World's Best Restaurant elBulli closes

Gourmands, foodies, critics, high-minded tourists and lovers of the avant garde have hung their hats on a visit to Ferran Adria's legendary elBulli restaurant in Spain for a number of years. Now, the three-Michelin starred restaurant that could be called an institution among its followers but that more accurately represents genuine pioneering at the cutting edge of the very concept of 'food,' is closed as of 30th July. Some lament its passing as if avant garde cuisine's hallowed ground were now lost, while others are decidedly pleased the amusing, if not tiresome, elitism that surrounds elBulli might dissolve with its closure - however unlikely!

A recent article in The Guardian used skepticism about the merits of molecular gastronomy - a term chef Ferran Adria reputedly rejects - to communicate some pleasure at its closure. Its highly coveted dining room received around 2 million requests annually that were rewarded with only 8000 places for diners annually during a notoriously short season. But criticism aside, the enthusiasm of Adria's followers is in some cases heart warming, producing, on the lighter side, dedications such as this cute multimedia comic-strip dedication and, at the high cultural end, an entire musical composition in Adria's honour. The alchemist's postmodern cuisine, which typically involves indulging in dozens of tiny dishes that take gourmet size to new definitions of small, bends the ordinary relationship between palate and perception.

Located in Spain's Catalonia overlooking the bay at Cala Montjoi, elBulli was the location of the consistently voted world's best haute cuisine. It charged approximately 250 Euro for a meal, or, in elBulli's case, surreal dining experience. Yet Adria is keen to avoid associations with the legacy of Salvador Dali and the surrealist movement, which arguably comprises the other reason for an aesthete's tour of Spain. Perhaps, whereas Daliesque surrealism is decidedly conservative in terms of its association of dream states with taboo desires, Adria's approach is more irreverent and perhaps, postmodern.

Postmodern food? Theorist of postmodernity Jean Baudrillard, whose ideas are borrowed in the film series The Matrix, is famous for his use of the concept of the hyperreal. Love of the 'more than' real, for Baudrillard, happens in a media-driven culture in which the simulation is seemingly more real than the original. In fact, the pleasure is in the abundance of copies and look-alikes. Sound academic? Consider this: Adria's 'mimetic peanuts' are simulations of the familiar tree-nut in shape, size, colour and even taste. But they are in fact reconstructions consumed whole to crack in the mouth and reveal a decadent oil centre. The casing we would normally discard, in Adria's hands, represents and forms the taste experience we covet. Even better, eating 'The Soup' (pictured above) is tantamount to eating one's words with a clever, punning potential that leaves alphabet soup for dead.

This approach of imitation and simulation pioneered by Adria raises questions of ethical and sensual importance: how do our expectations of food shape our understandings of what counts as food? Whilst elBulli's produce is unique, its artistry urges consideration of what constitutes food in a postmodern culture: what has happened to the natural in a culture of synthetic foods, flavouring agents and mass production? While these may not be Adria's intentions, the mark of excellence at the cutting edge is in the ability to raise new questions about cuisine. His ingenious, alchemical approach shows how the copy can supersede the original, and that we harbour the desire not only to taste but to be confounded by innovative, concept-driven food.

Followers of Adria need not fret too long about the closure of elBulli. After a couple of years taken for relaxation, and for the kind of perspective shift that precedes renewed creativity and innovation, Adria will reopen elBulli as a culinary innovation institute in 2014.

Image above sourced from: Times Online

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elBulli Closes (253.33kb)