“You can’t spend your whole life studying elBulli”
Under Print Hall’s lofty ceilings the world-renowned Ferran Adrià laid it out for the rapt crowd perched, pockets substantially lighter, on bar stools in front of him.
His translator Patrick gave us his elaboration; “people talk about elBulli like they talk about Mars – everyone talking about somewhere they’ve never been.”
He’s not wrong. Even though the event sold out of lunch tickets (priced at $200 a head) in what felt like a heartbeat and appeared to do a solid trade in the seven volume elBulli 2005-2011 (tickets including a signed copy started at $700), few people in that room – if any – would have had the privilege of dining there before it closed in 2011. The odds were against you even if you had the cash for a ticket to Costa Brava. Opening for only fifty covers, once a day, for only six months of the year meant that over two million people competed each season for the eight thousand seats available.
And now, no-one will. Ostensibly a book launch, the real topic of the day was Adrià’s intense focus on the future. “I closed elBulli restaurant to open elBulli to the world”, he told us. His vision is three-fold – elBulli1846, elBullifoundation and elBullipedia.
Unsurprisingly for a man renowned for boundary-pushing creativity, he is not allowing the past – elBulli the restaurant, and elBulli1846 – to dictate his direction. While he showed a keen interest in culinary history, he separated those wider ideas from his own restaurant’s success, even dismissing it. “People saying elBulli was the best restaurant in the world were wrong”, he told us. His wholehearted embrace of creativity and development is fierce.
elBullifoundation will be a ground-breaking creativity enterprise, with no age limits, embracing technology, and changing it’s staff entirely every year. Adrià jokes that elBulli didn’t make any money from 1984 to 1998, but his dry assertion that “without money there are no Foundations” (eliciting a hearty guffaw from the apparently generously moneyed up the front) and the auctioning of elBulli’s wine cellar imply that was far from a phase and it isn’t hard to see why when the restaurant employed eighty chefs for their fifty covers a night. Nevertheless, elBullifoundation will be part of a sprawling complex, part educational, part environmental, part experience. It will blend seamlessly into the national park surrounding the old restaurant and encourage creativity and innovation in every aspect – including the transportation visitors use to reach the site.
Adrià’s description of elBullipedia is a whirlwind tour through his attempts to create a taxonomy of food, of culinary language – a fantastic endeavour in the literal sense of the word, a fantasy verging on impossibility. He is a man tackling the challenges of making the theoretical accessible head on. “We will be creative people who use cooking as a language”, he told us. elBullipedia fascinates me – he’s essentially creating a new philosophy. The classifications will be published in October with a massive amount of supporting documentation to encourage peer review. I can’t wait.
Both TBP and I visited the elBulli exhibition at Somerset House in London last summer when elBullifoundation was a scale model and a nebulous description. That exhibition gave me a massive appreciation for the scale and impact of Adrià’s innovation – the slideshow of the development of elBulli’s cuisine hammered home that the world is still catching up to what he was creating over a decade ago. Hearing him speak was a privilege I never thought I’d experience and one I’ll treasure. If he has as much impact on our understanding of the potential of creativity as he has done on our understanding of the potential of a meal then who knows where he’ll be a decade from now?