Cookbooks - DIY Foam

Imagine Michelangelo, Einstein and Willy Wonka rolled into one person. Then you'll start to understand Catalan chef Ferran Adrià.

Adrià is at the center of northern Spain's cooking renaissance. In 2003, he made the cover of the New York Times Magazine, holding his carrot air with mandarin essence. The dish is representative of his innovative technique that involves aerating foods to create exotic foam essences.

English readers awaiting El Bulli: 1998-2002 (Ecco, $350), by Adrià, Juli Soler and Adrià's brother, Albert, can rejoice. A translation of the third and final book in a series surveying 20 years of scrupulous experimentation has reached the American market.

Yes, it's $350, and it's heavy enough to weigh down your pâté overnight.

Adrià fries rose petals and serves bleeding tomato hearts. He makes faux couscous out of kernels of baby corn. He teases with visual puns and tongue-in-cheek nomenclature: scarves, spoons, clouds, foams and bubbles.

The book's cover simulates an old chalkboard that's constantly getting smudged, erased and rewritten. A separate foldout appendix maps the culinary terrain. (It also comes with an interactive CD, but some don't work with Macs.) The appendix reads like part family tree, part periodic table, part Superbowl game plan. This isn't a cookbook. It gives formulas instead of recipes. The text describes the mutations of Adrià's experiments and includes lush photographs of creations that display minute differences between dishes like a field guide to birds might show variations between warblers.

Good chefs engage their senses. Like any true master, however, Adrià has a secret weapon — a "sixth sense" he calls humor. The book ends with an erotic-looking line drawing of a tongue. It's the auteur's tongue sticking out at the foodie, the critic, the student and himself.

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