A Tribute to elBulli, dish by dish and…an analysis

“If Ferran Adrià had not existed, what would we have become?”. As in response, a historical dinner on behalf of 10 chefs bent on being accountable to the history of gastronomy and elBulli’s key role in their careers, serves as an example. It was three weeks ago at the Hotel Puente Romano in Marbella, in a unique and historical convocation led by Dani García. The meeting has served, additionally, to conceptualize (says Adrià) a new way of creating an event: a cocktail set with imperatives like ‘eat with the hands’, the pace of the service and, why not, the (necessary) ‘casualization of haute cuisine (new ‘haute informality’?). Aquí puedes leer la versión en español de este reportaje / Here you can read the Spanish version of this article.


Are there awards that, for obvious reasons, are excessive? Or could be excessive? Never. And less still, if the honored celebrity and the recognized philosophy have marked internationally the contemporary age of a sector. This means Ferran Adrià and elBulli, that represent something more: any Spanish cook today that shines by its own style, with or without distinction, would have had a different career if the incubator of Cala Montjoi had not changed the conceptual course of the gastronomy in the whole planet. Sure, many or some would have signed large gastronomic proposals but none would have been the same. Who denies this, does not understand anything that has happened in the gastrosector in recent years, nor of what is happening now.

To make official this recognition, ten chefs met on 7th March in Marbella, convened by Dani García, the chef who runs a dual-format in Puente Romano Hotel & Resort: a space of haute cuisine that bears his name and wears a double Michelin star and the informal concept BiBo. Objective? A ‘Tribute to elBulli’ dinner to honor this space and its architect, Ferran Adrià, who sat as a diner at one of the tables of Dani García Restaurante, to test a menu composed of a score of El Bulli-inspired dishes. «Ferran Adrià has invented things for the whole world. That will remain so within two hundred years», he said.


A historical event, unique, more than special, amazing… for a privileged few diners (less than a hundred). Yes, all that is so. Obvious. But there are more thoughts. One is that it is necessary to recognize the path opened by someone such as Ferran Adria, who, at the end of the dinner, experienced the last chapter of an exciting date: a video in which «a friend of Dani» ‘played’ a song (like Frank Sinatra, «I’ve got you under my skin»), combined with successive messages recorded one by one by the chefs who cooked three weeks and some other, like Pedro Subijana, with three stars in Akelarre (San Sebastian): «I would have loved to be younger to have been a part of your team,» says the basque on a video. Joan Roca: «We cannot forget all he has done for cooking; his generosity». Nandu Jubany: «We must thank Ferran for everything he has done for us». Ricard Camarena: «Ferran has shown us that we set the limits». Andoni Luis Aduriz: «We would not be doing all that we do if it were not for you». Grant Achatz: «You taught us to express ourselves as cooks». Ángel León: «Being here is truly madness. Thank you for giving us so much». Quique Dacosta: «Such is the importance and the influence that Ferran has had, that he has changed cooking around the world». Juan Mari Arzak: «Dear brother, I cannot live without you. The truth is that you’re a great guy, the most imaginative guy in the history of gastronomy and a great friend. You deserve this(the tribute)». «Ferran, surely you don’t remember that on March 23, I make 30 years as a chef,» says Albert Adrià, which leads to successive rounds of «thank you» proclaimed by the teams of all the restaurants of the Group BCN 5.0 (Tickets, Bodega 1900, Pakta, Hoja Santa y Niño Viejo).

It was the end of a 20-course dinner created by 10 chefs, which recreated the spirit of elBulli and in which everyone cooked for everyone. «There are people who think I’m retired; some do not know what I do. In the past year, I have worked 330 days, 15 hours a day. No, I’m not retired, maybe I am retired of the kitchen, and that is also not definitive,» emphatically warns Ferran Adrià. «Actions like today’s tribute give meaning to elBullifoundation, whose idea is to help this movement that took place in Spain in the mid-1990s continue. At elBullilab, we’re 50 people working with the sole mission of helping and sharing. The most difficult is to stay up there. All the guys who are now here in the kitchen and in the dining room and that have helped you are much better than us. It is a much better prepared generation in languages and training,»he recalls. «We all have the obligation to help, it is everyone’s responsibility, ours and yours as diners,» he added.


