Is elBulli Really Reopening to Train Actors for a Movie About the Restaurant?
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Last week, it was widely reported (by The Daily Meal, among others) that producer Jeff Kleeman, who has been trying to get a movie about that most famous of avant-garde restaurants, the now-closed elBulli, off the ground since 2011, had found funding for the project. It is to be produced by Vendome Pictures, it was announced, and will theoretically shoot late this year. The really big news, however — the news that got every fan of the restaurant and every food-lover (and food-trophy-collector) who never got to the place salivating — was that elBulli would reopen for a month to train the actors (as yet uncast) in the restaurant's unique styles of cooking and of service.
But wait: A similar report surfaced about a year-and-a-half ago, and when I asked Ferran Adrià about it then, he replied "It is entirely false that the restaurant will open to the public…It is not yet even confirmed that the movie will be filmed at elBulli, but in the case that it is, the restaurant would open only with extras at the tables." With that demur in mind, it seemed like a good idea to check in with Adrià again to see if news of the reopening was true this time. His answer? Not necessarily.
"We are waiting for a director to be hired," he replied by email, "and he will decide where he wants to shoot the film. All that is definite is that we will help in any way that is necessary for the film to be the best."
Adrià added that, apart from the film having found financing, there is other good news in his world. "The elBulli Foundation is now officially set up and construction [on architect Enric Ruiz-Geli's fanciful Foundation buildings] will begin very soon, in May." He's also getting ready for two big auctions, to be held by Sotheby's in April, in Hong Kong and New York, to dispose of the elBulli wine cellar. Some 8,807 bottles will be offered — including various vintages of Vega Sicilia "Unico,", Château de Beaucastel, Château Latour, and wines from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti — with a pre-sale estimate of up to $1.6 million total, with proceeds to benefit the elBulli Foundation.
In addition, Adrià said, the exhibition of artifacts and documentary material entitled "Ferran Adrià and elBulli: Risk, Freedom and Creativity," which ran for a year at Barcelona's Palau Robert, closing February 3, is scheduled to travel to London and then Boston this year and next. Not New York? "There will an entirely new exhibition for New York, on the creative process," he said. "We are finishing negotiations now. When I have more details, I will let you know."
How one of the fittest guys in Hollywood was inspired by Oprah
Colin Egglesfield is one of the fittest actors in Hollywood.
With roles on TV’s “All My Children,” “Rizzoli & Isles” and the film “The Space Between Us,” Egglesfield is a hard-core triathlete with three straight wins in the celebrity division of the annual Nautica Malibu Triathlon. The chiseled 44-year-old swims, bikes or runs nearly every day and makes time to run a clothing company, and work with several children’s charities.
You’re one of the top endurance athletes in Hollywood — and you look way younger than your age. Good genes?
No, I’m constantly working out — at least five days a week. I’ll jump on my bike and climb Mandeville Canyon a couple times, swim in the ocean twice a week with a meet-up group, do a 4-hour group ride in the mountains on Saturday morning, run five or six miles. Sometimes, if I have auditions or am out running around looking at houses during the day, I’ll go to Equinox at night and do a “brick” workout that includes all three sports plus some light weight training, like squats and leg presses. One of my riding buddies, an ex-pro cyclist from Moldova, told me you need to do that to keep your power in the hills. I love all the workouts — they make me feel great. I guess I’m an adrenaline junkie. Waking up the morning of a triathlon feels like Christmas morning. You’ve put in the work. You can feel the excitement and energy. It’s exhilarating.
Growing up, were you a competitive swimmer or runner?
Not a swimmer — I had a panic attack the first time I swam in the Pacific Ocean a few years ago and had to get a coach. But growing up in Chicago, I always was an athlete. Played all kinds of sports — football, baseball, karate, track. Played a year of football at Illinois Wesleyan University, then transferred to the University of Iowa and played rugby, a brutal sport. When I lucked into a modeling gig after I graduated, gave up the idea of med school, and moved to New York in 1994, I was looking for something athletic to keep me going. That’s when my sister called up and told me she saw Oprah running a marathon and got me inspired. After that, I ran seven marathons, in New York, Chicago and L.A. But four years ago, when that 26.2 miles got a little boring, and my little brother started doing triathlons, I got into that. It’s really enhanced my life in many ways: My diet, training and my charity work with kids.
