The Story of elBulli

Real Academia de Gastronomía

A look back at the history of a restaurant that started life as a beach bar and ended up on the front pages of the world's press.

If one restaurant has shaped the history of Spanish gastronomy more than any other, it's elBulli.

The legacy of Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler has had an impact on more than one generation of chefs, and will continue to do so for many years to come—maybe without the true extent of their contribution ever being known.

This is a look back at the history of a restaurant that began as a beach bar and ended up gracing the front covers of international publications.

The Schilling Beach Bar
In the late 1950s, German couple Marketta and Hans Schilling bought some land in Cala Montjoi, in Roses, Catalonia. They set up a mini golf course, then a beach bar, and finally a restaurant.

Thanks to Dr. Schilling's interest in gastronomy—having traveled all over Europe visiting the best restaurants—their simple fare evolved into ever more elaborate dishes. Following the trend for nouvelle cuisine in the 1970s, they added some French dishes to their menu.

In 1976, with Jean-Louis Neichel in charge of the kitchen, the establishment received its first Michelin star.

Protagonists of Change
Juli Soler joined the restaurant in Roses in 1981. That same year, he brought Jean-Paul Vinay on board as head chef following the departure of Neichel.

Juli Soler

Juli Soler was an outstanding maître d'hôtel, with great organizational abilities and an exceptional way with people. He set the scene for Adrià to become the chef who would shake the existing foundations of cookery.

"Finding a partner like that is almost impossible. And he has been as—if not more—important than me in this story," Adrià stated before Soler's death in 2015.

Adrià Joins the elBulli Kitchen

Taking advantage of a month's leave from military service in 1983, Ferran Adrià did some work experience as a chef at the restaurant on the recommendation of their mutual friend Fermí Puig. Before he finished, he agreed to join Juli Soler's team the following year.

In October 1984, chef Jean-Paul Vinay left the restaurant, and Adrià and Christian Lutaud became the head chefs.

During the winter months, when there weren't so many customers, they took the opportunity to visit foreign restaurants and markets, working perfectly as a team to reformulate the menus.

Dishes from that Era

In the 3 years from 1983 to 1986, when Ferran and Christian ran the kitchen, they revisited and reworked dishes from classic Spanish cooking, as well as nouvelle cuisine.

Among their creations from this period were an adaptation of "perdiz escabechada" (partridge escabeche) in the form of a boneless pigeon; Roses langoustine stew; vine tomatoes and brown crab; Troisgros seared red mullet escabeche; and the "truffle surprise."

Albert Adrià joined the team in 1985. After 2 years of training with great pastry chefs such as Antoni Escribà and Francisco Torreblanca, Albert took charge of the restaurant's desserts.

From Recreation to Creation: The Beginnings of Adrià Revolution
Christian Lutaud left elBulli in January 1987. Alone for the first time, Ferran Adrià had the freedom to develop a unique creative direction, devising new recipes of his own.

Creating Is Not Copying

Ferran heard this statement from Jacques Maximin—chef at the Le Chantecler restaurant in Nice and a champion of nouvelle cuisine—and it led the way for the Catalan chef.

"This simple phrase was the catalyst for the change of attitude in our cooking, marking the transition from 'recreating' to a firm decision to focus on originality. We were convinced that we needed to stop referencing the cookbooks of important chefs and carve out an identity of our own instead. It was the beginning of our creative journey at elBulli."

Journey to the Cutting Edge

Gault & Millau magazine was founded by Henri Gault and Christian Millau, who had given nouvelle cuisine its name almost 2 decades earlier. It was thanks to the magazine that the elBulli team discovered the 2 most avant-garde chefs of the moment: Michel Bras and Pierre Gagnaire, and the team decided to pay a visit to their kitchens.

The trip marked a turning point for Ferran in his understanding of cookery. "We learned something from Gagnaire that can be summed up in 3 words: anything is possible. From Bras, we discovered sensitivity and the natural world."

The elBulli Company
In the 1990s, the Soler/Adrià project took off and established itself as the chefs created their own style, based on absolute freedom in their cooking.

In 1992, Soler and Adrià bought the restaurant, becoming co-owners as well as the head chef and manager. This laid a new foundation for the restaurant.

