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"And what were they serving at El Bulli? Water!"
June 4, 2012 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Drive 8.7 km (5.4 miles) west of the municipality of Roses in Catalonia, Spain, and you'll get to the gates of the renowned avant-garde restaurant, El Bulli. Run by Ferran Adrià since 1987, the restaurant closed in 2012 due to Adrià and his partner Juli Soler losing a half million Euros a year on the restaurant and Adrià's cooking workshop in Barcelona. Slate's Noreen Malone wrote an article on the history of the "I Ate at El Bulli" piece, giving an overview of tropes that you could expect in an IAaEB piece, and you can browse images tagged "elbulli" on Flickr for snapshots of personal experiences. But for an extended look into what went into making the ever-changing 35-course taster's menu, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (Trailer on YT and Vimeo) is a 109 minute documentary on the preparation and implementation of the 2008/9 season, an "extreme fly-on-the-wall vérité, with only the barest context provided." If you're looking for recipes, Molecular Recipes has a few listed under the El Bulli tag.

More recipes: Star Chefs has recipes attributed to Ferrán Adrià, and the New York Times has a Adrià-approved "edible coctail".

See also: El Bulli (and ElBulli) previously.
posted by filthy light thief (26 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would have loved to have dined at El Bulli--my SO and I were tentatively planning a trip around it at one point. We just recently watched Cooking in Progress on Netflix, which was an interesting experience. Most cooking "shows" (for lack of a better term) make you hungry: you eyes see the enticing food and your brain gets hungry. Watching the El Bulli doc, though, my brain only barely registered the creations as "food"--it was just science and art, the fact that it was edible seemed almost irrelevant.

Amazing to watch, though.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:48 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


He has his name attached to a couple of other restaurants (along with his brother who I think probably runs things): 41 Grados and Tickets
posted by juv3nal at 12:02 PM on June 4, 2012


I love the correction in that Slate article: "[...] It also referred to nitrous oxides as noxious oxides, which may have been a Freudian slip on the part of the author, but is not strictly correct".
posted by mhoye at 12:15 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cala Montjoi is actually East of Roses...
posted by blogenstock at 12:28 PM on June 4, 2012


blogenstock, that it is. I even took a moment to make sure I had the right direction written. It seems my head is a bit backwards today.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:32 PM on June 4, 2012


A summer's fairy tale for a lost Europe
posted by Bwithh at 12:49 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That Slate article is pretty great in general:

IAAEBPs, naturally, involve a great deal of one-upmanship. Oh, so you ate the regular meal at El Bulli? That's cute. I ate the staff meal. And it was "very, very good." You've only been there once? Poor thing, how little context you must have. Oh, you wrote an article about eating at El Bulli? Try a little. I cartooned my experience. Or, even better, I wrote a 29-minute electro-orchestral musical work inspired by my 35-course meal there. Oh, you ate a 35-course meal there? I ate a 37-course meal, and managed to work it into my New York Times wedding announcement. (Perhaps then, in those famously status-obsessed pages, scoring a meal at El Bulli is akin to a Yale law degree or an ancestor who came over on the Mayflower.) A mere 37? When you've had a 38-courser—and picked out extensive hypothetical wine pairings for it—then maybe we can talk. You just ate there? I ate there WITH Adria. Oh, you ate with him at the restaurant? I had him cook me a meal in my own kitchen.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:52 PM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


He (along with Harold McGee) starts off the excellent Harvard Science and Cooking series of lectures as well..
posted by snaparapans at 12:59 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would a 35-couse meal run you, with wine pairings + tip?
posted by Theta States at 1:00 PM on June 4, 2012


A lot, hence the 35 wine pairings. They're to ease the pain.
posted by Panjandrum at 1:03 PM on June 4, 2012


Theta States, according to this 2009 blog post, about 700 Euros ($1,000 USD at the time) with wine and a tip, though tipping isn't common in Spain. Without wine and tip, about $700.

But from the documentary, that's for a 4 hour food experience. Adrià says he's not so concerned that the food tastes good, but that he's looking for magical experiences, and towards the end, you should be more startled or baffled by the concoctions, otherwise you'd fall asleep.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:06 PM on June 4, 2012


The movie was tedious, interesting, and really really strange at the same time.

