After reading countless articles, prostate several books and hundreds of blogs on the subject of a certain restaurant, it’s struck me that I’m really going to miss El Bulli.
Now, I don’t know anyone who has dined there, I don’t even know anyone who’s staged there, (more surprising than it sounds in this industry) I know people who know people who have eaten/ worked there, but I can’t say I personally know anyone who has been touched by the hand of the culinary God that is Ferran Adriá.
What this man and his restaurant have done for this industry in the past 25 years is unbelievable, without him we wouldn’t have ingredients such as Xanthan gum and Agar Agar powder, which now populate many a kitchen around the world. We probably wouldn’t have the practice of bringing in an army of Stagires to do the majority of the menial work, a practice that most high end restaurants, such as Alinea, The Fat Duck and Noma, all carry out.
But the thing that I (and many other chefs) most admire about the man was his absolute audacity to stand up and say “NO!! A sauce does not have to be thickened like that!! Butter does not have to be used in such large amounts!! Why should this ingredient not go with this ingredient?!!” If that hadn’t been the El Bulli mantra for all those years, then we wouldn’t have seen dishes such as, ‘soy angel hair pasta with sesame, miso and wasabi sweets’, ‘belly of mackerel in a chicken and onion escabèche and vinegar caviar’, ‘lentil water jelly with duck foie gras air and tender almond marzipan’, or the infamous ‘spherical olive’ (an olive made out of an olive- get you!). If none of these types of dishes had ever evolved out of the kitchens of El Bulli, we might never have seen dishes such as ‘salmon poached in a liquorice gel’ from the Fat Duck or ‘radishes in a pot’/ ‘leeks rolled in hay ash’ from Noma. Though most of the time, what your average chef down the road sends out, if he has recently been inspired by one of these places, is just plain bad, or worse, mediocre. But check out my last blog on trends for more ranting on that subject.
“Hey, don’t be so down, it’s not closing down, only transforming!” is the general consensus going around, but I don’t feel that way, because I now have to go on knowing that I will never be able to eat, let alone work at what some are calling one of the greatest restaurants of the last century (Oh well, there’s always Alinea or the Fat Duck!). Although, saying that, I am progressing towards the feeling that it is the right thing to do, because those at the top will eventually fall, and to see that happen to one of the greatest minds in the culinary world would be terrible. It happens in all aspects of life, it happened to Tiger Woods, it’s probably beginning to happen to Roger Federer, heck just ask Gordon Ramsay what it feels like. I would say that Ferran is ‘pulling a Marco’ so to speak, escaping the stresses of daily kitchen life, just as Marco Pierre White did in 1999, handing back his stars at the top of his game.
I will certainly mourn the passing of El Bulli (if only for a minute or two), but I will also be saluting it as it transforms itself into a foundation, hoping that it will further push the boundaries of what is possible in cuisine.
Cheers Ferran Adriá, it’s been a hell of a ride.