Everything was remodeled, except for the dining rooms, which were left unchanged in tribute to Marketta Schilling. A state-of-the-art kitchen of over 3,000 square feet was built, along with a parking lot. The garden and terrace were also given a makeover.

The Origins of elBullitaller: A Creative Team Concept

In 1991, Ferran Adrià had moved into the workshop belonging to the sculptor Xavier Medina Campeny. While the artist worked, Adrià created dishes that they then ate together, chatting about art and creativity as they dined.

This sowed the seeds of an idea they had, in 1994, to set up a professional creative team: the "development squad."

The idea of setting up a permanent creative workshop began to take shape in 1997.

Joël Robuchon advised them to separate their creativity from the existing restaurant service. They looked for a cookery workshop to give them an idea of how to go about it, but there were none to be found.

They decided to put Ferran's brother Albert Adrià, and Oriol Castro, in charge of the new project. In late 1998, they bought part of a small 18th-century palace on a street called Carrer de la Portaferrissa in Barcelona, where elBullitaller was finally opened in January 2000.

El Bulli: The Taste of the Mediterranean (1993)

"The intention with this book was not to limit it to recipes, but to offer a real analysis of our cooking. It came from a desire to classify our cuisine from a theoretical point of view—an approach that continued in later books. It was a period at elBulli that impacted a whole generation of chefs in Spain."

A New Style

"In 1994, we began to realize that in order for our cooking to evolve at the pace we wanted, we had to broaden our understanding of creativity, and focus our search on creating new concepts and techniques."

A new style emerged, resulting in a radical approach that questioned every aspect of cuisine that came before it.

It was an approach in which the priority was not to create dishes, but to create concepts and techniques that would offer the diner an experience. The textured vegetable panaché is a trademark of this new era.

This style was forged and adopted beyond the elBulli restaurant, influencing chefs around the world.

The Backing of Joël Robuchon: A Vital Boost

In an interview in 1996, the prestigious French chef pointed to Ferran Adrià as his successor, declaring him the best chef in the world. The eyes of every critic and gourmet fell on elBulli.

Robuchon had first dined at elBulli 4 years earlier, on a summer's day in 1992.

Recognition

In 1990, the Michelin Guide awarded the restaurant in Cala Montjoi a second Michelin star.

The then Spanish Academy of Gastronomy (now the Royal Spanish Academy of Gastronomy) gave Juli Soler the National Award for Best Maître D'Hôtel. Two years later, Ferran Adrià received the award for Best Head Chef.

The first edition of the guide "Lo mejor de la gastronomía" (The Best of Gastronomy) was published in 1995, and the critic Rafael García Santos gave elBulli the highest possible rating.

And in 1997, the restaurant in Cala Montjoi became the third in Spain to be awarded 3 stars in the Michelin Guide, along with Arzak and El Racó de Can Fabes.

International Success

From 1999, the Sunday supplements of the most prestigious newspapers around the world would feature Ferran Adrià and his cuisine. In 2003, he and elBulli graced the cover and 14 pages of a supplement in The New York Times.

A few months later, in 2004, he appeared in the supplement of Le Monde, and Time magazine included him in its 100 most influential people in the world that same year.

The elBulli General Catalog
In 1999, Ferran Adrià and his team were designing a new menu for the Hacienda Benazuza hotel in Seville, made up of elBulli's past dishes. They took the opportunity to record the date of each dish, and this simple act meant that it was easy to see when certain concepts and techniques had been introduced. That moment marked the beginning of the monumental task of cataloging every dish since 1987, which they consider to be the year they produced their first original recipe. This was chosen as recipe No. 1, and the last, dating from 2011, is recipe No. 1,846.

"We kept recipes for all our dishes up to 1999, but it had not occurred to us that it might be interesting to catalog them as well. That year, we began to review what we had produced each year and, little by little, we began ordering the recipes and assigning them numbers."

"The following year, we began working on a project that we had already made a start on in our previous books: an analysis of our cooking. It was an idea that we had to develop from scratch, since as far as we could see, there were no existing studies of this kind in the world of cooking."