How did it change your diet?
I have a sweet tooth. I try to eat lean meats and salads, but do like my ice-cream at night. And that’s a problem. Too much sugary food spikes blood sugar. I learned that when you’re training, you want to train your body to burn fat. So I keep my heart rate below 140 bpm for a long time, which trains you to burn fat stores.
If you’re lighter, you’re faster, and I’ve found that portion control is key. You go to a restaurant and they serve huge portions, way bigger than what you need. I still eat whatever I want, but only eat half and take the rest home for lunch the next day.
How did triathlon lead to charity work?
For me, It’s fulfilling to know I’m making a difference, so I’ve always been active with charity stuff. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is a beneficiary of the Nautica triathlon. Through that connection, I got a tour from Dr. Alan S. Wayne, the hospital’s director of the Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Diseases, and became a volunteer. My dad was a doctor and I was a biology/premed student in college. I know that staying positive is difficult for those undergoing cancer treatments. So I go to the hospital once a month and see these kids.
Many of them are just 5 or 6 years old. They’re tied to chemo drips, just scared. They just want to be kids. So I play Chutes and Ladders and board games with them. We play Candy Land. I participate in a program called “Literally Healing,” a bedside reading program in which you just go room to room reading Dr. Seuss and “Curious George.” It helps take their minds off what they are going through. I give them T-shirts.
It’s my brand: Shout Out Clothing. I call it “interactive apparel.” I started it about 10 years ago after I saw something like it in Thailand while shooting a movie. The shirt comes with velcro letters that you can rearrange. Kids have written stuff like, “Kiss Cancer Goodbye.” It’s all about promoting literacy and self-expression, creating whatever it is you want to say and shouting it out to the world.
There a lot of time to kill on a set between takes. So I’ll use it to work on Shout Out and other things that make me feel I’m making a positive contribution.
VIDEO: Take a FULL Ride Through Snow White’s Enchanted Wish Before It Opens in Disneyland
Disneyland may be a few days away from its grand reopening, but Cast Member previews have officially kicked off! That’s right, for the first time in over 400 days, there are currently guests INSIDE Disneyland!
One of the most highly anticipated changes that has come to Disneyland is the reimagining of Snow White’s Scary Adventures, now re-themed and renamed to Snow White’s Enchanted Wish!
We first heard about this refurb wayyy back in 2019, when Disney promised new “state-of-the-art audio and visual technology,” music, laser projections, LED black lighting, and more cool tech. We’ve been following the progress closely — and we even gave ya a first look at the new scenes! Now, it’s finally time to take a look at Snow White’s Enchanted Wish and go on a FULL ride through!
WOW. For those who may have been familiar with Snow White’s Scary Adventures, this new version is quite the departure from the original! While some scenes have remained more or less in tact, there are several new scenes to marvel at, like the mine scene.
There are a bunch of new effects throughout the ride as well, including projection designs, special lighting, and other new magic that has breathed new life into the classic attraction! We have a feeling there will be far less crying kids (and grown adults, let’s be honest…) after riding Snow White’s Enchanted Wish.
Sure, some of the new scenes remind us a bit of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Disney World, and they DID keep the Evil Queen’s iconic transformation (arguably one of the scarier moments in the original ride), but we love the special touches that make this reimagined attraction all its own. We’ll keep checking out everything new from Disneyland’s reopening throughout the week — and we’ll bring you ALL the details! Stay tuned to DFB.
Worked at El Bulli? Ferran Adrià Wants to Hear From You
Writer Lisa Abend is working on a couple of projects and is looking to get in touch with people who have either cooked or staged at elBulli. The first: the elBulli stagiaire database to create a history of elBulli team, or "a record of all people who have contributed and made elBulli what it is today."
