'World's best restaurant' El Bulli set to close

By Marcelo Aparicio, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 28 2011 01:03 PM | Updated as of Jul 28 2011 09:10 PM

BARCELONA, Spain - elBulli, the beachside Spanish restaurant repeatedly crowned the world's best, will close Saturday after pushing the boundaries of cuisine for more than 2 decades under chef Ferran Adria.

The remote eatery in Cala Montjoi, some 2 hours north of Barcelona, will re-open in 2014 as a non-profit culinary think tank that will investigate new cooking techniques and develop new flavors.

The elBullifoundation plans to grant between 20 and 25 scholarships annually for chefs to spend a year working with elBulli's core staff. It will share its ideas and findings on the Internet.

Adria, whose radical innovations since he became the head chef at elBulli in 1987 include foie grass noodles and potato foam, says he is dispensing with the Michelin 3-star restaurant to spend more time being creative.

"elBulli is not closing, it is transforming itself, because its soul is going to remain," he told a group of students in Valencia earlier this month.

Under Adria, the eatery, known as El Bulli until 2008, has never been a commercial restaurant in the strictest sense.

Shortly after becoming head chef, Adria decided to open the restaurant for just half the year to give staff to develop his trailblazing approach to cooking, which uses hi-tech methods to "deconstruct" and rebuild ingredients in surprising ways.

In 2001, just as El Bulli was becoming well known, he decided to close the eatery for lunch to give staff even more time to be creative in the kitchen.

The 50-seat restaurant fields more than 2 million requests a year for its roughly 8,000 sittings, with tables mostly alloted by form of lottery.

Dinner is a degustation menu of some 40 small dishes and it costs around 250 euros ($360) per head.

The final dinner on Saturday night will be served to longtime staff members of the restaurant and their families.

But despite its popularity, the restaurant was losing half a million euros ($700,000) a a year, Adria said during an interview with AFP last year.

The 49-year-old makes up the shortfall through a series of elBulli spin-offs, including books, a range of kitchenware, speaking engagements and by lending his name to a range of brands, from olive oil to cutlery.

The restaurant is credited with helping to transform Spain from a culinary backwater to a world leader.

Britain's Restaurant magazine ranked elBulli to be number one on its list of the world's top 50 restaurants for a record five times -- in 2002 when the list was first published and between 2006 and 2009.

"It is not the best restaurant in the world because that does not exist, but it is today the most influential place in the world in terms of cuisine, and especially when it comes to creativity," Adria said last week.

Veteran Barcelona restaurateur Ramon Parellada, a personal friend of Adria's, said the closure of elBulli would free up the chef.

"All this exuberance and creative capacity, which gave our sector innovation and creativity in a way that was never done before, will no longer be the target of the criticism that was levelled at the restaurant," he said.

While some critics have described Adria's food as the best they have tasted, he has been criticised as elitist and pretentious -- and even a health hazard.

Paris-based German food critic Jorg Zipprick, the author of "The Unappetizing Underside of Molecular Cooking", says Adria's creations should carry health warnings informing diners of the additives in dishes.

"While it is true that Ferran Adria introduced a great deal of creativity to the kitchen, he also opened the door to additives and aromas from food industry laboratories which have now firmly conquered a place in the restaurant business," he said.