Monthly Archives: September 2011

Lessons from the greatest chef in the world

If you are not a foodie, his name may be unfamiliar to you.  But, Ferran Adria is arguably the greatest chef in the world. His former restaurant, el Bulli has been named the world’s top restaurant five times.

Last night, I heard Adria speak at George Washington University. And for about 90 minutes, Adria talked about his ideas on cooking, he shared his vision of the future for el Bulli, which closed in July 2011, but will reopen as a creativity center in 2014. All interesting stuff, but what really captivated me was were his thoughts about the family meal and simple cooking. What can the man who created “culinary foam” teach us about everyday cooking. Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.

Adria has a new cookbook out called “The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adria.” Taking nearly 3 years to develop, the cookbook contains menus based on the evening staff meal at el Bulli. There are 31 menus, one for each day of the month. Each menu has 3 courses – a starter, a main, and a dessert. The requirement for the meals was that they be nutritious, cost no more than $5-$6 / person to prepare, could be prepared in 40 minutes or less (not counting cooking time), that they use easy-to-find ingredients, and that most people liked them.

I love that recipes are presented for 2 people. Adria joked last night, “I don’t understand why all cookbooks are for four when 54% of the western world is a household of 1-2 people. If you have children, they still don’t eat that much.”

I love the cookbook, and I love the notion of creating simple meals and sharing them with friends and family. It’s not about “diet.” It’s about knowing what goes into your food and preparing simple meals with largely local ingredients. Love it, love it, love it. And the book has great photos too. Rather than a written list of steps, each step in the preparation is photographed, making it incredibly easy to follow.

What are the lessons I learned?

  • Good food does not have to be complicated. These are very simple recipes.
  • Good food involves using good ingredients that are best when they are in-season
  • Good food can be affordable

Take a look at The Family Meal, in the words of Ferran Adria himself.

Simple, Healthy Eating – Fish “Tagine” Recipe

Ok, technically this dish is not a “Tagine” because I don’t prepare it in a Tagine. I prepare it in a standard 6-quart dutch over. A Tagine is a cooking vessel (and serving vessel) that is common in the cooking of northern Africa (think Morocco). Nevertheless, the spices I use are reminiscent of Moroccan cuisine. Most importantly, this is a very simple meal that can be prepared in about 30 minutes. When they are in season at the height of summer, I love to use fresh tomatoes. In this version, I use canned, diced tomatoes. If you are using fresh tomatoes, coarsely chop 3-4 medium tomatoes instead of using the 14.5 oz. can that the recipe below calls for. The chilies and sweet peppers come from my garden in the summer.

I hope that you enjoy!


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pinch of saffron (about 10 threads)
  • 2 celery sticks coarsely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small red sweet pepper, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small jalapeno or Serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped (add more if you want a spicier dish!)
  • 4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with their liquid / juice (see head note above about using fresh tomatoes)
  • 1-1/2 lbs. filet of firm white fish – you can use snapper, haddock, cod, sea bass, tilapia or any firm fish you like – cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 large handful of fresh basil or parsley (or both!), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Fresh ground, black pepper (to taste)


  1. Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, sweet pepper, chilies, saffron, cinnamon stick and cumin and cook until the onion is slightly caramelized and slightly soft.
  3. Add the potatoes, celery, carrots,  and tomatoes. Stir to mix and coat vegetables in the cumin and saffron.
  4. Add the 1-1/2 cups of water, bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes
  5. Season fish with salt and pepper.
  6. When potatoes are soft but still firm, add the fish to the stew
  7. Season with black pepper (to taste)
  8. Simmer for another 6-8 minutes until fish is cooked through but not falling apart
  9. Add the fresh herbs, lemon zest and juice just before serving

I like to serve this with a flat bread such as naan or pita.