El Bulli, the most influential restaurant in the world, is to close tomorrow after more than two decades of pushing the boundaries of modern gastronomy.
The three-Michelin starred restaurant in Roses, near Barcelona in Spain, will cease service on Saturday (30 July) to reopen in 2014 as a non-profit ‘Foundation of avant-garde gastronomy’.
Ferran Adria,the chef patron behind the 50-cover El Bulli, which was five times voted the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant by Restaurant magazine, made the decision to evolve El Bulli to develop new creative processes and lead ‘a more normal life’.
For 21 years Adria has continuously played with the boundaries of modern cuisine, even closing El Bulli for six months of the year and eradicating lunchtime service so his chefs could concentrate on developing new and surprising techniques for a 40-course dinner.
Each year Adria and his brigade worked to create 40 new dishes that would challenge diners’ perception of food and engage their imagination, from Mimetic Peanuts, a crisp salty shell that gave way to a liquid peanut butter centre, to foie gras noodles and deconstructed Spanish omelette, a sherry glass containing potato foam, onion puree and egg-white sabayon with deep-fried potato crumbs.
Mimicked but never replaced
Adria’s experimental cooking techniques became so well-known amongst the global chef community that countless attempts at recreating the magic of El Bulli have come, and mostly disappointed.
Of those chefs lucky enough to have worked or completed a stage at El Bulli before its closure, none have failed to be influenced by Adria’s ground breaking approach to cooking.
They include Grant Achatz from Alinea in Chicago, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in Spain, Elena Arzak of Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain and Britain’s Nuno Mendes, Jason Atherton and Maria Elia, all of whom have all adopted the essence of El Bulli in their own cooking style.
But despite being famous for its two-year waiting list (only 8,000 covers were available each year), El Bulli was making an annual loss of €500k (£435k). Adria had subsidised the restaurant’s balance sheet with proceeds from books, personal appearances and speeches, and putting his name to a range of brands including olive oil and cutlery.
In February last year, Adria told the New York Times: “At that level of contribution I think we would rather see the money go to something larger that expands the concept and spirit of what El Bulli represents.”
As yet Adria is unconcerned with how the Foundation will be funded, claiming that the team will find funding from his other businesses or sponsorship.
The new Foundation will involve around 20 chefs, plus five people from other disciplines related to cuisine such as sommelier, who will work together on creating new, innovative cooking techniques and experiences.
While El Bulli would receive around 5,000 applications for stages each year, Adria expects to receive more than 300,000 applications for the new project.
“It will be a huge job to find the right people,” he told BigHospitality last year. “The selection process will be complicated and we haven’t decided on it yet. That’s why we’re taking so much time to develop the whole process.”
El Bulli will still be open to a select few diners who will be used as ‘guinea pigs’ for the Foundation’s work.
In 2010 El Bulli was relieved of the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant’s top spot, a place it had held for four years’ running, making way for Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant Noma.
Although El Bulli failed to go out on top in its final year on the list, Adria was awarded the inaugural Chef of the Decade award to a standing ovation of his global peers.
Adria and El Bulli’s accomplishments over the past 21 years will forever be heralded as the catalyst for the new trend of modernist cuisine, and with a bit of funding and hard work, Adria will continue to lead the way for gastronomy for years to come.