The second is research for her upcoming book The Sorcerer's Apprentices. So if you've spent time in elBulli's kitchens, there's a handy online form so you can enter your information. They're also looking for photographs of stagiaires. Ms. Abend gave us more details about the project:
Now that elBulli is slated to close in 2011, the restaurant is trying to compile as complete a history of itself as possible. ElBulli has already got to be the best-documented restaurant in the world, but up until now, all the attention has been on cataloguing the dishes, innovations, and techniques. What it hasn't done is keep track of who has come through the kitchen. Yet the list of people who have worked or staged there is remarkably impressive: Grant Achatz, Andoni Luis Aduriz, René Redzepi, José Andrés, Jason Atherton, Sergi Arola, Nuno Mendes, Ken Oringer, Quique Dacosta. plus a bunch of up-an-coming chefs who are poised to become big names in the coming years (Cristian Puglisi, Corey Lee, Paco Morales. to say nothing of the sons of both Charlie Trotter and Jean-Georges Vongerichten).
So, for the first time, elBulli is compiling a database of all of its former cooks and stagiaires, dating back to the restaurant's pre-Ferran origins in the 1960s. Once it's in place, the plan is to publish it on the web by brigade, so that if you click on a certain year, you'll get the image and up-to-date CV of everyone who worked in the restaurant that year.
The idea for this came out of talks about the other project, which is my book. Entitled The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli, it focuses on the stagiaires' experience in the 2009 season, and offers the first behind-the-scenes look at elBulli from the perspective of the people who actually do the work. It comes out in March 2011.
The Name of the Food Game
Danny Trejo isn't the first celebrity to dive into the restaurant world. Here are some other notable figures who've ventured into foodservice, lending their fame—and often their names—to the establishments.
Love or hate his beachy croons, Jimmy Buffet is an icon commanding a legion of "Parrothead" fans as well as dozens of restaurants. Although the locations don't bear Buffet's name, it's hard to mistake Margaritaville or Cheeseburger in Paradise for anyone else.
The legendary basketball player debuted Michael Jordan's Steak House on Chicago's Magnificent Mile in 1998. The restaurant now has casino locations in Connecticut and Washington.
The Oscar-winning director may be as passionate about food and beverage as he is about films. In addition to his own vineyard and wine label, Coppola also has two restaurants: Cafe Zoetrope in San Francisco and RUSTIC, which is located on-site at Coppola Winery in Northern California.
Music power couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan opened fine-dining Larios in Miami Beach nearly 30 years ago. Larios has been a lasting success, prompting the two to open another restaurant, Estefan Kitchen, in Orlando, Florida.
The rock star subtly incorporated his initials into the volunteer-run, community-first JBJ Soul Kitchen with two locations in New Jersey.
Cast and crew
For all the marketing prowess Trejo’s leadership had brought to the table, the company still needed to fill certain gaps, first on the culinary side but then also with respect to day-to-day operations and employee management. So in 2017, it tapped Karla Moreno, who already had a decade’s worth of restaurant experience. She started as director of training and staff development and now serves as director of people operations.
While studying to be a teacher, Moreno grew enamored with her side job as a server at California Pizza Kitchen. She was able to parlay her education background and become a training manager at CPK. She later moved to Real Mex Restaurants, whose collection of concepts includes Chevy’s Fresh Mex and El Torito, first as a training manager and later as the director of training. Coming from the corporate chain world, Moreno had the rare opportunity to help build Trejo’s operations, training, and employee programs from the ground up.
“With Trejo’s, I looked at it as a startup because they didn’t really have a lot of systems in place. When I joined the company there were two locations, and they wanted to expand. They had the marketing knowledge they just needed a little bit of help with system implementation, training, and operations,” Moreno says.
Like many of today’s best restaurants, Trejo’s prioritizes personality over experience in hiring. Moreno describes the company culture as fun and inviting. Whether prospective employees are in the restaurant industry for a season or for life, the most important criterion is that they are happy people who enjoy taking care of guests.
“A lot of our managers have a servant’s heart and genuinely like helping people,” Moreno says. “We call it the people industry, not the food industry, because you’re dealing with people every day.”
