My tastebuds never felt so alive.
Like the butterflies you felt in your stomach after your very first kiss, A meal at elBulli was equally similar to those once in a lifetime experiences that leaves you reminising for that one moment, hoping it lingers on. One doesn’t have to describe too much when the name elBulli comes up. It is famous for being the best restaurant in the world, for the third year in a row according to the San Pellegrino’s top 50. It has also been holding a 3 Michelin star rating since 1997. I’m about as mathematical as an asparagus but even then I knew the chances were very slim.
Reservation requests are made via email, and I’ve been told that more than 2 million requests come in every year, with room for only around 8000. The exclusivity is largely due to the size of restaurant, as it seats around 50 covers every night, and it is only open from June to December. The other months are spent on researching on new ideas and food preparation. I originally sent my email request straight after I attended Ferran’s lecture when he visited Sydney last year, and sadly, it was rejected. Funnily enough, I consoled my disappointment with a very dear friend of mine, and with some divine intervention (or his excellent contacts in Spain) he was able to secure a booking during June 2009 for me through Juli Soler. I believe that a reservation request coming from Spain has a much better chance than internationally, as the requests are normally split 50/50 between Spain and all other countries. Knowing how to write an email in Spanish certainly helps too.
If there was one thing I learnt from Ferran’s lecture, it was that he did not like to use the term “Molecular Gastronomy” to describe his methods, because simple things such as baking bread or boiling water is considered just as ‘molecular’ to him. Ferran prefers to call his technique of cooking “Nueva Cuisine” or “deconstructivist”.
“Obviously what we are trying to do is create more than just a fine meal. You can eat very well at many places in the world, but to have it be a unique experience – not that many.” – Ferran Adria
We arrived a little early and was warmly welcomed by the manager. He gave us a small tour of the kitchen, and we were personally greeted by Ferran. He was very friendly and full of smiles as he shook my hand with both hands with some words of thanks in English (his English has greatly improved since his last visit to Sydney!). He posed for a quick photo, using his signature pose – the same one he strikes on a nightly basis for speech-stuttering chef groupies like myself. We watched him instruct his kitchen staff for a few minutes and moved onto our table.
We were seated in the centre of the restaurant, just by the entrance to the smaller dining room. It may not be the best window table in the house, but for Aaron and I (both dabblers in hospitality industry) it was a more rewarding experience to be able to watch how the staff worked. elBulli employs 70 members of staff to serve 50 patrons a day, and according to Wiki, the restaurant itself has been operating at a loss since 2000, with the actual profits coming from cook books and guest lectures conducted by Ferran around the world. When you see all the effort that goes into preparing for our 34 course, 5.5 hour experience, you will no doubt appreciate all the meticulous, labour intensive work the kitchen puts in; there is a separate room just for cleaning all the delicate silverware and specialised plates; one waiter station between every two tables… and above all, the energy and flow of the staff in the room is seamless and efficient.