El Bulli – A Masterpiece Meal

I have always had a little crush on Ferran Adrià.  Well, at least on his food!  Ferran Adrià has been called many things, the “Salvador Dali of Food”, the World’s Best Chef, the World’s Most Creative Chef, a genius and many other monikers.  When I first stumbled upon his cooking, it was because of my interest in “molecular gastronomy”.  Now, Ferran Adrià seems to shudder at this term, so maybe I should say my interest in the combination of food and science.  Somehow, it is more than just that, maybe his cooking defies a title?  When Adrià began to appear on the food scene, everyone began to wonder, where did this guy come from?  Ferran Adrià was born in 1962 in Spain and was schooled in Barcelona.  In 1980 he left school, where he was studying business administration, and became… a dishwasher.  My hero.  I have a theory that all great chefs are born out of serving their time with hands in a sink of dirty dishes.  He was a dishwasher in a French restaurant no less, and this is where he rose in the ranks and learned classic culinary techniques that would eventually evolve into an art form.  He joined the Spanish Navy to serve his compulsory military duty and eventually was running a kitchen during his Navy service.  After leaving the military, Adrià was offered a stage at El Bulli in Roses, Spain.  The chef offered Adrià a spot as a line cook, and within 18 months Adrià was graced with the title of head chef.  El Bulli was a traditional French restaurant and Adrià decided to travel and visit the top chefs in France to observe their techniques.  In the late 1980’s, Ferran Adrià began experimenting with these new techniques and began creating exotic dishes.  The restaurant rose to fame as it gathered a total of 3 Michelin stars and the title of “Best Restaurant in the World” along the way.  El Bulli closes six month each year so Adrià can travel the world for culinary inspiration and performs experiments to perfect his menu in his culinary lab, El Taller, which is located in Barcelona.  Sadly, all beautiful things must come to an end.  Adrià announced plans to close El Bulli on July 31, 2011 and as of now, he plans to turn it into a foundation, a magical place where people come to study food.  I’d love to earn a PhD at this place!  Even though this era is ending, I have no doubt that Adrià will surprise us all with his next chapter. 

                I was lucky enough to dine at El Bulli this August, and it was an amazing experience.  We arrived at the restaurant at 7:30pm, having the first table of the evening.   The ride to the restaurant alone was an experience, gorgeous views of the Catalan coast and the surrounding forested area.  The front gate to El Bulli swings open and you walk down to the restaurant, wandering through the beautiful landscape and walkways.  Upon entering the restaurant, we were escorted directly to the kitchen.  The awe of this sight prevented me from jumping up and down and screaming to convey what I felt inside at finally being at El Bulli, it probably saved my reputation at the restaurant and prevented an escorted and premature exit!  The kitchen stations and layout were explained, we wandered around observing and then we were shuttled to Ferran Adrià himself for an introduction.  He was a humble man, quiet and focused.  As was his entire kitchen and team.  We took photos of the kitchen and Adrià, and a bit dazed, were guided to our table.   It was at this point I cursed myself for not knowing enough Spanish to competently complement the chef in his native language.  I quickly drown that thought out with a glass of Cava from Penedès that was amazing and the perfect palate cleanser.  We sat and enjoyed exquisite table service throughout the meal.  The courses progressed quickly, much faster than I would assume.  The head waiter explained this was by design, each course was but a bite, and meant to be eaten and enjoyed, but there was too much to try, so onto the next!  It was also explained that the table and restaurant grounds were ours for the evening, El Bulli only books one seating per table for the evening, so no one is hurried or delayed.   I was in the master’s house, so I put my trust in his hands for not just the food, but also the wine.  The first dish came out, a “Mojito and Apple Flute” and was set in front of each of us.  If you have any knowledge of Adrià’s food, the description does usually not make you go “ah ha, that’s what it is”, but makes you ponder it even further.  Here is a photo of the dish:

A very light, ethereal “baguette” flute filled with a sweet mint ice, picked up and eaten like a little sandwich.  Very light, very unique and full of flavor.  To go through each dish would take a novel, there were over 40 courses.  As each course was just a small bite, and many were light and dissolved in your mouth, I left full, but not ready to explode if I ate one more After Eight mint.  Here are a few highlights.

This dish arrived at the table and we were told to “crack” the dish open and eat immediately, here is the picture after the cracking open!  After putting a piece in my mouth, I discovered it was frozen, and creamy, and melting away to nothing, and…Gorgonzola?  Yes.  Unexpected but wonderful!

 

This dish was one of my favorites, on the left hazelnut “caviar” beads in caviar cream and on the right, caviar on a bed of hazelnut cream.  A define yin-yang of sweet and salty that was perfect.

 

This, like so many of Ferran Adrià’s dishes, is hard to put into words, but I really loved the artistic presentation.  The dish is called “abalone with Iberian ham fat”.  I just called it delicious. Any dish with pork usually gets the thumbs up from me.

These photos would not be complete without an arrangement of dessert box photos.  The dessert “box” arrived and was opened and the table, then just left for us to devour.  There were so many choices, and this was such a once in a lifetime experience, I wanted to try it all.  Unfortunately, sanity and my full stomach overrode my desire to dive head first into the box! Then I found out this was just the start of the dessert courses.  I managed to try all the dessert courses, but I longed to take all the leftovers in the dessert box home so I could share with friends.  GOOD friends. 

How to sum up my El Bulli experience in just a couple words?  Culinary nirvana.  If you want to see more pictures of El Bulli, and have your own nirvana moment, check out the Dish Bliss photo site: http://dishbliss.shutterfly.com

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