Like Trejo’s real estate strategy, human resources benefits from having more than one concept in its arsenal. For example, if an applicant is interested in working at the cantinas but has little to no restaurant experience, the company can (provided they have openings) start the employee at one of the limited-service locations. After learning the ropes at the fast casual and undergoing additional training, they can transfer to full service. In terms of upward mobility, Moreno says that about 70 percent of Trejo’s managers started as cashiers before going into the shift-lead program.
This hands-on approach to hiring and training is both a point of pride for the company as well as a challenge in the face of expansions. With eight units, it’s relatively simple to maintain leadership between corporate leadership and staff on the front lines. But when the store count grows, it becomes infinitely more difficult—one of many reasons Trejo’s is gun-shy when it comes to growth via franchising.
“I hire 97 percent of the people in the company, from dishwashers on up. And I do that so we can establish the culture that we want,” Georgino says. “It’s hard to keep that up beyond maybe a couple more restaurants, but for right now we have a tight fist on the people portion of our business.”
A servant’s heart
There’s also some resistance to big growth on a more personal level. Before COVID-19, Trejo delighted in visiting each restaurant at least once a week, provided he wasn’t traveling or filming in a remote location. The brand’s partnership with Southwest Airlines made the prospect of going beyond L.A. a bit easier. Not only did the collaboration bring an LAX unit to the airline’s terminal, but it also helped Trejo and the team home in on potential markets. Back in February, Trejo pointed to Southwest’s recent expansion of its service to Hawaii as a pro for opening a location on the islands.
“I want to expand, but not to the point that it loses that magic. I won’t open something that I can’t go to hang out at,” Trejo said in February. “What I like about seeing fans in restaurants is that it’s like welcoming them to my house. There’s time to take pictures I’m not running through an airport. … In the restaurant, I get to chat with them, to see their kids.”
And at the end of the day, that is one thing that separates Trejo from other Hollywood heavy hitters he’s not one to slap his name on something without nurturing it. Trejo may not be manning the cash register or blending the house-made horchata, but he is a front-of-house hero who knows how to work the crowd—and inspire his own team.
“He will go around and shake everyone’s hand, pet every single dog that’s in the restaurant, kiss babies, and walk around and talk to employees. He’s our No. 1 example of what it means to take care of the guests. I think that translates over to our employees because he does it in his own way,” Moreno says. “He might not be involved in the operations per se, but when it comes to taking care of people, he truly has a servant’s heart.”
Wife of Actor Robert Blake Shot to Death
Robert Blake, best known for his role as a streetwise detective in the 1970s’ television series “Baretta,” was enmeshed in a real-life police drama Saturday after his wife was fatally shot in the couple’s parked car outside a Studio City restaurant Friday night.
Blake told police that he left his wife, Bonny Bakley, in their Dodge Stealth after dinner and returned to Vitello’s, a popular neighborhood establishment. He went back to Vitello’s to get a handgun that had slipped from his waistband, according to his lawyer.
The 67-year-old actor retrieved the gun, headed back to his car about a block away and discovered his wife slumped over in the passenger seat, shot once in the head, police said.
“He’s in an absolute state of shock,” said Blake’s lawyer, criminal defense attorney Harland W. Braun.
Police, who interviewed Blake on Saturday, said only that he was a witness and not a suspect in the crime. But detectives entered his home in the afternoon after obtaining a search warrant and removed some items.
Late Friday, Blake allowed officers to enter a unit behind his Studio City home, where Bakley lived, his lawyer said.
The two married recently after DNA tests established that the actor was the father of her 11-month-old daughter, but they lived separately, said Braun.
The couple had a leisurely dinner Friday at Vitello’s, one of Blake’s favorite hangouts. At the Tujunga Avenue restaurant, his penchant for pasta with sauteed spinach and tomato sauce is so well known that adding those ingredients to a dish is called “Robert Blaking” by the staff.
Steve Restivo, co-owner of the restaurant, said Blake and Bakley had a reservation, arrived about 8:30 p.m., and seemed happy and relaxed as they sat in a corner booth.
