I’m late to the game in posting my recap of Chef Matt Kantor’s tribute to El Bulli dinner series. Initially, I decided to hold off posting until the 3-night series was done, so as not to potentially ruin the surprise for people who were attending on the 2nd and 3rd nights. Then I got busy with other stuff, and here we are, a full week later.
The dinners took place at The Cookbook Store, with the dining table set up in the middle of the shop and Kantor and his crew cooking in the brand spanking new deluxe kitchen in the back. The space is way swank, and it required knocking out a wall at the back of the shop, but it’s quite beautiful and allows The Cookbook Shop to host many more events and demos than they have in the past.
We were greeted by Cookbook Shop owner Alison Fryer and she introduced Matt who explained a bit about the premise of the meal.
It should be noted that while the menu is considered to be 23+ “courses”, every course was actually just a taste, ranging in size from a single piece of popcorn to a sea scallop with garnish. So while we left at the end of the night sated, we were not, by any means, too full. We started with a cocktail…
The warm caipi-mojito. Warm, minty, boozy. What you really want on that cold winter night when you’ve got the flu.
The Iberian sandwich. These were a puffed cracker, wrapped in Iberian Spanish ham. The cracker shattered when bitten into.
Almonds fried curry. I’m suspecting Kantor sourced Spanish almonds for this dish as the shape was not typical. Again, a lovely snack for a cold winter evening, there were served warm, and were flavoured with curry.
The pipetas of cream and mushroom. This was a difficult one for people to figure out. You had to slide the mushroom off into your mouth by biting it gently and then squeeze the pipette of cream as you pulled it out. A weird sensation.
Cocktail #2 – the hot frozen gin fizz – cold on top, warm below.
Orea black olive double cream – this is a cracker made with black olives, filled with rich double cream.
Avocado chips with crab – this one confused us because we were looking for the chips. But essentially a strip of avocado, filled with crab.
Parmesan marshmallow – this appeared on the menu as pine nut marshmallow, and we all sat around trying to taste the pine nut until Kantor clarified that he had made them with parmesan instead.
See what I mean about the courses being small? This is popcorn with Reypenaer cheese and nutmeg. This sharp, strong cheese got stuck to pretty much everybody’s teeth.
Spherical mozzarella – don’t let the look fool you, it’s not your typical bouncy ball of bocconcini. Kantor used a thickening agent to create a skin on the outside of this liquid cheese so that when it is bitten into it burst with liquid.
Evolution of the hot tortilla de patatas Marc Singla foam – the table unanimously declared this to remind them of soft-boiled eggs, to the point that I went into the kitchen to ask Kantor to make us some toast soldiers (he refused, btw). In Spain, a tortilla is a dish made with egg and potato (similar to a fritata), so in this dish, the potato is actually the foam, under which is a creamy egg layer and in the bottom, strands of caramelized onion.
Scallop, yogurt, curry, apricot.
Ajo blanco – traditionally in Spain, ajo blanco is a cold soup, often called white gazpacho, made with bread, almonds, garlic and olive oil. This one came in a creamy mousse form.
What looks like a wedge of sponge toffee is actually frozen foie gras mousse. This literally melted on the tongue.
Pouring the Serrano ham broth over the caviar of melon – basically liquefied cantaloupe made into balls using the same process as for the mozzarella so that they burst (like caviar) with a little pressure in the mouth.
White asparagus with hot mayonnaise. So simple, but also our favourite dish of the evening.
We were mixed on the tagliatelle of saffron consomme with caviar and lemon. The “pasta” was actually a sliced, jelled consomme, and I didn’t get a lot of saffron flavour. But hey, caviar.
Get the photo before they disappear! Potato gnocchi in a potato skin consomme. These were literally so light and airy that they melted away if you left them too long. Like the best potato soup you’ve ever had.
Black sesame sponge cake with miso. We start to transition from savoury into sweet with a sesame cake (spongy, and tastes like halvah), with a salty red miso.
Swallows nest with coconut and grapefruit. Loved this.
Teppan nitro-frozen soursop cream with coffee caviar.
Apple – apple-flavoured sponge cake with pieces of apple and a blueberry.
Earth – bits of caramel, chocolate, truffly things, nuts, vaguely dangerous. I liked this alot but something hard in it hurt my mouth.
To end – bar of chocolate and puffed rice (essentially really creamy ganache), and pineapple infused with fennel and star anise.
And there you go, after all of that and way too much Spanish wine, it was done. Not having ever eaten at the real El Bulli, I’m not sure how closely the meal compares, but certainly Kantor went to a lot of trouble. Dishes that looked foolishly simple were often the most complicated.
However, by my calculations, a dinner at El Bulli, before it closed down, ran around $325 per person (not including the trip to Spain), and I’m not sure I would have been pleased with a similar meal for that price. Kantor offered the event at a ticket prices of $105 per person, all in, and that was well worth it. But more than $200 would have been pushing it, which makes me wonder if the restaurant really deserved the accolades it received. Open only 6 months a year, a reservation was a much-coveted thing, so you’ve got to wonder if the folks who got to eat there hyped it up just to console themselves that the cost was justified.
In any case, Kantor’s next project for his Little Kitchen series is a dinner with meat in every course. I’m guessing it will be a strikingly different experience from our almost-El Bulli dinner.