El Bulli: The Golden Ticket

Inside the World of Super-Chef Ferran Adria with Filmmaker Alison Chernick

Situated outside the small town of Roses on the Costa Brava in Spain, El Bulli is renowned as the spiritual home of molecular gastronomy—a cuisine that has equal footing in science and the culinary arts. Here, equipment commonly found in research laboratories—liquid nitrogen, centrifugal motors, pacojet machines—is key to masterminding dishes prepared with techniques including spherification (suspending a liquid in a thin alginate membrane) and aerification (foams). If El Bulli is this food movement’s temple, then its chef and owner, Ferran Adrià, is its high priest. He has influenced a generation of scientifically minded chefs, and his acolytes can be found the world over: Noma’s Rene Redzepi served for a stage at El Bulli, while restaurants such as Alinea in Chicago, wd~50 in New York, and Varvary in Moscow are clearly in his debt. El Bulli is only in operation six months a year, in which it typically receives one million applications (for 8,000 places), so getting a seat is tough. What's more, it is set to close this December, much to the chagrin of gastronomes the world over.

Nowness.com sent filmmaker Alison Chernick to infiltrate the gastronomic mecca. “I think the big question, which I don’t think is answered yet, is whether Adrià is a chef with an extremely artistic practice, or whether he is an artist using food as his medium,” says the director. As for her eating experience? “Surreal,” she says. “My favorite course was the first: a Comme des Garçons perfume spray on a plate with a dry martini inside. Next to it were ‘spherical olives’—green balls filled with olive puree. Ferran really flexes his muscles on you, while setting the bar pretty high for the ultimate dining experience. I'm still digesting it on many levels.”