Two weeks back, all forward-thinking foodies just about lost their shit when Ferran Adria announced that he would be putting his framed restaurant, El Bulli, on "hiatus" starting in 2012. Part of the reason for the panic? El Bulli wasn't just some kind of little local hot-spot for those living on the Costa Brava in Spain. It wasn't merely a famous restaurant. It can't even accurately be described as simply one of the world's great restaurants. No, it was a true destination--a historic high-water mark for the modernist food revolution with a dining room that only sat a fraction of those who begged for tables every year, and a place to which many, many people dreamed of one day going. In a world without many real restaurant coups remaining, El Bulli stood as something worth bragging about. Anyone with enough money and enough patience can have dinner at Le Bernardin or the French Laundry, Alinea, Masa or the Fat Duck. But not everyone who wanted to (and could afford to), could go to El Bulli. For example, the 2010 season starts in June and ends in December. Every single table at every single seating is already sold out.
The other reason for people going cuckoo-bananas is that, as anyone who watches TV well knows, "hiatus" is often just a code word for "gone and never coming back." It's supposed to mean a break, and Adria certainly seemed to mean it that way when he made the initial announcement at the Madrid Fusion conference in January.
Only now, he has clarified his position. Now, hiatus really means "closed."According to a report on Eater.com, Adria has now said that he will be closing El Bulli permanently, perhaps replacing it with an academy for "advanced culinary study," perhaps just fucking off for an island somewhere and spending a few years in shorts, standing in the surf, catching fish with his bare hands and turning them into noodles and foams with his mind.
This is sad news. But honestly, I just can't blame the guy. The amount of pressure he must've been under to constantly be a genius, to constantly be pushing the envelope and giving every single customer that came through his door not just a good meal or a great meal but the BEST MEAL OF THEIR ENTIRE LIVES? I can't even imagine how exhausting that would be, and how annoying on a deeply personal level.
I never got the chance to go to El Bulli. And short of some culinary version of Miracle on 34th Street, I never will. The 2011 season will be the last there is. Competition for the few seats available will be at a level so fierce that I don't even want to think about it. And frankly, I'm happy for Adria. He's going out at the top of his game, with all his mysterious powers intact. His restaurant will remain legendary. And if I ever happen to run into him, standing in the water, willing the fish to come to him, all I'll want to do is shake his hand.
And maybe have him make me a grilled cheese sandwich. Because seriously, how awesome would that be?