The announcement came down today: El Bulli, one of the most famous restaurants in the world, will be closing. Owner and head genius Ferran Adria, said it himself--giving the Catalonia restaurant's early obituary notice while at the Madrid Fusion conference and sending gastronauts, foodies, acolytes and devotees of Adria's over-the-edge experiments in molecular gastronomy straight into shock. A great disturbance was felt in the Force. The universe, briefly, seemed to come unhinged.
El Bulli's Ferran Adria chasing the mourning foodies off his lawn
El Bulli isn't the place where molecular gastronomy was invented, but the place where it was framed, utilized, plated and presented to the public in its fullest flowering. Sphericalization-process "caviars" were made famous there. Ditto foams and airs. Pastas made from cheese, olives turned to liquid, foie gras powder--all of it not just created, but refined and perfected both on the line and in the workshop at El Bulli. Adria (who, not for nothing, started off his career as a dishwasher and an army cook in the 1980's and came up the hard way) was a man who was never satisfied with things simply being the way they were. He messed with texture and temperature, screwed with preconceptions, turned cooking on its head. He was a man who really knew how to play with his food.
This (a margarita) is what passes for boozing it up at El Bulli
And, as a result, he got three Michelin stars for his troubles, is considered one of the greatest chefs in the world, and oversees a restaurant which has been called the best in the world, accepts reservations only one day out of the year and books solid in a matter of minutes.
An idea of how heavy his legacy is: there was a time when just owning one of the El Bulli cookbooks (in particular, an original translation of the 2003-2004 volume, which weighed about twenty pounds and cost anywhere from three to seven hundred dollars) was enough to get you a job in almost any high-end kitchen on the East Coast. The name and the mystique were just that powerful. And for a while during the early part of the decade, dropping Adria's name was like speaking the secret password that granted you entry into the World of Tomorrow.
Yeah, I've got a copy. Wanna borrow it?
But now, that's done. According to London's Times Online, Adria said, "No meals will be served in El Bulli in 2012 and 2013." And why? Because being the best chef in the world is, apparently, exhausting. 15-hour days for twenty-five years and the added pressure of constantly coming up with new ways to blow his customer's minds will eventually grind anyone down. And those who know the man (or at least claim to know him) are saying that the Adria is just tired.
But wait: Before all you food nuts start looking for tall buildings to throw yourselves off of, keep this in mind. After making the announcement that his restaurant would be going dark, Adria was quick to add that El Bulli is not closing exactly. It's just taking a two-year hiatus. "I need time to decide how 2014 is going to be," Adria reportedly said. "We want the year 2014 to stand out. I know that when I return it will not be the same."
Understatement of the year right there. But I guess I'll start making plans for my 2014 trip to Spain now.