The most famous restaurant in the world serves its final supper
Ferran Adrid and a group of chefs (former elBulli stagiers: Rene Redzepi, Andoni Aduriz, José Andrés...) in Cala Montjoi last 30th July. Photo by: elBulli
Author: Tara Stevens/©ICEX
ElBulli, the Spanish restaurant repeatedly crowned the world's best, closed Saturday after pushing the boundaries of avant-garde cuisine for over two decades under acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià. This Catalonian chef announced last year that he was closing the eatery in Cala Montjoi near Roses, a two-hour drive north of Barcelona, and replacing it with a culinary research centre, elBullifoundation, which will be opened in 2014.
Ferran Adrià first joined the team at elBulli in 1983 as part of his work experience. He liked the business and the following year got a full-time job when he began his first culinary experiments in nouvelle cuisine, which would lead him, ultimately, onto the path of ‘molecular gastronomy’ or ‘modernist cuisine’ as its more popularly becoming known. By 1987 he’d been promoted to chef de cuisine and in 1990, in partnership with restaurant manager Julí Soler, they took over elBulli. The culinary world would never look quite the same.
Rumours of a culinary genius at large started to spread among the international gastroscenti and the world began to sit up and take notice of an imp-like Catalan chef weilding magic from an obsure outpost on the Costa Brava. Fellow chefs and adventurous foodies began travelling from far and wide to taste this culinary alchemy in the form of savoury foams, fruit leathers and gelatinous spherícos, while year-by-year the performance got bigger, bolder and brighter: tuna belly disguised as jamón, balloons filled with orange blossom scented air, a simple fresh tomato as ‘beef tartar’, beetroof juice as ‘hare’s blood’. His big moment came with the publication of an article in the New York Times by the writer Arthur Lubow, who asked: Is Spain the New France?
Suddenly, Ferran was everywhere – in Time magazine’s most influential 100, presenting elBulli as an art installation at the Basel Art Fair, as part of an ongoing collaboration with Harvard University that brings together food and science. ElBulli meanwhile, was fast becoming the most famous restaurant in the world. Indeed, in its 50 year history – it first opened as a beach bar in 1961 – it’s been voted best restaurant in the world five times over by the prestigious San Pellegrino Restaurant Awards in London. And many of today’s most important young chefs like Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz, Basque Country, or Rene Redzepi at Noma, Copenhagen (and current holder of the ‘best restaurant in the world’ accolade), have all done at least one season in the elBulli kitchen.
Understandably then it shook the culinary world to its very core, when in February 2010 Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler announced that 2011 would be elBulli’s final season. ‘I’m not tired’, laughed Adrià when I spoke to him about the decision one afternoon at the restaurant in March. ‘But I know when it’s time to do something different. Now it’s time.’
Never one to sit on his laurels, Adrià has always been one step ahead of his game. Where he leads other chefs and restaurants will invariably follow, and he’s decided the time has come to invest more time and energy into what he describes as the ultimate ‘taller’. From 2014 elBulli will become the elBulli Foundation, a place that Adrià describes as an ‘idea centre’ for furthering investigations into the future of food, culinary culture and science and a place where chefs can get creative away from the resturant kitchen environment.
Dinners will still be served for other chefs, food writers, and industry professionals with an interest in how the culinary landscape will evolve. Virtual seminars and workshops will be available online for those who can’t make it to the mothership. Most importantly, the seeminly endless innovative spirit of elBulli will live on long into the future.
Tara Stevens is a freelance food and travel writer based in Barcelona. She writes regularly about Spain for a number of international publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, Olive magazine and Scanorama.