Restivo said he has known Blake for 20 years and joked with him Friday night. “I told him he was more of a Sicilian than my father,” because Blake preferred to drink plain chicken broth straight from the soup bowl with no vegetables. Blake joked that the soup had kept him from getting the flu all winter.
Restivo said he left shortly after the couple and did not find out about the slaying until Saturday morning.
When Blake discovered his wife with the gunshot wound, he ran across the street, banging on the front door of Sean Stanek’s home, his lawyer said. Stanek, a film director who had frequently seen Blake at the neighborhood’s cafes and restaurants, opened the door thinking someone was playing a prank. “You’ve gotta help me, you’ve gotta help me!” said Blake, begging Stanek to call 911.
After getting dressed, Stanek said he ran out to Blake’s car. Blake returned to the restaurant looking for a doctor or nurse, his lawyer said. Stanek found Bakley, gasping for air, her eyes rolling back. The car’s window was rolled down and there was no sign of shattered glass.
“I tried to talk to her,” said Stanek. “I said what’s your name, can you hear me? If you can hear me please just squeeze my hand.”
“It was horrifying,” he said.
Paramedics and police were at the scene within seven minutes and medics worked on Bakley for about 10 minutes before putting her body in an ambulance and leaving. Police then took Blake to the side and started questioning him. Blake began vomiting on the street, Stanek said.
Joe Restivo, Steve’s brother and the restaurant’s co-owner, said he did not remember Blake returning for a gun, but said the actor came back frantic after the shooting.
“He said, ‘My wife, she got hurt or we got mugged or something. . . .’ I said, ‘You want me to call 911?’ He said he did already,” said Joe Restivo. He said that Blake was agitated and that he asked for a glass of water as he was describing what had happened.
Officer Guillermo Campos, an LAPD spokesman, said investigators have questioned Blake and consider him a witness.
“At this point he’s not considered an official suspect,” Campos said Saturday afternoon. “Whenever there’s a murder investigation, the people who last saw the victim alive are obviously questioned in detail.”
Blake and Bakley had a difficult relationship and were married about four months ago, said Blake’s lawyers. The two had been involved in a tense dispute after Bakley had her child. Bakley originally gave the child the last name of Brando, said lawyer Barry Felsen, because she thought the child had been fathered by Christian Brando, the son of actor Marlon Brando.
But when DNA tests proved Blake was the father, “Robert did the right thing,” Felsen said. He married Bakley, even as he had hired investigators to check into her background.
Felsen said Bakley lived in a separate unit behind Blake’s Studio City home and indicated that the two were not particularly close. Many of Blake’s neighbors said Saturday that they didn’t know the actor was married and that they had little knowledge of Bakley.
“I never saw her,” said Laura Gilpatrick, a mail carrier delivering mail to Blake’s house. “He was a real nice guy and has a beautiful daughter.”
Blake, who had left his rustic one-story Dilling Street house in the afternoon, returned shortly after 8:30 p.m. Saturday. He was slumped down with a baseball cap over his face in the front passenger seat of a Mercedes-Benz sedan. A passenger in the back seat got out and lifted the police tape so the car could enter the property. About 30 minutes later, the sedan left again. Ten minutes afterward, it returned with Braun, who said he had taken the actor to the hospital because he had high blood pressure.
Braun said Blake keeps numerous guns that he owns in the home. The lawyer added that Blake has a permit to carry a concealed weapon and that on Friday night he was carrying a handgun because Bakley was worried for her safety. He described Bakley as “troubled.”
Troubled would be an apt word to describe Robert Blake’s life.
Born Mickey Gubitosi in Nutley, N.J., Blake began working in MGM’s popular “Our Gang” comedies at the age of 5 and as Red Ryder’s Indian sidekick Little Beaver in the Western serials.
By Blake’s accounts, his home life was horrific. He recalled in an 1992 Times interview that his mother never embraced him and his alcoholic father abused him.
The actor got rave reviews in 1967 for his terrifying performance as murderer Perry Smith in “In Cold Blood,” based on Truman Capote’s book.
