El Bulli alumni and pastry pioneer Will Goldfarb has spent his career pushing the limits. When reviewing Cru, the Big Apple restaurant where Goldfarb was the pastry chef, the New York Post advised diners to skip dessert, criticising his “smart-alecky, flavour-conflicted” dishes. Goldfarb then gave his diners no choice, opening Room 4 Dessert, where pastry was the only thing on the menu. It was a phenomenal success – but his relationship with the site’s owners fell apart and he decamped to Bali.
Goldfarb’s book gives you the chance to pick apart his quirky, literary and often oddball style. For those looking for a living history of El Bulli, beyond the foreword by Albert Adrià, this is not it. Goldfarb’s time at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant was clearly formative, but it receives only four paragraphs. It can be seen in some of his dishes, like the organised chaos of the Sugar Refinery – a blend of caramels, bitters, spices, vermouth and ‘palm sugar sex machine Toblerone’ – but generally Goldfarb is an entity unto himself.
The recipes utilise experiences from Paris, Tuscany, Catalonia and Australia. His Bali-inspired Footsteps, or Bubur Injin, is an exploration of the region’s black rice, from purée-enriched rice pudding to custard, gelato and ‘bubbles’ topped with a rice cracker painted with the title of Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown.
The book is littered with cultural references, from experimental authors (his meringue millefeuille dish, 10 Years of Solitude, was inspired by the similarly named book by Gabriel García Márquez) to musicians like the Wu Tang Clan. The book’s final section is ‘the lab of ideas’ – a base recipe selection offering the blueprint for Balinese meringue, pancetta financiers and caramelised coconut gelato. It also provides a core philosophy, such as the 10% rule: once you’re
suitably proficient in the art, you can tweak your measurements, but only by a 10th at the most.
Goldfarb’s writing is thoroughly quirky and occasionally bizarre; often wry and frequently enlightening. Then again, so is the food with which he made his name.
Room for Dessert, by Will Goldfarb (Phaidon, £39.95)