Top selection

Another reflection: Dani García has had the vision to take the initiative to organize a tribute to elBulli, with the visibility that an event of this importance attributes not only to his role as a chef, but also, to his gastronomic offer at Puente Romano and the hotel in general, projects in which he has as partners, the owners of Tavern Volapié (Angel and Javier Gutierrez).

The criterion to choose the chefs? “They are friends; the people with whom this sprung forth”, says Dani García. “Dani was calling a few friends. Everything arose from a much more natural form and almost ‘freakie’ than it actually appears”, mentions Ricard Camarena, who warns of the “logistic deployment that has resulted from mounting such a complex dinner in which ten cooks, assisted by Dani’s team and ours, have participated” With his ‘neighbor’ Quique Dacosta, they comment on the luck of “two Valencians can be present at a historical event like this one”, insists Quique Dacosta, who, recently arrived from cooking in Brazil, recognizes “the privilege of being today here”.

“Incredible“, adds Ángel León, who (awaiting ‘Neptuno‘) admits that “Ferran has left his mark on us all”. The Andalusian chef, the last to receive two stars from Michelin, prepares the opening in ten days for the 2015 period, “with a menu one hundred percent new, very different from the style of Aponiente’s previous years, with a lot of play with the diner and with fish that are eaten and seen in their entirety”, he advances.


Juan Mari Arzak enters and leaves the kitchen. He dines seated to the right of Ferran Adrià, but incessantly visits the kitchen, where one of his right hands, Igor Zalacaín, is in charge of reinterpreting some «kokotxas» in terms of the lush cuisine interpreted from Arzak, positioned as the eighth best restaurant in the world. Around the room, the hyperactive Nandu Jubany is applauded by a table of gastronomes ‘Red jackets’, that add a note of color (in all the senses) to the party. And two greats observed, worked, led and managed. «We have never reunited in an event like this. It marks something historical, certainly», synthesizes Joan Roca. «It’s a special night, which has required complex organization and that has forced us to ask a lot of questions,» says Andoni Luis Aduriz.


There is another great, the only foreigner: Grant Achatz, one of those super chefs (Alinea, the ninth best restaurant in the world) who openly acknowledges that passing through El Bulli changed his existence as a cook. «It forced me to have a new way of conceiving the kitchen,» he says. «Grant showed us his dishes in Dani’s kitchen. We all listened to him in silence. We admire him. And he says that he admires us, the Spaniards,» says one of the chefs involved in the team. It is Achatz who, in person, delivered to one of his spiritual ‘fathers’ a dish as ethereal as its appearance: An Apple balloon inflated with helium (which, yes, changes the diner’s voice after inhaling its interior). «Grant Achatz is one of the most ingenious cooks that exists today. He is an incredible person. And I say this when, I usually try not to go out on a limb», says Ferran Adrià. Meanwhile, Aduriz arrives and delivers it to his right hand (rather, right hand of Spanish gastronomy), Susana Nieto.

Earlier, a small ‘Bulldog’, i.e. a ‘bulli’, poses with Ferran Adrià and all the cooks in a photocall, which lists all the sponsors of the program ‘A Cuatro Manos’ (whose first event was that night and is a sum of three dinners (from 7th to 10th of March) additionally with the French Pascal Barbot (de L’Astrance in Paris), Grant Achatz and German Thomas Bühner (La Vie, in Osnabrück): Santander, Affligem, Iberia, Blancpain, Makro, Silestone, Tourbillon, BMW, La Zagaleta and Crop. «El Bulli is this ‘bulldog’, but, since he does not speak, ‘the’ Ferran Adrià’ has to speak», he says. But the chef has started every speech of the night with his particular tribute to his ‘alter ego’ in the room: Juli Soler, retired from the elBullifoundation project, due to an illness. «Juli should be here today, but cannot. He is ‘a little sick’. He was the wildest of us all. All these actions have to be for him.»



In any sector of activity, the competitors ‘hate each other’ or, to be less radical, look at each other with mistrust and, provided they can, avoid each other. As a union bond, they gather at associations or corporations, requiring them to forge a common front (for example, to gain strength against sectoral regulatory changes). But the ‘enemy’ is the ‘enemy’. Until not long ago, and with the peculiarities of the profession, something like that (perhaps, not so extreme) occurred in the kitchen. «If the most influential chefs of the world can meet to work together, it is because they have followed the philosophy of elBulli to collaborate and share; there isn’t competition between them. They learned from our passion. This is the most difficult thing there is in a business, to get an employee to have passion», recalled Ferran Adrià. «The best tribute to elBulli is to see all these chefs working, their effort, their way of understanding life. I believe that elBulli changed many things in life, beyond the cooking. We defended the idea of sharing and collaborating”.

