Every year, hundreds of thousands of people do just about anything they can think of, including pleading, prayer and strong-arming to get a table at El Bulli, the three-Michelin star restaurant headed up by Ferran Adrià on a remote patch of Spain’s Costa Brava. Every year, only 8,000 people make it in. And this year, because I’m an extraordinarily lucky person (bastard, some might say), I was one of them.
The meal was all high ceremony, kinda like those scenes in the period films about British monarchy where some petulant royal stands in the middle of a room and is bathed and dressed by a gaggle of terrified servants. There is no music at El Bulli and each table is tended to by a battalion of black-clad waiters who whisper regular instructions on how to eat the food: “One bite.” “Eat it quickly.” “The green one first, then the red.” Over the course of the evening, these somber advisers guide you through an endless, multi-colored parade of bite-sized morsels that defy the definition of food. Dishes are deconstructed and then reconstructed and then deconstructed again. The act of chewing is largely irrelevant. Around the room, hushed diners nod and scrutinize with a high degree of reverence (a library-like atmosphere that our table promptly polluted).
If you’re a daring eater, it’s damn delicious - and seriously decadent. The menu tends towards the luxuriant (foie gras soup, anyone?) and explosive (shiso candies that burst the moment they hit the tongue). But it’s the presentation that had me rapt: each dish is agonizingly produced (by one of more than 40 cooks in the kitchen) to take full visual advantage of texture, color and composition. It is cooking at its most sculptural. No wonder Adrià was invited to participate in last year’s Documenta (to the dismay of some cranky art types).
Because I’m crazy lucky (and because I have well-connected friends), Adrià gave us a tour of the kitchen and then joined us for some chit-chat when the meal was over. We talked food, wine and art. He told me that art media power couple Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith had just been by, samplin’ the pickins as part of some art round table. And when our discussion drifted to the merits of cacao fruit, Adrià bolted into the kitchen and had the staff produce a dish of cacao fruit ice cream on the spot. (Heavenly.) It was one of the most insane culinary experiences I’ve ever had. I’m still mentally digesting it.
Naturally, I photographed every little thing I ate. And you can find every last shot in this post, along with links to some artsy fartsy comparisons. Bon appetit.
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Special thanks to Howard for inviting me along, and elevating my cholesterol levels. The doctor’s bill is in the mail.
Click on images to supersize. Infinitely more courses after the jump. Continue reading