After decades in which he performed in dozens of movies, Blake turned to TV in 1975, winning an Emmy for his role as New York detective Tony Baretta, a quirky character known to carry his pet cockatoo, Fred, on his shoulder.
The series was canceled after three seasons, sending Blake into a tailspin marked by battles with depression and abuse of alcohol. Since “Baretta,” he has worked inconsistently, and has had stretches of up to seven years in which he had nothing to do with the TV or movie business.
But he has played remarkable roles, one of them his Emmy-winning portrayal of John List, a New Jersey man who killed his family and lived under an assumed name for years before being caught.
He acknowledged that it wasn’t difficult to get under List’s skin. “You have to love the person you are going to play,” he once said. “You can’t say, well, this guy killed his family. I am going to play this ghoul. I have played a lot of people who killed. I have been on Death Row. You know, I have never met a murderer in my life. That’s because there ain’t any. There are people who crossed the line. Some of us don’t cross the line.”
His two most recent movies were “Money Train” in 1995 and David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” in 1997.
Times staff writers Ann O’Neill, Susan King and Sue Fox contributed to this story.
Meet the Man Who Trained Bradley Cooper to Play a Michelin-Starred Chef in "Burnt"
Watch Bradley Cooper shuck oysters, julienne vegetables, and break down fowl in Burnt and you'll have a hard time believing he hasn't done this before. In the film (out Oct. 30), Cooper plays Adam Jones, a top chef and recovering drug addict who sets out to open a restaurant good enough to garner the coveted (and elusive) three-Michelin-star rating. To prepare for the role, Cooper and Sienna Miller —who stars as his sous chef, Helene—spent several weeks training with chef Marcus Wareing of the restaurant Marcus (two real-life Michelin stars) in London. We recently caught up with Wareing, who told us about how he got the actors ready for their onscreen kitchen debut, plus the hardest thing he had to teach Cooper.
How did you train Bradley and Sienna to think and act like chefs?
My job was to be on set for every minute of this film that was kitchen-based or food-based. I had to set the scene to make sure that, on a Tuesday morning when we walk in at seven oɼlock and everyone's just gotten out of the shower and is full of coffee, we're acting like it's Friday night at 8:30, and the kitchen's going down, and the restaurant's fully booked, and it's carnage. So I made [the actors] cook. I made them chop things, butcher things, do all of that. And as they did it over and over and over again, they got tired, they got hot, they got frustrated—they started to look like chefs. It's brilliant. The hotter the set got, the more they looked like chefs. My intention was for them to walk away thinking, "F*ck, I don't want to be a cook."
Chef Marcus Wareing. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Did either of them come into the film with prior cooking experience?
I had the feeling Bradley knew his way around the kitchen. Sienna came into my kitchen and threw herself into being trained as a cook. And she became one, because her [scenes] in the movie are nearly all on the stove. She really took everything on board, from the holding of the spoon to the way she bends over the stove. The way she seasons, the way she bastes—all these things she picked up in my kitchen. And she did it over and over again, so all I did on set was just tweak how she was moving.
Sienna Miller costars as Cooper's sous chef in the film. Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Throughout the film, the actors are performing kitchen techniques like shucking oysters, breaking down fowl, and plating elaborate dishes. What was the most difficult thing you had to teach them?
I think it was the scene where Bradley kicks off around the whole kitchen [in the middle of dinner service]. I had to show him how to "give them a good bollocking," as they say, and really go to town on the team. That was a really difficult thing to do because I had to do it my way, and it's not pleasant, but you have to go and get in everyone’s face, pick fault, and just go for it. I had to get the chefs to respond the right way to me, with disappointment, frustration, and fear in their eyes. And then I stepped aside and Bradley had to do the same. That was difficult.
It's interesting that the most difficult thing to teach had nothing to do with cooking.
To me, Burnt is about getting a taste of the life of a chef. When I judged MasterChef , I had to tell the audience what I was tasting, why it tasted like that, why it was right or wrong. Movies aren't about that. This is about setting the scene about a place, a time, a character.
How would you describe the difference between a two-Michelin-star and a three-Michelin-star chef?
