silky, garlic-redolent tomato sauce to ladle on top of pan-seared sausages, I reaffirmed Ferran’s thesis that a chef-worthy meal can be as close as my cupboard.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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