Global Politics

Famed Spanish restaurant El Bulli reopens as foundation and food lab

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Ferran Adria, once called “the world’s greatest chef,” presents the El Bulli Foundation in Barcelona. It’s goal: to push the limits of culinary arts. (Photo by Gerry Hadden.)

A Spanish eatery called Can Roca has won best restaurant in the world this year, from Restaurant Magazine.

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The three Roca brothers run their kitchen less than an hour from a former winner: El Bulli, tucked up along the Spanish-French border, was the top pick four years running, from 2006 through 2009.

It’s chef and mastermind, Ferran Adria, is considered the most cutting edge cook of modern times. But Adria closed El Bulli at the height of its success.

In that sense Adria is like Willie Wonka. Albeit with gourmet food. A legend. A guy who can take a pecan and a clump of Spinach and change your taste buds forever. But a guy like that, what’s he to do once he’s dazzled the world for years on end?

Unlike Wonka, Adria didn't go into hiding. He started a foundation.

But what’s the foundation supposed to do? He’s not entirely sure.

So Adria got 31 of the best business schools around the world to give him ideas. Earlier this week, at the IESE business school in Barcelona, Adria presented the El Bulli Foundation’s master plan.

The presentation was at a breakfast. An El Bulli-style breakfast, designed by Adria himself. First up, a tiny brioche with an olive tapenade swirled on top. Sweet and salty. Delicious.

The breakfast is 10 courses. Dinner at El Bulli was around 37 courses. You’d eat things like Iberian Ham Tapioca, or Spherical Egg of White Asparagus with False Truffle.

This breakfast isn’t quite so exotic, but it ain’t flapjacks and bacon either

Brazed Catalan cream on sponge cake with a lemon garnish come out; crunchy Parmesan crisps made from pie dough follow. There’s also a chocolate coulant with cool mango puree, and paper-thin slices of Manchego cheese served on miniature nutbread buns.

And after, the presentation. El Bulli Foundation will do three things. It’ll fund a 50-person food lab where cooks will keep on inventing. They’ll publish their findings, as it were, on a webpage called Bullipedia: your one-stop website for, say, the latest on freezing polenta in liquid nitrogen.

Business schools, food theory, intellectualizing eating — food’s for your stomach, not for your head, right?

Adria answered with his own question: Do you want to talk about food?

“If you want to talk about simple family meals,” he said, “that’s great. But the second you discuss vanguard recipes, the conversation automatically becomes intellectual.”

There’s room for it all, he said.

Then there’s El Bulli itself. The restaurant has been shut for three years now. But Adria is going to reopen the space as an interactive museum, visitor’s center and source of inspiration.

“What we want to endure is El Bulli’s concept of innovation,” he said. “The spirit of the place, of all the people who passed through our doors.”

The details have yet to come together, but Adria suggested imagining a mix of Cirque du Soleil, a scientist’s laboratory and a Salvador Dali landscape.

The foundation opens in 2015.

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