This dinner portrayed that philosophy, that desire to share and collaborate. Great chefs, some ranked among the best in the world, converted into wait staff, kitchen assistants, apprentices, ‘stagiers’…And, above all, in assistants to their colleagues, so much as in the kitchen, as in the dining room: Aduriz presenting the surprise box sent by Albert Adrià from Pakta and the only existing object on the table when the diners arrived. Quique Dacosta converted into Grant Achatz’s assistant, who prepared part of a dish in the dining room and completed it over hot coals, previously ignited by Dani García, while Ricard Camarena o Angel Leon were in charge of doing the same for other tables. And so on.


Case of ‘gastromanagement’

Against this background, the tribute to elBulli materializes a case study from the point of view of gastronomic ‘management’, with obvious ingredients in terms of logistics, organization, teamwork, and why not, leadership. The chefs previously communicated the ingredients and support necessary to create their respective dishes, which either constituted an interpretation of elBulli cuisine, or were inspired by creations or the philosophy of the Cala Montjoi space.

The most complex case was that of Grant Achatz: for the elaboration of his dish ‘Pork, octopus and eggplant in the style of the South’, the owner of Alinea (in Chicago) – that tomorrow will sign a ‘Cuatro Manos’ with Dani García, face to face – brought from Chicago the hundred wood bases in which he served his creation and one hundred kilograms of ‘bichotan’, a type of Japanese coal, with which a few bonfires were lit in the dining room to complete the preparation of the pork. The delivery of this ‘pantry’ from the United States involved the previous request of sanitary permits for special transport by courier service of some products. Thus, carried forward thousands of details for the organization of the historical dinner three weeks.


The new concept of the event

In addition, this dinner marked a milestone from the point of view of the conceptualization of a new form of conceiving an event. “We have learned very much from today’s dinner. From these types of events, we extract reflections. This is an example of what an event will be like in the future; entertaining, fun and wild events”, said Ferran Adrià, as the first words after having finished the dinner and after watching the homage video. First, thank you. Then, make it clear that three weeks ago a new concept debuted: the event in the format of a sit-down cocktail. If Adrià says it, it is so. “I do not plan on being seated for dinner for more than two hours” , he ‘threatened’ his colleagues, who were prepared to lavish him with an endless dinner integrated by twenty creations. “Normally, these dinners are a drag”, insisted Adrià in public.

So, from the day before, when most of the chefs and the honoree arrived at the Puente Romano, emerged the ‘brainstorming‘. In the storm of ideas, a central question: How to organize a 20-course dinner made by 10 different cooks without losing the pace of service, smoothly and quickly? «We bounced ideas on how to do it fast, to get several snacks out quickly and in succession, some out at the same time, to the table», relates Aduriz . Adrià recalled one of his hobbies: eating with your hands, with the consequent goodbye to cutlery. So it occurred in the succession of the first six courses, just before the spectacular peas al pesto by Ricard Camarena. So one by one half a dozen dishes emerged, which diners faced with a glass of champagne and Albert Adrià’s unopened surprise box in the center of the table. Almost without cutlery, with the exception of the timely use of a spoon (by the way, placed in a glass tumbler so that each user could takes his).

And something more, something groundbreaking, which shook up the majority of the diners and which made the dining room’s team suffer: the customer ate those six dishes without a cloth napkin, helped only by a wet napkin, in a live and radical casualization of a gastronomic offer in a haute cuisine space. «They challenged us because they forced us to somehow lose manners when it came time to clean the hands, lick our fingers… It shook us up, it made us laugh. A challenge doing so with a varied clientele», describes a diner. The essential game with the cliente take to the extreme. Sounds ‘Bulli’?

Very interesting. «With today’s dinner, we are creating the new concept of the event, which we are sure we will apply in Heart (Ferran and Albert Adrià’s project in Ibiza with Cirque du Soleil).» And, meanwhile, Aduriz and Dacosta convince themselves of serving their respective dishes at the same time, announced to the ‘new’ ‘high informality’ coup: «Eat them in the order you want,» they announce.

