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El Bulli: The Word's Best Restaurant / Cuisine

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      Since the audacious ‘S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ award began back in 2002, only three restaurants have seriously wrestled for the top spot: Pierre Gargnaire – Paris, The Fat Duck – London and El Bulli, Ferran Adriа’s gastronomic temple just north of Barcelona. El Bulli was crowned the best restaurant in the world for the third consecutive year.

   In the early ’90s, Ferran Adriа mounted a full-scale attack on conventional definition of food from El Bulli, his restaurant-cum-laboratory in Catalonia, Spain. He won. Every time you get a $25 serving of foie gras foam or a dish of Parmigiano-Reggiano ice cream, or watch a procession of aspiring Top Chefs whose greatest ambition is to extrude noodles from asparagus and gelatinize shrimp (instead of, say, roast a chicken), you have Adriа to thank.

      Whatever silliness he may have wrought, in the master’s hands the relentless reinvention not only makes sense, it makes diners question why they’d grown so tolerant of ordinary food in the first place. “People say they see life in a different way after they eat here,” Adriа says.

      While El Bulli can seat only 8,000 diners from the 500,000 requests for a table it receives each year, the rest of us can buy one of Adriа’s cookbooks, with easy-to-make recipes for, say, gazpacho popsicles. “In cooking, there are moments of creativity and moments of joy, moments to feel love and moments that make you wish for a long life,” he says. It’s a beautiful thought, and one that feels even more accessible to the rest of us since he came around.

     Each April heralds the reopening of the restaurant and with it the unveiling of a whole new realm of culinary creations, the ideas for which are forged during the six months the restaurant is closed.

      El Bulli has built its reputation on its astonishing inventions, on pioneering techniques that yield results on the table that surprise, provoke, engage your sense of humour and taste divine. It’s a cuisine that differs from others, according to Adriа, in that “it demands psychological reflection”. In other words, you don’t come to El Bulli for a feed, you come for an experience.

      But the pressure to continue to amaze and surprise people year after year must be immense. The restaurant starts each season with last year’s collection of dishes and they introduce new ideas over a period of time. But already three new concoctions have been added to the menu: a tomato cookie, a tangerine flower ‘pat’ with pumpkin oil, and an almond jelly accompanied by a cocktail made from juice of freshly-pressed almonds.

      Adriа stresses the need to be different from last year. “We won’t repeat the recent techniques that have become famous,’ he says. “So for example, there will be no more spherification.”

      If that sounds a little drastic, turning your back on some of your greatest hits, remember that in the course of the year, Adriа and his team create around 140 new recipes using 70 or 80 new techniques – so there’s plenty of new material to draw upon.

      With an approach to food as avant-garde as Adriа’s, it’s understandable that so much that is written about El Bulli centres on the kitchen. But food, as in any other restaurant, is just one part of equation. The contribution that the team makes to the success of El Bulli is immense. You simply won’t find better service than this anywhere in the world. The staff are top-notch, professional, knowledgeable, charming and, in an environment in which you’re being presented with food the likes of which you’ll never seen before, they put you instantly at ease.

      And then there’s location. A small bay on the Costa Brava, with wooden hills all around. Scenery that thrills the senses almost as much as the food does.

      With such ingredients, it’s small wonder that El Bulli remains the number one restaurant in the world! The question is: can anyone topple it?

 Bite-sized quotes

 • “We never have business meals at El Bulli. If it’s about business, you’re probably not paying much attention to the food.”

• “Everybody who comes [into our kitchen] always asks how, but nobody asks why.”

• “To be anarchic, you have to be organized.”

 Adriа’s flavors

      Adriа is best known for his invention of “culinary foam” – natural flavors mixed with a gelling agent and produced from a whipped-cream canister with the help of nitrous oxide – and hot jellies. Dishes are served in egg-cups, spoons, sherry glasses, flutes, tubes. Among them are:

• A “21-century Spanish omelette” composed of caramelized onions, sabayon and potato foam.

• Pastaless ravioli made from cuttlefish, gel of coconut, ginger and mint.

• Almond ice-cream on a swirl of garlic oil and balsamic vinegar.

• Spherical yogurt knots with ice-plant capers and black butter.

• Daiquiri with almond milk and hot spume of truffles.

• Paella of Rice Krispies, shrimp heads and vanilla-flavored mashed potatos.

• White garlic and almond sorbet.

• Tobacco-flavored blackberry crushed ice.

• Frozen, puréed liver, ejected by Pacojet in tiny pieces, with a shot of concentrated bouillon.

• Adriа’s “guilty pleasure?” A Spanish kids’ favorite – sweet bread filled with chocolate, known as “Bollycao”.

05 сентября 2010


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