It has been 10 years since the triple Michelin-starred elBulli restaurant closed on July 30, 2011, but it feels as though it remains open due to a legacy that has extended its fame and footprint far beyond its original location in the coastal town of Roses, in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region.
Its principal chef, the world renowned Ferran Adrià, says he still does not fully understand what happened there. This past decade has been dedicated to trying to decipher the magic through a number of innovative projects, such as his more than 20 encyclopedias. Meanwhile, he continues mentally and actively linked to the restaurant through the creativity center set up by the elBulli Foundation, displaying the same groundbreaking spirit that once revolutionized world cuisine.
“Nostalgia? None,” he says. Asked what he would do if he were to reopen, he replies, “I would do the same thing, although I still don’t really know what that entailed.” A kid from L’Hospitalet de Llobregat in Catalonia who started out as a dishwasher in a hotel in Castelldefels, Adrià managed to topple France as the universal gastronomic reference. He made a name for himself making paellas, then dismantled the world food hierarchy with a campsite restaurant in Cala Montjoi in Girona, reached via a pot-holed road where people would be encouraged to eat with their fingers.
Ten years ago, he prepared his last dinner with his mentor and renowned Basque chef Juanmari Arzak, his brother Albert and with a number of the many chefs who had worked with him in his kitchen and now had Michelin stars by the fistful, such as Massimo Bottura, René Redzepi, the Roca family and Andoni Luis Aduriz. The 50 guests started out with an aperitif – a version of Adrià’s dry Martini, consisting of a reconstituted olive bubble to be placed on the tongue, allowing the gin and vermouth to evaporate. This was followed by around 50 dishes such as pistachio ravioli, liquid chicken croquettes and rose petals with ham marinated in melon juice.
After the cooking was done, the legendary chef who had been voted the best in the world 10 seasons running hung up his chef’s coat, but kept his drive and imagination alive. “Now I have another role,” he says. “Instead of creating dishes, I help to create creators.” He closed elBulli because he became convinced that he had gone as far as he could go as a chef. “We couldn’t go any further,” he says. But the creations he came up with from the time he was hired by Juli Soler in 1984, together with those of the 2,500 chefs he mentored, are still a source of wonder. Among other techniques, he pioneered the use of foam and liquid nitrogen and introduced extended menus and eating without cutlery, all of which had been unthinkable in the world of haute cuisine. “Well, I’m proud of all those things,” says Adrià. “They are techniques recognized in a number of restaurants and on the TV show Master Chef and they emerged from our experiments in elBulli.” But he considers other aspects of the experience more important. “To start with, freedom as an unbreakable rule, as an ideology, as well as challenging kids from different backgrounds to explore their own boundaries and turn what they knew upside down,” he says. “Also, the building of new bridges and new dialogues between gastronomy and other disciplines.”
Now I have another role. Instead of creating dishes, I help to create creators
Adrià lists the links that were forged then and those he believes need forging going forward. “We were pioneers in a West-East dialogue; with Japan, with science, design and art,” he says. Of the latter, he highlights his participation in the Documenta contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany; it was the first time a chef was invited to share space in such an event. “I drew an important conclusion from that experience,” he says. “It is clear to me that we chefs are creatives and not artists. But that doesn’t mean that as a creative type I can’t establish an exciting exchange with an artist and see where we can go together.”
One destination for Adrià has been Harvard University with a course he has been teaching since 2010. He has also been the recipient of four honorary degrees awarded by universities in Aberdeen, Barcelona, Valencia and Montreal.
Another achievement has been the creation of dozens of bullipedias filled with a cocktail of knowledge that combines gastronomy with other disciplines. And now with the coronavirus pandemic, Adrià is once again taking a fresh look at the culinary landscape. “It is not normal that 50% of restaurants close after five years,” he says. “Along with creativity, product and technique, it needs to be stressed that we must also learn about numbers, because this is a business.”
Having said that, he is pleased with his own trajectory. “I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned over the years for anything,” he says. “When we closed, my colleagues, partners and I believed that in two years we would understand what we had done at elBulli. We’ve been at it for 10 years and we’re still figuring it out; from why a small company became a reference at business schools to how Juli Soler changed the role of head waiter forever.”
Attempts to address these questions have been made in various exhibitions that have dealt with the elBulli experience and also in a documentary that Movistar+ will release in September, called Las huellas de elBulli (or The footprint of elBulli). In 2023, the original premises in Cala Montjoi will reopen and showcase everything regarding the exploration and evolution of what Adrià discovered in the kitchen; knowledge that has elevated this dishwasher to iconic status in the world of culinary science and creation.
The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.
The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.
The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.
The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.
“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.
The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.
The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.
“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.
The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.
Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.
“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.
“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”
The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.
Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.
A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.
Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.
“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.
Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.
He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.
Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)
“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.
He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.
Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)
Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.
He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.
He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.