"The methodology of dating and numbering all the dishes had never been attempted before in gastronomy. Based on the dates, we were able to trace our evolutionary map—an outline identifying the parameters that allow you to see the changes that have occurred in a cuisine."

This was the beginning of a long process that led them to produce the "elBulli General Catalog," and the first volume was published in 2002. It contains 1,846 recipes over approximately 7,000 pages and an evolutionary analysis that discusses elBulli's creative process.

A Dialog With Other Disciplines
"For the first time in cooking, elBulli conceptualized a dialog with different disciplines and industries such as science, art, design, and business schools, which continues to grow. This holistic and interdisciplinary vision is one of elBulli's greatest contributions."

Tableware

In 1997, they began to design their own tableware, at first to serve petit four cakes. The design was based on origami shapes, made from thin, silver-plated sheets.

In 2001, Ferran Adrià and his team began collaborating with a Swiss industrial designer based in Barcelona, Luki Huber. Luki came up with some new utensils for serving food, including pipettes, various spoons, and very wide straws called sniffs that held jelly, to help solve problems posed by certain dishes.

"This synergy with other creative disciplines is one of the most special aspects of our work in recent years. And since 2005, it has been consolidated through the Faces project, which we collaborate on with some prestigious designers."

elBulli, Venue for Documenta 12

On June 16, 2007, the Documenta 12 contemporary art exhibition opened its doors in Kassel, Germany. Its director, Roger Buergel, invited Ferran Adrià to participate.

His involvement consisted of making elBulli the G pavilion for the show.

This considered decision showed, on the one hand, that the elBulli experience could not be removed from the context of the restaurant. On the other, it raised the debate about artistic disciplines that do not belong in museums.

On each of the 100 days of Documenta, 2 people came from Kassel for dinner, acting as a point of connection between the 2 locations of Kassel and Cala Montjoi.

A year earlier, Adrià received the Lucky Strike Designer Award in Berlin—a design award given by the Raymond Loewy Foundation.

"With his integrated concept, Ferran Adrià lends food an unprecedented sensuous and aesthetic dimension," explained the jury.

Adrià's Cooking Reaches Universities

In 2005, the Ferran Adrià Professorship in Gastronomic Culture and Food Science was created at the Camilo José Cela University in Madrid.

It offers courses in food safety, nutrition, food composition, taste education, and culinary creativity.

Honoris Causa

In 2007, Adrià was given an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Barcelona. The University of Aberdeen in Scotland followed suit, as did the Universities of Quebec and Valencia.

Science and Cookery at Harvard

In 2008, Ferran Adrià, the Alícia Foundation, and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences signed an agreement that resulted in a general education course on science and cookery: "From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter."

It was an innovative concept and format that explained science through cookery, in collaboration with Harvard professors and scientists, and world-renowned chefs.

Closure and Legacy
In early 2011, Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler announced that elBulli would close at the end of that season. The unexpected news made headlines around the world.

On July 30, 2011 they held their last dinner, entitled The Last Waltz. It was cooked by Grant Achatz, René Redzepi, José Andrés, Massimo Bottura, Joan Roca, and Andoni Luis Aduriz; head chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, and Mateu Casañas; and the rest of the elBulli team.

elBulli's Other Legacy

elBulli's legacy can be seen on the menus of haute-cuisine restaurants around the world, but its direct disciples are those who worked as its head chefs. They include Castro, Xatruch, and Casañas, who are now fronting Disfrutar, and Albert Raurich, owner of Dos Palillos (both in Barcelona).

Other names include Andoni Luis Aduritz from Mugaritz, who worked in the kitchens in Cala Montjoi right after finishing his cookery studies; José Andrés, who runs restaurants throughout the United States; Paco Morales from Noor in Córdoba; and Sergi Arola.

bullinianos.com

And then there is Ferran's brother, Albert Adrià, who joined as a chef and is now keeping elBulli's culinary legacy alive in the dishes served by the elBarri restaurant group in Barcelona.

Real Academia de Gastronomía
Credits: Story

Text: María García, in collaboration with Ferran Adriá / Marc Cuspinera.

Image: elBullifoundation / © F. Guillamet / Bob Noto / Visual13

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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