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Chef to close 'world's best' eatery in search for inspiration

By Al Goodman, CNN
One New York magazine dubbed Ferran Adria "the godfather of foam."
One New York magazine dubbed Ferran Adria "the godfather of foam."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ferran Adria to close three-star Michelin "El Bulli" restaurant to continue quest for unfettered food creations
  • "As the years pass, it gets more difficult to create," the Spanish chef says
  • Adria concerned that without a big change, there was a danger of a creativity-stifling routine setting in
  • The restaurant says a million gourmets compete for just 6,700 reservations a year

Barcelona, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish chef Ferran Adria is concerned about the success of his El Bulli restaurant, rated the world's best by various publications and where it's almost impossible to get a reservation.

So he shocked the culinary world by announcing that he'll close the three-star Michelin restaurant for two years, starting in 2012, to continue his quest for unfettered food creations.

"As the years pass, it gets more difficult to create, because so much has already been created. So I decided we needed to do something radical," Adria, 47, told CNN.

At El Bulli the 30-course meal plus wine costs about $400. The restaurant says a million gourmets compete for just 6,700 reservations a year to have dinner at the locale, on the Mediterranean coast north of Barcelona.

But while the restaurant will close, his secluded kitchen workshop in Barcelona won't. The next food revolution, he hopes, will start there.

"Our challenge is: can we go further? What's the limit? That's our work," Adria said, dressed in chef's whites and overseeing the workshop experiments.

Video: Famed restaurant takes stock

"But sometimes," he added, "going further involves very simple things."

It doesn't look simple as Adria and four younger chefs who are close collaborators tinker with the next menu for the restaurant.

It will still open like usual, for six months only from June to December, this year and next, before the big shutdown.

One New York magazine dubbed Adria "the godfather of foam" for his foamy transformations of food and flavors into foam, served to diners.

He says he deconstructs food, breaking it down, to explore food tastes, textures and cooking techniques. In the workshop this day, the team dabbles with what they might wrap in a potato-starch, wafer-thin transparent crepe which they found in Japan.

"Our challenge is: can we go further? What's the limit?
--Ferran Adria
RELATED TOPICS
  • Spain
  • Barcelona

Each day, 40 or 50 ideas are tried, analyzed, described in written logs, even photographed.

Trial and error is a key to creativity, Adria said.

"And maybe one of these ideas, or 10, or none, turns out right," he added.

The break in 2012 and 2013 will give him time to travel more extensively, looking for new inspiration.

Adria said he was concerned that without a big change, there was a danger of a creativity-stifling routine setting in on him and his team in the next few years.

It's not the first time he's made a sudden change of course.

Born in Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona's airport, Adria began as a dishwasher at a coastal tourist hotel. He later was a cook in the military, then got a job as an assistant cook at El Bulli, and quickly rose to become the master chef.

The restaurant got its third Michelin star in 1997, but just a few years later, in 2001, he decided to close for lunch, which eliminated half of the business.

Even now, with so much success, the restaurant doesn't make money, Adria said.

But his decade as a celebrity chef has spawned a business empire. He's made deals on olive oil and on the designs of plates and silverware, and has spoken about creativity and cooking at a course at Harvard University in the United States.

He has written numerous cookbooks, and is now working on one about a century of culinary arts.

These other activities provide the financial base for his creative drives in the elegant workshop just off Las Ramblas promenade in old-town Barcelona.

The rest of the staff works nearby in the main business office, next to the colorful Boqueria market in Barcelona, which Adria visits frequently to stay close to the essence of cooking.

Adria says he isn't sure what will be served, or how, or even at what times, at his restaurant when it reopens in 2014. He aims to bolster his training program for gifted young chefs.

"I'm not afraid of anything," he said. "What is needed is pressure. Without pressure, there's no creativity."