I have never eaten at El Bulli, and now I never will. I’m okay with that. I’m not one whose life is made complete by eating at any one particular restaurant.
It appears as if I am in the minority in this perspective, at least amongst those of us who write about food. For many, a visit to El Bulli was seen as a punch card into sophistication, a place where one could go in order to establish their restaurant credibility. From my seat, all a trip to El Bulli indicates is that one has the bank account thick enough to afford a round trip flight to Spain, and the ability to drop another $500 per person, after drinks and taxes, on the meal itself.
This is not to take away from the talent that is chef Ferran Adrià, who, by all accounts, devises amazing meals that are more about the experience of eating than about its purpose. Make no doubt, had I the means or opportunity to visit his establishment, I would not have turned it down.
As the lauding and applause come in, lamenting the loss of this establishment, words are being tossed around in describing this restaurant and its chef, without a full understanding of its context. “Revolutionary”, or some other synonym is the one most often thrown about. “He (Ferran Adrià) changed the way we eat” is another phrase that is often spoken. The question I must ask then is this: Who is this “we” that has changed their way of eating? And what did chef Adrià actually revolutionize?
The answer is simple – Ferran Adrià revolutionized the idea of what haute cuisine could be, by bringing science into the kitchen and deconstructing traditional dishes and preparing and presenting them in new and unique ways.
Who is the “we” in the phrase “He changed the way we eat?” The answer is simple – those who visit high end dining establishments on a regular basis. For the most part, El Bulli and Ferran Adrià had very little impact on how the majority of people eat. Oh, you may now see a foam here and there, or even savory cotton candy used as a garnish on your soup or plate. But for the most part, the tricks and techniques that chef Adrià uses are simply not practical, let alone cost effective, in the restaurants where the majority of us go out to eat.
And his affect upon our home kitchen? Oh, please. Collectively, we barely understand the idea of how to care for our knives, let alone how to maintain and operate a centrifuge.
By all means, lament the loss of El Bulli, and celebrate the talent that is chef Adrià. But know exactly what has been lost, and know what the chef has actually done.