Giant meringue dog gives flavor of closed elBulli eatery

By Li-mei Hoang and Christine Murray, Reuters

Posted at Aug 09 2013 01:25 PM | Updated as of Aug 09 2013 09:25 PM

LONDON - Spanish chef Ferran Adria's famous elBulli restaurant is closed, but the two million people a year who wanted to eat there can at least see what he was up to at an exhibition in London that features, among other things, a giant dog made of meringue.

Famous for deconstructing and recombining foods into new shapes and flavors, Adria told Reuters the decision to close the three-star Michelin elBulli on Catalonia's Costa Brava two years ago was a hard one, but it freed him and his team from the pressures of running a high-end restaurant.

"I was tormented by having to close it. I wanted elBulli to survive for many years," Adria said in a telephone interview. "We had to create something that would allow elBulli to live for a very long time."

So Adria created the elBullifoundation, which plans to safeguard the legacy by opening a food museum and a "creativity" center on the restaurant's former grounds, overlooking a bay.

The 51 year-old chef also helped devise a special exhibition that explores elBulli's history and its culinary evolution towards its famous avant-garde cuisine, the proceeds from which will go towards funding the foundation.

Adria said it was a "dream" to hold his exhibition, which was first mounted in Barcelona last year, in London.

"London is one of the cultural capitals of the world. The UK in the last 10 years has made a huge improvement," he said, citing fellow chefs Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsey as pioneers for British cuisine.

"British food has always had a reputation of not being that good, people nowadays have lots and lots of respect for it," he said.

The exhibition, which runs until September 29 at Somerset House, is filled with personal photos, letters and mementos from Adria and his team as well as cooking equipment and even a giant dog made entirely of meringue.

"In this exhibition, we are able to explain what we were doing. It was our life, creativity was our life ... this exhibition is an appetizer to be able to understand all of this," said Adria.

'Sense of fantasy'

An extensive timeline with videos showing visitors how some of the dishes that Adria and his team created is also on display, as well as an interactive encyclopedia of food and a model of the new foundation.

Adria plans for the show will travel for the next four or five years, first to the United States and then back to Italy and Spain, where some of its content will go on display in the elBulli food museum.

"The most important thing for elBulli is the sense of fantasy about cooking that we need to create in thousands and thousands and thousands of people," Adria said.

The chef, who enjoys all types of cuisine including Japanese Catalan and Portuguese dishes, says he eats simply, a far cry from his own elaborate creations.

"Fruit in the morning," he said. "Yesterday I ate calamari - very simple. Grilled tuna and ribs. All very simple."

He is working on a presentation on origins of cooking which he will present in New York early next year.

"The quality of gastronomy is at its highest level in history. Never, never, never has it been this good," he said.

"People have no memory of what it was like 40 years ago. Forty years ago there were barely any restaurants."