06/05/12 - 2 Comments
Legendary Restaurant Lives on via elBulli Foundation
Chefs, food critics and gastronomes the world over uttered a joint sigh of melancholy when famed restaurant elBulli closed its dining room doors on July 30, 2011. Awarded three coveted Michelin stars and named the World’s Best Restaurant an unprecedented five times in the past decade by Restaurant Magazine, the restaurant flourished under head chef and co-owner Ferran Adrià’s watchful eye and unwavering devotion to culinary creativity. Adrià and his staff, which consisted of some 2,000 members over the past 25 years, saw every day as a new beginning and welcome challenge to create a menu more exciting and innovative than the one before.
elBulli is located on an isolated stretch of Spain’s Costa Brava, about 100 miles north of Barcelona. In 1963, it began as a humble beach bar, run by a German couple called the Schillings. When the young and talented Adrià joined the staff of elBulli in 1983, it had evolved into a bona fide restaurant, serving mostly French-influenced cuisine. The Schillings saw great potential in Adrià and sent him to Europe to learn about innovations happening in the food world. Before it was the culinary institution that it is today, Adrià recalled a time when no customers made the trek to the desolate location, and the reservation book was empty. He was so passionate about his craft, though, that rather than be discouraged, he gave his staff a pep talk reminding them that they were doing more than merely serving customers. On the Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations episode leading up to the final dinner service at elBulli, Adrià’s longtime friend and once-employee José Andrés recalls Adrià saying, “We are not here for them [the customers]. We are here for us.” But this was soon to change.
As the years passed and word of the unique culinary experience provided at elBulli spread, the reservation book couldn’t even begin to accommodate the million requests received each year. Over the six-month period form April to September when the restaurant was open for business, a mere 8,000 people secured a reservation. The seemingly hefty price tag of about $290 per person included some 30 courses. Menu offerings ranged from a cotton candy piña colada to a massive, hollow gorgonzola cheese “egg” with the texture of white chocolate to Iberian ham “tapioca.” And that was just scratching the surface. It was this highly innovative and whimsical menu that, according to Adrià, “made people happy and gave them something to think about.”
When asked about his single fondest and most poignant memory at his beloved restaurant, Mr. Adrià told us that while it’s difficult to choose just one, he would have to say it was July 31, 2011, the day after the final dinner, when “elBulli restaurant transformed into elBulli Foundation, a dream become reality.” The greatest lessons of Adrià’s life were learned in elBulli’s kitchen, mainly that nothing is impossible and that, by working with respect, effort, humility and a desire to learn, one can achieve great things. “And, most importantly”, says Adrià, “to be happy with the profession one pursues.”
In this spirit, Ferran Adrià is entering the next phase of his career at elBulli Foundation, which will open in 2014, with the same gumption and soul that have made him the culinary legend he has become. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store.