How Ice Cream Was Given A Groundbreaking Savory Twist At El Bulli

El Bulli drummed up quite a bit of recognition during its time. Out of 1 million dining requests received annually, the restaurant could accommodate only about 8,000 of them, as meals would last for hours and take diners on journeys with inventive and curious dishes like fried rabbit ears, spaghetti made from Parmesan, and foamed carrots. The Spanish restaurant was only open for half the year, but in those months, Chef Ferran Adrià implemented the creative ideas he planned while the restaurant was closed. One of these unique dishes included savory ice cream, which at the time was a new experience for most diners.

Instead of being served as dessert, however, Adrià's frozen inventions appeared as part of the main meal, and the surprising courses offered varying samples of cold Parmesan cheese, herbs, smoked bacon, tomatoes, and foie gras. Savory tomato ice with oregano and almond milk pudding became one of the signature dishes served at El Bulli, and not only was the frozen tomato recipe groundbreaking at the time, but the interplay between savory and sweet ingredients became a hallmark of Adrià's culinary work. The dish itself was a marvel to taste, and it was presented in such a way that the food itself became its own container.

Setting a culinary trend

Anthony Flinn was one of the chefs who worked with Adrià and went on to bring savory frozen dishes to his own restaurant where Brie ice cream became a menu staple. "It's all a question of playing around with taste, and seeing what works," he told The Independent. "It's about combinations. And, obviously, the more you can wow people, the better."

At El Bulli, textured vegetable panaché was another frozen dish that brought sweet and savory tastes in ice cream form to diners. Layers of almond sorbet, peach granita, foam made of beets, basil jelly, puréed tomatoes, and a mouse made with vegetables like corn and cauliflower impressed and confounded guests. With unique presentations and a commanding list of ingredients, such dishes became challenging to describe and categorize into particular courses.

Flinn admits, however, that even trendsetting dishes can be taken too far. "Without sounding too pretentious, it's just a case of the controls being in the wrong hands. People are saying, what's the most insane, most provocative ice cream flavor I can think of? And then they make it," Flinn reflected to The Independent. Even groundbreaking developments can be steered off course — like squid-flavored ice cream.