One of the courses was literally oil and water (special oil/special water, of course) and when they were developing the menu, Adria said the point was to disorient the eater, to have them wondering what's going on. One waiter came back totally embarrassed because he'd grabbed the carbonated water, omg, but then they started wondering if maybe the course was better that way. Another course involved ice chips and the waiter stayed with the customers while they were eating, instructing them to be sure they had an ice chip with each bite.
posted by jasper411 at 1:14 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


For much more accessible recipes from El Bulli, I heartily recommend "The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria" [available from your favourite book-store, online or otherwise]. Not only are the recipes wonderful and within the range of just about anyone who cooks, the layout and photos are superb. Thoroughly recommended.
posted by vac2003 at 1:22 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


El Bulli meal costs about 700 Euros ($1,000 USD at the time) with wine and a tip

Well then, that makes the books seem like a good deal.
posted by snaparapans at 1:43 PM on June 4, 2012


The wiki page says that they are closing due to the massive financial loss.
Yet the same page (a little up) says this: "It accommodated only 8,000 diners a season, but got more than two million requests. The average cost of a meal was €250 (US$325)."

I understand if they are running out of steam (hah!) after 25 years, but if money is the issue, why not hike prices a little if demand exceeds supply by 200:1? It's not like they are cooking for the masses now, is it?
posted by sour cream at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


but if money is the issue, why not hike prices a little if demand exceeds supply by 200:1?

this is what I was wondering, as well. For a restaurant that has to book reservations 3 years in advance, and is literally always at capacity with diners having no option to eat little or more cheaply than a full meal, it strikes me as tremendously poor business sense to price meals such that with maximum saturation they don't cover costs and then some. maybe there's something I'm simply not getting, though.
posted by shmegegge at 2:34 PM on June 4, 2012


My SO will be very sad.
posted by wierdo at 3:20 PM on June 4, 2012


Decadent much?
posted by Devonian at 4:05 PM on June 4, 2012


I'm a domestic (American) Michelin junkie. I was unlikely to visit El Bulli anytime soon, but still, I was aware of it and I'm sorry to hear that it's closing. I'll think of it when I'm at Charlie Trotter's later this week.

Good post, thanks!
posted by cribcage at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2012


The wiki page says that they are closing due to the massive financial loss.
Yet the same page (a little up) says this: "It accommodated only 8,000 diners a season, but got more than two million requests. The average cost of a meal was €250 (US$325)."

I understand if they are running out of steam (hah!) after 25 years, but if money is the issue, why not hike prices a little if demand exceeds supply by 200:1? It's not like they are cooking for the masses now, is it?
posted by sour cream at 2:29 PM on June 4 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


I would guess that they continued with their loss-making business model for ideological/artistic reasons. They may in fact thought of themselves as cooking for the masses - not for everyday eating, but for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If there was a queue system (rather than auction, assuming that jumping queue through touts/bribes was impossible) and the average cost of 250 euros per head (it sounds like they could have charged 5,000 euros or more and there would still be plenty of demand) , this is a pretty reasonable Spanish middle class once-in-the-lifetime experience. Sure, you might have multi-millionaires flying in from around the world in their private jets just to have this experience, but the same experience would be available for an affordable price for a gourmet with an ordinary middle-class income especially if living locally/regionally.
posted by Bwithh at 6:03 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot, hence the 35 wine pairings. They're to ease the pain.

See, this is where the emperor's nakedness appears for me, with this kind of gastronomy that's so popular at the moment. All that effort? All that creativity? And yet the only thing they can think to drink with it is fermented grape juice.
posted by Jimbob at 7:28 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a good book I read a while back that gives you a glimpse of who prepares the food and what goes into working there The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli
posted by phirleh at 8:29 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had high hopes for that documentary but I found it nothing short of tedious.
posted by stevil at 9:21 AM on June 5, 2012


I'm waiting for the deluge of "I Ate At Modern Toilet" pieces.
posted by phirleh at 9:38 AM on June 5, 2012


See, this is where the emperor's nakedness appears for me, with this kind of gastronomy that's so popular at the moment. All that effort? All that creativity? And yet the only thing they can think to drink with it is fermented grape juice.

I went to a restaurant where the only menu item was the 12-course tasting menu and I was pleasantly surprised by the beverage pairings. It wasn't all just Merlot! There was a tequila shot, ice wines, liqueurs, etc. Standard wines were the most common pairings, but they mixed up the alchoholic goodness.
I would like to see more cocktail pairings though. Maybe even a daring non-alcoholic beverage to break things up.
posted by Theta States at 10:01 AM on June 5, 2012


Some restaurants have entire pairing sets of nonalcoholic drinks for their tasting menus, for people who don't drink. Both L'Espalier and Menton in Boston offer this, as does Charlie Trotter's. More restaurants should. It's fantastic. I think it displays somewhat more creativity than most alcoholic pairings.
posted by cribcage at 1:00 AM on June 13, 2012


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