Joan Roca gives the room his version of the ‘Gaudí’ Red Mullet, the iconic dish of elBulli, which marked a before and after, on being the cover, moreover, of «El Sabor del Mediterraneo”, the first summary of the of bullinian philosophy. This dish, a thorough emblem, was created in 1987, the year in which Adria set the change in his style, upon hearing Jacques Maximin’s phrase: «To create is to not copy».


“Ferran Adrià Forever”

And in that movement of first bites, comes a gift: the wooden box made by Dani García´s trusted carpenter (with whom he designed plates and supports ) containing the menu, a planchette, a mini-canvass and some watercolors, for the chefs to sign. «We wanted to give the menu in a way that it could also be considered a souvenir. It was Ferran´s idea to offer the menu like this, like a watercolor , which represents elBulli kitchen and the chefs who are here today, » explains Lourdes Muñoz, Dani García´s right hand and instrumental in organizing the dinner on last 7th March.

«It is unbelievable how close to everyone and affectionate with his peers he is” says a diner, who cannot believe how Adrià and the rest of his colleagues could share in such a natural way, praise, gratitude, hugs and autographs.

You are not eating today» warned Dani García at the beginning of dinner, before sentencing: » Ferran has been what in the world of football Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo have never been» And he adds via video: «If Ferran Adrià had not existed, what would have become of us?» asks the Chef from Malaga .

At the end of the video and after several ‘thank you Ferran ‘ in different languages, it appears the following sentence » Ferran Adrià Forever«. Exactly, forever. «I belong to the same team as them [the chefs who honored him], but today I’m wearing black instead of white.»It was touching. Today’s dinner represents what we, Spanish chefs, are: we can only be out there if there is a lot of work behind. It is the reality of the kitchen and not what sometimes shows on TV with the glamorous part of ‘celebrity’ chefs. Those who are here today, as most of Spanish Chefs, are really really hard workers.». As we were in elBulli. Historical dinner.

These were the dishes served at the tribute dinner to elBulli at Dani García´s Restaurante (above each picture, the names of the dish and chef) :

 Magdalena to be eaten whole (Dani García)


Puff pastry filled with gelatinous chicken, roasted garlic cream and sorrel (Andoni Luis Aduriz)


Alkaline oysters (Ángel León) 


Caviar Omelette (Joan Roca)


Satay crab ball (Quique Dacosta)


‘Hokkaido’ /Barcelona / Granada / Marbella (Albert Adriá)


Pesto Green peas (Ricard Camarena)


Pumpkin, ham, truffle and Parmesan whey gnoqui (Nandu Jubany)


Autumn in Aponiente (Ángel León)


Nitro-Tomato ceviche, with oysters and cilantro (Dani García)


‘Gaudí’ Red Mullet (Joan Roca)


Kokotxas (Cod cheeks) with bamboo (Juan Mari Arzak)


Chicken and lobster Crema Catalana (Andoni Luis Aduriz)


Egg in ashes (Quique Dacosta)


Pork, eggplant and octopus, South of Spain style (Grant Achatz)


Roasted marrow, Steak tartar and truffles (Nandu Jubany)


Orange (Ricard Camarena)


‘Airpancake’ with cherry nectar (Albert Adriá)


Apple balloon (Grant Achatz)


Images by: MFG-Gastroeconomy.

Acerca del autor

Estudié Empresariales, pero siempre he trabajado como periodista, título que espero seguirme ganando cada día. Escribir es lo que más me gusta. Antes, sobre economía; y, desde hace once años, sobre gastronomía, algo que casi me inventé como vía de escape y que, al final, se convirtió en mi trabajo. En abril de 2011, decidí pasar a la vida freelance y, el 30 de julio de ese año, lancé este portal, mi bebé al que consiento y maleduco para escribir lo que me apetece. Gastroeconomy aspira a ser un proyecto mucho más rentable que su actual sostenibilidad económica, con una idea clara: ni el portal, ni sus contenidos, ni yo, estamos en venta. Es la única forma de que os fiéis de nuestro trabajo. Como siempre, ¡¡GRACIAS por leernos!! Espero seguir creyendo en este proyecto, sin perder el escepticismo, ni la capacidad de autocrítica. En Twitter, soy @mfguada”.

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