The year is 1970 and The Beatles just broke up. Around the world, other rock groups pay homage to the band, selecting tiny venues for one-off shows, covering their favourite songs: Hendrix playing Hey Jude, Pink Floyd playing Rocky Raccoon and I’m Only Sleeping. Last night was kind of like that, but for the culinary world.
Matt Kantor is one of many chefs, worldwide, staging El Bulli Imitation Dinners, and I was lucky enough to attend one of three dinners he is hosting this week at The Cookbook Store. It was an intimate setting, to be sure, as 12 of us crowded around the newly built kitchen in the back of the shop; voyeurs into the magic of what would eventually be placed before us. Over four and a half hours, a parade of 24 plates made its way out of the kitchen: the first nine or so courses eaten sans utensils (as is the norm at El Bulli), and each dish generating much discussion around the table.
What caught my attention early on was the fact that nearly all the food was white; which while leading to slightly boring photographs, made for a rather existential eating experience. When the colour is stripped away, you look at shape, texture–you focus your senses on other attributes. And you notice that all the food isn’t white: it’s bone, and beige, and taupe, and sea salt, and cotton ball, and polar ice; all those white paint chips in a store that nearly imperceptibly vary from one another. It was like eating through a gallery of Mark Rothko paintings.
I am very thankful that, while I wasn’t able to eat there personally, at least I can count myself among those who attended a tribute concert in honour of the culinary playground that was El Bulli.
El Bulli Toronto by Matt Kantor