el Bulli: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened!

Last night foodies everywhere lit a candle. Or tried to get a reservation at mini bar. Or ordered some sodium alginate to make cantaloupe ‘caviar’ . Or maybe just curled up with a bottle of rosé and wept silent tears as they re-read the fourth volume of Modernist Cuisine.

Last night was the last dining room seating at el Bulli. Ever.

The web is abuzz with hundreds of stories about el Bulli and Ferran Adrià. Most follow one of two scripts: A) Continuing the tsunami of praise and detailing how many degrees of separation the author is from a personal relationship with the chef or an actual meal at the restaurant. B) Scoffing at the tsunami of praise and taunting all the people who did cry last night because now they cannot even entertain a fantasy of eating there.

In regards to approach A): I try not to offer opinions on experiences I have not had so I cannot pile on. I do know someone who knows someone who knows Ferran Adrià. But I have not eaten at el Bulli and I don’t think I know anyone who has.

In regards to approach B): I take no delight in kitchen witchcraft for its own sake. And I am a late adopting foodie so I was never going to eat at el Bulli.

However, I don’t mind the recent trend of chef celebritification. And everything I have read about Ferran Adrià makes him seem like a decent person who cares about his staff, is blessed with a geologic vein of creative genius, has viciously meticulous pride of work and a deep passion for his medium. Seems like one could not ask for more from art than it be honestly and thoughtfully wrought. And here Adrià one-ups that expectation because his art is edible.

I think closing el Bulli may in fact be another beautiful gesture by Adrià. He did not close out of vanity or too much fame or to preserve the stratospheric reputation of the restaurant. He closed because the quality ingredients, dedicated, competent staff, menu development, and technology required to create those 50 courses (so that’s one seating per night?) of wonder and perfection are expensive! And no matter how amazing, flavor-concentrated, unique or surprising those meals were. It’s still just food and people will only pay so much for it. This is the constant tension of the restaurant industry.

The question that gets repeated over and over again is, “What’s next for food?” Sort of a ‘Where goes Ferran, so go all true food aspirants’ mentality. If I were Ferran, I  would really hate to have that kind of pressure on me for act two. And if I were David Chang or Wylie Dufresne or José Andrés I might be a tiny bit miffed.

Regrettably, I think what’s next for food is scarcity. And innovation will have to shape eating and cuisine in a drastically different manner. But unwavering passion and hard work will make the difference even then.

The closing of el Bulli seems to me no more and no less than reality. Which makes Ferran Adrià a real man who did inspiring things. And I can think of little that is more hopeful than the ordinary imagining and creating the extraordinary. As long as there are real men (and women) who care to be inspired by something as simple and necessary as our daily bread, we will eat with wonder again.

Congratulations to Ferran and his staff for so many great years!

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