El Bulli closes its doors in order to make way for El Bulli Foundation, an innovative culinary think tank

Saturday marked the last meal of the legendary El Bulli restaurant, the centre of molecular gastronomy and the home for the last 28 years of head chef and culinary genius Ferran Adrià. CNA speaks to Ferran Adrià about the restaurant and his plans for the future.

Caitlin Smith / Violeta Gumà / Tania Tapia

August 1, 2011 08:33 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Saturday marked the last meal of the legendary El Bulli restaurant, the centre of molecular gastronomy and the home for the last 28 years of head chef and culinary genius Ferran Adrià. After announcing in January last year at the Madrid Fusion food festival, that El Bulli would be closing its doors, Mr Adrià, 49, has announced that El Bulli will re-open in 2014 as a Foundation for the exploration of food. The restaurant, said to be the best in the world, put on an intimate last dinner for staff, family members and friends of the establishment, to celebrate the success they had had and ambitions they have for the future. As Adrià announced earlier this month, "El Bulli is not closing; it is transforming itself, because its soul is going to remain".

The history of El Bulli is as quirky as its food. Originally a small plot of land owned by refugee couple, Dr Hans Schilling and his wife, Marketta, it started life as a low-key bar and a crazy golf course. Although it has dramatically transformed over the last decades, it has retained the name Marketta gave it, El Bulli, named after her beloved bulldogs. The restaurant was taken over by Juli Soler in 1981, who went on to hire and train the naturally gifted Ferran Adrià. Adrià began work at El Bulli in 1984 and became head chef, aged 25 only three years later.

Adrià's food has been characterised as taking a molecular approach to cooking, transforming, taking apart and recasting typical ingredients into the extraordinary. Called both genius and insanity, El Bulli's goal was to push the boundaries of modern gastronomy, embracing innovation and tantalising the senses in a spectacle of scientifically precise yet artistically creative food. In his international agenda for cookery, written in 2006 with Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck, Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Per Se, and author Harold McGee, Adrià rejected the popular notion that his non-conventional methods defined his cooking, arguing instead that "we do not pursue novelty for its own sake" and further stating that his aim was to "respect the rich history" of cookery, whilst at the same time, "attempt to play a small part in the history of tomorrow".

Despite nurturing a curiosity with food from the start of his career, it wasn’t until 2001 that Adrià had the freedom to dedicate himself to the transformation of El Bulli from a restaurant to a gastronomic laboratory. The restaurant was only open for six months of the year. Midday sittings were cancelled giving the chefs time to experiment with new recipes and techniques. And those lucky enough to secure a seat for dinner had no choice but to accept the 40 miniature dishes presented to them as part of the set menu for a price of approximately 250 euros.

Despite being unconventional, El Bulli has delighted the world over, winning three Michelin stars and gaining the coveted San Pellegrino title of the World's best restaurant five times. It is partly for this reason the Adrià has decided to close the restaurant's doors. After winning consecutive awards, "we need to let others take up our place" he told the Catalan News Agency, "and we will take on another, equally important role".

Regardless of the accolade that it received, El Bulli never turned a profit. Most of the chefs there were motivated solely from a passion for food and were willing to give up six months of their time and virtually no pay in return for the honour of being a student of El Bulli. The financial instability of El Bulli also motivated the closure, although Adrià's plans for the Foundation are clearly inspired by a passion for experimentation than economic desires.

Such plans, which will come into fruition 2014, are already underway. It is to be a centre of creative excellence, continuing to reinvent food without the disruption and stress that the customers of El Bulli obviously caused. In recent years Adrià felt that the restaurant was loosing its bohemian ethos: "El Bulli has had very nice aspects and some not so nice ones, a lot of frustration has been created concerning the demand for reservations, which towards the end became tiring. I do not want to come back to it. We are fortunate to be able to change" he said.

And change they will. Although keeping the same headquarters near the town of Roses, the building will be transformed into a larger laboratory and school. Joined by a select creative team of between 15-20 other food enthusiasts, Adrià wants to find the best talent in the world and train them at the school. As well as this he wants to spread his knowledge internationally, putting all of El Bulli's 1800 recipes online. There will be no opening hours, no reservations and nobody will pay for dinner, he told us, continuing the restaurants unconventional legacy. But most of all, Adrià wants to commit himself totally to his passion, following his heart: "El Bulli has always been very bohemian, we like to party!" he said.

This is not the only venture of Ferran Adrià, who opened the cocktail bar 41° in January and tapas bar Tickets in February with his brother and fellow chef Albert. Both establishments are located in Adrià's home of Barcelona, and he clearly still holds the city in high regard. "I find it difficult to decide where to eat here" he admits, "Catalonia is one of the culinary capitals of the world". Adrià's mind however is always looking to the future, "the question is what will be the next revolution" he says, "now we must work to intensify and secure the revolution in food". This is the aim of the El Bulli Foundation, which, if it succeeds in embracing innovation will change the face of dining for many years to come. As Adrià hopes, "a foundation can exist forever…"