The announcement caused huge excitement among gourmets, chefs and foodies: Elton John’s charity ball this year would have an elBulli dinner! The evening, hosted by Sir Elton and his partner David Furnish would be the first time elBulli’s cuisine was served since the restaurant closed its doors in July, and the first time in history that elBulli food was plated in the UK.
Serving 8,000 diners a season, and with more than two million requests a year, the restaurant of Ferran Adrià was a Mecca for food lovers, five times number one on The S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. There are countless people in the world whose wish to experience the cuisine of elBulli even just once will sadly go unfulfilled. But tonight, 700 lucky folks were holding the golden ticket.
The deal was that I was going to be in the kitchen with Paco Roncero, combining my dual functions as chef and journalist. At home, my teenage daughter had already been beside herself with excitement, telling me everything about the ‘coolest band on the planet’ – Plan B, which would be playing at the party. She also told me that many MTV celebs were going to be there and that Christian Louboutin, Marc Quinn and Jonathan Saunders were the creative collaborators. In her own words, the party was going to be ‘awesome and epic’!
I pretended to be interested in all the glamour, but have to confess that my chef’s heart was beating stronger than my desire to star-spot. Or rather, for me the stars I was interested in were the great Paco Roncero, the classic elBulli dishes, a liquid nitrogen show and a lot of action. I had no desire to exchange my chef’s whites for a designer dress.
Roncero is an unusual chef, and famous for many personal quirks and qualities that go beyond his incredible talent in the kitchen. He never raises his voice, is always smiling and has a peaceful aura about him, even in stressful situations. He treats his team like members of his own family, and most of them have worked for him for more than ten years. He is one of the fittest chefs in the world, and I am not talking about riding his bike now and again: the man is a triathlete with so much energy that even most physically demanding efforts seem to be executed with utter ease. He is also famous for his research into the many textures of olive oil – this being far more valuable to the gourmet world than any Olympic medal.
Roncero’s team came from Spain, like most of the ingredients for the party. The preparation began the day before the event in London. The location was the Battersea Evolution, a 15,000m2 event space in the middle of Battersea Park. Four cooking show areas were built at the entrance to the dining room, with the cocktail bar in the middle. The theme of the party was the Architecture of Taste – perfect for techno-emotional cuisine.
During the course of the evening, a group of very experienced chefs prepared the nitro digestive, using vodka, passion fruit, mint and coffee: an edible cocktail, instantly frozen. While working with liquid nitrogen is not new for me, there is still something magical about it.
The technique combines food and science, giving a mystical touch to a dish. It was the highlight of the food area, together with the spherification tapas prepared in front of the guests. Green olives, liquid Iberian ham croquettes, and gorgonzola cheese moshi with quince jelly – the tapas were retro yet elegant. I helped prepare “gastro-jewellery” canapés: raspberries in mannitol sugar, black sesame sponge cake, black olive cookies and strawberries & bitters.
At the cocktail bar, four cocktails celebrated the creative partnership of the party, giving name and style to the cocktails. Christian Louboutin had designed a bar in the shape of a classic stiletto shoe and a burlesque performer was on the top of the bar, opening the dinner. I spotted the tennis player, Boris Becker (with a broken leg), the ‘James Bond’ singer, Shirley Bassey, Tamara Ecclestone, David Furnish and chefs Marcus Wareing and Chantelle Nicholson.
The appetizers were served – action in the kitchen! We were working like crazy, plating the beautiful dish: celery, apples and Parmesan cheese matched with a crisp and aromatic Grey Goose La Poire cocktail containing apple juice, thyme and celery bitters, finished with a splash of white balsamic vinegar, followed by the starter: mushroom carpaccio with foie-gras terrine, truffle vinaigrette and Macadamia nuts. The main course deserved an extra star - lobster with olive oil soup, pink grapefruit and green olive juice, and the dessert came straight from a dream - rose sorbet with candyfloss and vodka mousse paired with a luxurious creamy cocktail, served in a vase and garnished with a single rose of course perfumed with candyfloss essence.
Sir Elton John congratulated Paco and his team for a perfect evening, and we played in the kitchen with candyfloss like a group of children! The host and rock star presented his new, favourite band, Plan B, and we continued with our liquid nitrogen show, entertaining the celebs. It was a memorable evening for all!