From the year 1961 to 2011, elBulli was a very highly regarded restaurant. Under the direction of world famous chef Ferran Adrià, the restaurant became known for molecular gastronomy and avant-garde dining. Now, the restaurant is closed and elBulli is being reinvented, but no one knows what exactly, it will become.
Ferran Adrià is simultaneously one of the world’s most highly revered and highly controversial haute cuisine chefs. Adrià gained international fame when his Michelin 3-star restaurant, elBulli (pronounced “el boo-yee”), was the subject of a 2010 documentary entitled El Bulli: Cooking in Progress. It was featured five times on Restaurant Magazine’s list of the 50 best restaurants in the world, starting in 2002.
The History of elBulli
Despite its relatively recent rise to popular fame, elBulli was founded decades ago, in 1961, and was awarded its first Michelin star in 1976. At that time, French chef Jean-Louis Neichel was the head chef. Ferran Adrià did not join the elBulli staff until the mid-eighties, where he began to develop his unique style. In the 1990s, after he became the head chef and transformed elBulli into the unconventional restaurant, it became known as the two Michelin stars awarded restaurant.
Adrià is best known in the culinary world for his excursions into a field called molecular gastronomy, which blends haute cuisine with chemistry and uses precise scientific methods to create novel dining experiences. For example, elBulli served counterintuitive menu items like savory, peanut-encrusted marshmallow squares, mozzarella balls with liquid centers, seaweed tempura with saffron, and monkfish liver. Such avant-garde dishes as these were always meticulously plated, making the visual experience of dining at elBulli just as fascinating as the flavors.
Unfortunately, Adrià’s creativity surpassed elBulli’s finances around 2000, when the restaurant began operating at a net loss even despite a very short season and an average cost of US$325 per meal. In order to cover elBulli’s operating costs, Adrià wrote books and gave lectures, but the revenue from these activities, along with the proceeds from Adrià’s line of culinary products, was not enough to keep the restaurant afloat. With a menu full of exotic ingredients and a staff of over 40 chefs needed to prepare the one-of-a-kind dishes, maybe it’s no surprise that the restaurant couldn’t make it.
In July 2011, the elBulli restaurant closed, with the intention of re-opening as a combination restaurant and culinary school. According to Adrià, the new elBulli will be more of a conceptual experiment in cuisine than a restaurant, or even a school. At the time of this writing, little was known about the details of the new elBulli, but Adrià expressed a desire to bring together individuals from multiple disciplines, including architecture and philosophy, to question fundamental assumptions about food and dining, such as the need for a dining room.
The Future of elBulli
The new elBulli is scheduled to open in 2014, but no one yet knows what exactly will be opening. The project has been described as a “think-tank,” and it is probably safe to assume that, whatever goes on there, it will be in service of Adrià’s famous ideas and principles about cuisine. On elBulli’s website, there is a “Synthesis of elBulli Cuisine,” which is a 23-point mini-manifesto about food, presumably written or at least conceived by Adrià himself. Some of the points describe the type of food the restaurant served, for example noting that red meat and poultry are very rarely used, but other points are more enigmatic. One classic example: “The technique-concept search is the apex of the creative pyramid.” This is point 11 in the synthesis, and what it means is anyone’s guess. One thing is clear, though: we have not heard the last of Ferran Adrià and his revolutionary cuisine.