Why did the most famous chef in the world close his restaurant at the height of its popularity? The answer to that explains who Catalan chef Ferran Adrià is.
Adrià’s legendary “molecular gastronomy” restaurant El Bulli, near the town of Roses, was voted best restaurant in the world for five years – twice in 2010 – by Restaurant magazine, the arbiters of such things. At its apex, there were two million reservation requests per year – and eight thousand granted. Adrià closed El Bulli in July 2011, and in its place is setting up a nonprofit culinary foundation and centre, due to open in 2014, in pursuit of what he calls “constant evolution” and “a permanent commitment to creativity”. For up-to-date information, including information on visiting, check the website: welbulli.com. In the meantime, though El Bulli has now closed its doors, you can visit the lively tapas bar, Tickets, Ferran opened in 2011 with his brother Albert in Barcelona.
Adrià is perhaps best known for his “foams” (espumas), scented with everything from carrot to pine nuts to smoke. One of his culinary signatures has been to re-create traditional Mediterranean flavours via very non-traditional methods, his wizardry yielding such concoctions as liquid ravioli; spherified olives; parmesan ice cream; and “caviaroli” – caviar made with allioli. As Adrià has said of his cuisine: “Nothing is as it seems.” Adrià is also famous for his deconstruction of Spain’s comfort dishes, like tortilla de patatas. Hot potato is transformed into foam, onion made into a thick purée and egg white becomes a whipped sabayon. It’s served in a tiny sherry glass with a spoon: the flavours fill the mouth – intense, warm and startlingly familiar.
The El Bulli Foundation will occupy the same space as the restaurant, which is perched over the quiet cove of Montjoi, at the end of a long and winding road above Roses. It’s a lovely, isolated spot – a far cry from the thronged Costa Brava and its laminated, quadrilingual menus. The land on which it sits was originally purchased by a German couple, who opened a beach bar which was followed by a restaurant, which they named after their pet French bulldogs – El Bulli. Adrià joined the staff in 1984, and contemporary Catalan cuisine has never been quite the same since.
Adrià is sometimes compared to another famous native son of Catalunya: Salvador Dalí. One is a surrealist on canvas, the other a surrealist in the kitchen. We asked Adrià about the parallel, if any, between art and cuisine, and he summed it up like this:
The dialogue between art and cuisine is still young. But in the end, it’s not that important if cuisine is art, but if it changes the way you look at the world.