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May 18, 2006

The blog that laid El Bulli's golden egg

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I'm a little ambivalent about eating gold.  Let's face it, gold, like curly parsley, is just a garnish.  But unlike curly parsley, which costs next to nothing, gold sells for about USD$700 per ounce.  Gram for gram, that makes gold more expensive than truffles, and I know I'd much rather eat a truffle.

My apprehension runs even deeper than that, actually.  Think about it.  Garnishing food with gold isn't just obscenely conspicous consumption, it is the literal consumption of wealth, the pinnacle of waste.  I think David Cross, a comedian you might recognize as Dr. Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development, hits the nail on the head in his stand-up album, It's Not Funny, when he describes the eating of "tasteless, odourless" gold as "the ultimate f*%# you to poor people."  I kind of agree.

Still, I made the golden eggs from El Bulli: 1998-2002.

I've tried to rationalize away my mixed emotions by convincing myself there's a reason for the gold powder in this dish, which is brushed onto thin sheets of hard caramel and then incorporated by remelting the sheets in a hot oven.  I know the gold adds nothing to the flavour, but it does contribute to an emotion almost never provoked by food: humour.  How can you not be amused by the crafty allusion to one of Aesop's most renowned fables?  Failing that, how can you not be impressed by the equally witty allusion to an eggshell?  Moreover, the dish is gorgeous.

If neither of those reasons is reason enough to be impressed by El Bulli's golden egg, then taste it, because it's spectacular.  Imagine a raw but warm quail yolk, surrounded by a sweet, crackling caramel shell, sprinkled with a little nutmeg, black pepper, and a couple of flakes of sea salt.  Now pop it in your mouth and take a bite.  Taste the salt on your tongue, sense the aroma of nutmeg, feel the sugary crunch on your teeth.  Now wait a moment.  Soon the burst yolk will wash over your tongue, bringing contrasting flavours and textures to your palate.  This bite is sweet and savoury, creamy and crunchy, and completely remarkable.

So where does that leave us?  As food, El Bulli's golden eggs would lose nothing if the gold powder were omitted.  As something more than food, as comedy or theatre, this dish is not the same without it. After all, it’s precisely that mix of meaning, culture, the aesthetics of the eye and of the palate, that makes food and eating such a rich experience.  No pun intended.

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Comments

Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

Quite interesting! I am very curious about the taste and texture!

Anita

Wow, that's amazing looking! Your description of the whole experience of eating it sounds so intriguing as well.
You know gold leaf is used a lot as a decoration in pastry - I have to admit that yes, it's expensive, and can be tricky to work with, and doesn't taste like anything - but it wows the customers every time! Guess it's the magic of gold...

tejal

I tend to agree with you on this one--I find garnishes that are technically edible but don't contribute to taste a little ridiculous (a dry vanilla bean perched on top of a cake, a sprig of rosemary impaling a burger, gold leaf on everything etc.)

Of course, when it's a matter of aroma, nostaliga, storytelling, and whatnot, an eater can appreciate it, but sometimes, it's so obviously without purpose...

Anyway enough ranting, this is a great post, and that golden egg sounds both amusing and delicious!

cath

I just read an article about this -- you did a wonderful job. I love the way you describe eating the egg.

rob

Bea, if you like your eggs runny I think you'll like the texture of this dish.

Anita, there really is something visually striking about gold. It just grabs the eye.

Tejal, thank you for the feedback. I suppose most chefs these days feel an obligation to gussy up their plates with some sort of decoration. The edge between culinary stardom and oblivion has become so fine that most chefs need to use any trick at their disposal to set themselves apart in the diner's mind.

Thank you, Cath. Do you still have the link to the article. I'd be quite interested in reading it.

Juan

Would you mind sharing the recipe for the Golden Egg?, i have the book a day at el Bulli, and i've tried preparing a lot of things from the book, some results better than others, and of course a lot of weird chemicals and ingredients involved, it's been a lot of fun. I would love to try that recipe (which seems simple but delicious).

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