After two decades at the helm of what became known as the most innovative and exclusive restaurant in the world, Ferran Adrià has decided to take a sabbatical. In 2012, he'll close El Bulli, his culinary laboratory on Spain's northeastern coast, and rethink what it means to be a chef.
"We are exploring the boundaries," Adrià told Wine Spectator. "After this sabbatical, El Bulli will continue to prepare food and feed people. What will they eat? How many will we feed, and when? We don't know yet. But it's clear that in the future, El Bulli will not be a restaurant the way we understand it today."
In fact, El Bulli has not been a conventional restaurant for many years, thanks to Adrià, who joined the restaurant in 1983, and his team of culinary pioneers. They relentlessly pushed the boundaries of flavor, texture and presentation in their dishes, challenging preconceptions and provoking extreme reactions, both positive and negative. In the process, El Bulli earned three stars from Michelin and was overwhelmed with demand, receiving more than 1 million reservation requests while serving only about 7,000 people per year. (For more on Adrià, see "Ferran Adrià and the Cuisine of Tomorrow," published in Wine Spectator's Dec. 15, 2004, issue.)
El Bulli's cuisine was not an easy partner for wine. Nevertheless, Adrià's partner, Juli Soler, has built an impressive list featuring more than 1,400 selections.
The Spanish wines (less than half the total) range from classics to the new-wave vinos de alta expression, including all the emerging regions and best new bodegas. The international selection is strongest in France. There are more than 100 white Burgundies. Bordeaux is also deep.What will happen to the cellar? "As this decision has been discussed for three years, Juli and our sommeliers have been managing the cellar with a view toward the calendar," said Adrià. "But at the end of the 2011 season, we'll see where we are."
The 47-year-old chef seems relieved and energized by the decision. Recently married to his longtime companion, Isabel Perez, he is looking forward to new ventures, including a project to teach at Harvard University. "All the options are open," Adrià said. "Our idea is to do things that we couldn't [because of El Bulli]. For example, we'd love to spend three months in China studying its cuisine."
But that freedom still lies in the future. "Right now, the important thing is 2010," he insisted. "Before the pause in 2012 remain two years. In a restaurant, that's a lot of time."