In the Kitchen at El Bulli

A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at the Michelin-Starred Mecca In Its Final Hours

As the most feted restaurant on the planet prepares to close its reservation book this month, photographer and filmmaker Marcus Gaab gained exclusive access to the kitchen, documenting the magic that goes into a typical 47-course meal. Gaab trailed head chef Ferran Adrià and his 70-strong staff as they meticulously constructed everything from gorgonzola balls (a frozen sphere of the cheese with a soft center) to chocolate coral (strawberry-powder-dusted warm chocolate molded in the shape of sea coral). “They divide ingredients into their most basic elements, then reassemble: it’s a mix of kitchen and laboratory,” says Gaab. Adrià has led Spain's El Bulli to the top of San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list a record five times, and since taking the helm in the 1980s, has helped to launch such celebrated chefs as Grant Achatz and the current world’s best, René Redzepi. The likes of Penelope Cruz and Marc Newson have dropped by to indulge at El Bulli during the final countdown, as has Phil Oh, who shares food snaps on his style blog Street Peeper. Below, Oh offers an aesthete's review of the molecular gastronomy pioneer, which will be reborn as a culinary academy in 2014.

Only 8000 guests were confirmed out of two million requests this year. So how did you get the golden El Bulli ticket?
I’ve applied every year for some time now, and never expected to win a reservation, especially with it being the final year. In the end it was through my friend Kathy Wilson—I was invited along by chance at the last minute after one of the expected guests had her passport stolen and could not make it. I was like, “Oh, that sucks…of course I’ll come!”

What were your first impressions of El Bulli?
You arrive when they tell you to arrive; in our case at 6pm. It was an interesting mix of ages and nationalities. It wasn’t a fashion show, but it was a beautifully dressed cosmopolitan crowd there for a once in a lifetime evening. I wore a Jil Sander orange nylon suit. I’m sure others thought I looked ridiculous but I liked it.

Were there a lot of cameras around, ready to snap each dish as it came out?
Almost every table—even the middle-aged Italians—were taking pictures with their mobile phones. Some of the dishes were just so beautiful that you couldn’t help it. But with the first few courses that were frozen, or more fragile, the staff were like: “No pictures, it will melt if you don’t eat it right now!”

Were you given detailed explanations of each dish that was served?
We had to be told if something was inedible. Like, “Don’t eat that, it’s a stick!” You had to pay attention and that got harder as the wine flowed over the four hours of the meal.

Would you describe the experience as challenging?
It’s about experiencing a new way to look at food. You don’t go there for sustenance. Part of the appeal is its inaccessibility—that it’s two hours outside Barcelona, up a mountainside. It’s a castle in the sky.

If you aren’t taking a helicopter direct to El Bulli, what is the accommodation like in nearby Roses?
It’s like one of those beach holidays on the Costa Brava. The lunch I had before El Bulli, at a little seaside restaurant called Rafa’s, was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in my life. It was the complete opposite of El Bulli: the freshest, simplest seafood you can possibly imagine, seasoned with olive oil and salt and done under the grill. I read somewhere that a lot of the chefs from El Bulli [including Adrià] go there on their day off.

To view photo's from Phil Oh's visit to El Bulli visit our Facebook page here

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Conversations (1)

  • briangrech
    Is the video working? Tried seeing it on multiple browsers but no luck!

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