El Bulli: 10?

The news, which emerged last year, is that Ferran Adrià is no longer provocative; in fact, he has definitively abandoned provocation. When we asked him why, he had a most enlightening response. With a certain amount of sarcasm he answered: “Does it not seem provocative to have eliminated bread at El Bulli?”. “The truth is that it wasn’t missed”, we replied. “You mean, completely? Have you totally eradicated it?”. “Almost. We no longer include it, but if someone requests it, we will not deny it, obviously ; we serve it, but only if they ask for it expressly”. Afterwards, the genius of Roses (Girona), justified his daring remarks: “It was necessary; we had to draw the attention to, to inspire reflection upon…” Most likely today no one questions Ferran nor needs to contest his work. With complete security, the years have a way of tempering the fierce at heart. In much the same way, the reality is that the diner does not feel challenged.

Of course a peppery lecture could give way to malevolent thoughts. Now that gelatins propitiously abound as sauces in all the restaurants of haute cuisine, why has El Bulli fundamentally abandoned them in 2005?

What happened so that a Japanese passion could be converted into an anecdote that has been reduced to little more than a recipe of different classes of seaweed prepared in various ways, accompanied by some wild mussels and their delectable juice? This, as well as the addition of a touch of wasabi, represents a substantial turn in respect to this protagonist’s style which was such a source of inspiration in the past.

Another change in respect to periods gone by is that before, every season was strongly embedded in a technique which was the foundation for all the rest of the years’ recipes: surf and turf, foams, hot gelatins, etc. Last year, in spite of two main emphasized tendencies, the work was not signed with the period… They represent conceptual innovations and relevant techniques, but within the confines of an exuberant richness, in a specific investigation line. What prevails is plurality, to such an extent that the diner can no longer foresee what type of dish is coming next, and remains completely overwhelmed by the magnificence, by the vast quantity of fundamentals through which the art is expressed.

Within that magnitude, there are two historic contributions. The first is an evolution from last year: air. The already famous carrot shake blended until it seems like air has given way to a thousand airs that are employed as seasoning. It has evolved from a brillant idea that was in itself banal, to a beautiful utilization, subtle and richening, with a very simple preparation. The other technique that marks 2005 is lyophilization. Through this system, the water is extracted from the product or preparation, accomplishing two objectives: concentrate the taste of the ingredients, and give different dry textures to the savory dishes, which up until now was limited to sweet dishes. From the dozen brilliant examples, we permit ourselves the indulgence to insist on the thaw – four textures of green pine cones with coffee, licorice, sprouts, shoots and flowers – and the truffle soup with pistachio-lyo and tangerine air.

The cuisine of Adrià has completely abandoned eccentricity, exoticism… in other words, its radical nature, in order to excel in creativity and perfection. Surely not but 1% of the visitors of El Bulli – or not even 1/1000 – can understand the magnitude of the thirty dishes that are offered. What has changed is that everyone feels the man they have in front of them is greatest chef of all time.