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The Family Meal

What does the world's best chef eat for dinner? Sarah spent a week working through Ferran Adria's "The Family Meal" to get a glimpse of what a typical meal tasted like for this world class chef and his staff.
  • Great book to impress a significant other.
  • Detailed step-by-step pictures & timing guidelines.
  • Recipes set up to serve between 2 and 75 people.
  • Cost per meal is pretty high (around $80).
  • Asks for some region-specific ingredients (such as fish).
  • Protein cook times consistently underestimated.

I have a fascination with what the staff at restaurants eat for dinner before service — what's known in the biz as "Family Meal". So when I read that The Family Meal is a compilation of the 31 staff favorite meals from the kitchen at El Bulli, you better believe I had to do a review of this book.

By 31 meals, I don’t just mean leftovers with a side of bread. No, these recipes include a custom side, main course and dessert that the staff at this restaurant ate together every night before dinner service started.

The book was written so that no matter the experience, anyone can make a recipe out of this book. To test the theory I approached a group of food that I have very little experience with: fish.

Listen, it’s not that I’ve never cooked fish before, but I grew up in a landlocked state and good fish wasn’t something you could just go out and buy. Where I hailed from, you had to catch your own fish and that restricted your options to sunfish, crappie, walleye, or perch. The default method of cooking them being just a big vat of oil, a lot of heat, and a mysterious spice blend called "lemon pepper".

Upbringing aside, I chose a lot of fish dishes to work with out of this book. Aside from some of the varieties being common in Northern Spain but completely unavailable to me in Northern California — and unlocking a new fear in gutting a fish — I found the writing to be fairly straightforward.

After a week with this book, I can confidently say that if you’re just getting into cooking and want to have a few fine dining recipes at the ready to impress a significant other; I think this would be an excellent book to add to your shelf.

Why those rankings?

The book is very readable. Each recipe has pictures and a timeline that helps to keep the project moving along. However, while most of the dishes are not complex, they do make bold claims such as browning whole turkey legs and braising veal shanks only take 10-20 minutes. Either they were working with a magic stove, they used a huge pan, or the meat I purchased for this review was particularly stubborn. In both cases, I doubled the amount of time it took to get a color and texture that I expected. All this to say, if you're new to cooking you might need to spend a little extra time reviewing their photos or googling your way through a task or a preparation to understand what the author is asking you to do vs following the timed guidelines to the letter.