A fond farewell to the home of foam

Legendary restaurant elBulli closes to make way for culinary research center

On Saturday, a restaurant that is the stuff of legend served its last meal. The three-decade-old elBulli, headed by gastronomy guru Ferran Adrià, will be reborn in October as a culinary-research center, although it will not open its doors until 2014.

The last supper at elBulli consisted of 50 dishes for 50 diners, mostly family and friends. There was also a tribute to Adrià, a review of past glories and an atmosphere reminiscent of a Champions League final.

A total of 21 other high-profile chefs were present, from René Redzepi, whose Noma restaurant in Copenhagen is rated number one in the world, to Andoni Luis Aduriz, owner of Mugaritz and the US-based Spanish chef José Andrés, owner of the Jaleo chain.

What they all had in common, besides being at the top of their game, is that they were all part of the elBulli team at one point or another in their lives.

They all trekked to Cala Montjoi, in the town of Roses (Girona), to help out with the meal and pay a joint tribute to Ferran Adrià, their mentor, their source of inspiration and the man who opened up their minds to the new paths that lay ahead. He offered and encouraged freedom, rebellion, risk-taking, faith and enough generosity to share the knowledge. And of course work ? lots of work.

In between the smell of the lobsters in boiling water, the hare ninyoyakis, the tacos from Oaxaca, the shrimp brains, the Havanas ready for the smoke foam, the caviar marrow and the pine nut shabu-shabu, there was time to think back on what many here defined as the spirit of elBulli.

Adrià oversaw the final choreography just as though it were a soccer training session conducted by his friend Pep Guardiola. Between 10am and 2pm, he took questions from hundreds of foreign journalists; after that, he got to work preparing dinner and the follow-up party, which ended with a swim in the cove, a flying cake and a fireworks display. And while the diners were eating their meals, Adrià made them all write down a wish for the new foundation.

Although few dared to define it, the spirit of elBulli might have something to do with the elimination of many conventions that constricted the world of gastronomy before Adrià arrived.

"[Nouvelle cuisine] was revolutionary, but it was a French national invention," said Adrià. "We wanted to open up avant-garde cuisine to a global dimension. These days, any self-respecting country has its own good chef."

The spirit of elBulli has a lot to do with eating with your hands, taking off the tablecloths, misleading the diners and playing with their senses. It has to do with bringing together local produce and faraway flavors. The spirit of elBulli, said Joan Roca, owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Catalonia, "tries to combine non-conformism, creativity and commitment."