I quite like in the movie where [Bradley] says it's like you're a Jedi knight or Luke Skywalker. There are many three-star chefs around the world, but there are the one or two who are almost godlike. Ferran Adrià of [El Bulli] is the modern-world equivalent of Auguste Escoffier in the past century. There will never, ever be anyone quite like him again in our lifetime. There will be a lot of chefs who will be inspired by that, or come close, but no one will ever be a gamechanger like that. Three stars is an accolade that is extraordinary. It's something pitch-perfect in every way. The difference is being nominated for an Oscar and winning an Oscar.
Last question: What's your favorite restaurant in America?
I’ll say the one that’s close to my heart has to be Daniel [Boulud]. He’s a true inspiration and an amazing man.
It Was Delicious While It Lasted
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YO, ADRIÀ! Chef Ferran Adrià outside of El Bulli, his renowned restaurant on Spain’s Costa Brava.
It begins with a glistening, olive-colored sphere, wobbling on a spoon as you raise it toward your lips, exploding in the mouth to unleash a bath of intense olive-flavored liquid. Then, as the waiter has instructed, you lift the silver atomizer to your mouth and spray the gin-and-vermouth mixture on your tongue. In your case, three sprays for good measure. Or seven. The waiter didn’t specify how many sprays. This is your martini, as deconstructed by Ferran Adrià, the world’s greatest chef. The meal ends some 34 courses later—just after the penultimate frozen foam of Parmigiano-Reggiano—with another trembling sphere, which turns out to be a reconstituted lychee. You’ve made your way here to El Bulli, Adrià’s remote beachside restaurant in Cala Montjoi, some two hours north of Barcelona, to check off a prominent entry on your List of Things to Do Before You Die, and to try to find out why the world’s greatest chef is closing the world’s most celebrated restaurant at the height of its fame.
At a ceremony in his honor at the Madrid Fusión food festival this past January, Adrià announced that at the end of the 2011 season he would be closing his restaurant for two years. The closing of El Bulli made headlines around the world, including the front page of London’s Financial Times. “It reminds me of how I felt when I heard the Beatles were breaking up,” said a gourmand of your acquaintance. Less than three weeks later, as the international fraternity of foodies was absorbing the news and trying to think of ways to score a reservation before the hiatus, the 48-year-old chef announced that in fact he would be closing the restaurant permanently. Then he seemed to disappear for several months. If two million people try to book reservations in a typical season, imagine the frenzy in the months between the big announcement and the reopening of El Bulli this past June, for its final season.
Assuming that you defied the astronomical odds to score one of the 50 seats available nightly, usually five nights a week, in season, possibly through a personal connection—your girlfriend used to date a chef who had once done a stage in El Bulli’s kitchen, say—or perhaps because you were writing for a well-known publication which had called in lots of chits, you would probably fly to Barcelona, where, if you were unlucky, or just absentminded and careless, your new Prada rolling carry-on bag would be stolen from behind your chair while you paused to eat a sandwich in an airport café. After a fruitless discussion with a policeman, you would approach the Avis counter to collect the keys to your rental car and ask the clerk to write down the directions to Roses, a little less than two hours north of the city (assuming you don’t get lost), and proceed with great trepidation into the labyrinth of freeways encircling Barcelona.
Allowing for one wrong turn, and 20 minutes of panic (goddammit, how can both directions lead to Girona?), you arrive in the town of Roses, a nondescript, middle-class resort on the Costa Brava, only to remember that your itinerary was in the stolen bag and you can’t recall the name of your hotel, and Roses has dozens of them. You have to remind yourself at this point that you are one of the lucky ones, one of approximately 8,000 people who have scored a reservation at the greatest restaurant in the world this year, even as your wife begins to express her skepticism about the whole cost-benefit equation of this quest.
You tell her what Mario Batali told you recently when you asked his opinion of Adrià: “Dudeski, he is simply the most influential chef for chefs in our time. He has provoked more interest—both good and angry—in food and restaurants than anyone ever. True to his Catalonian roots—like Dalí, Casals, and Miró—he’s created a new way to work with the raw materials that challenges a lot of what had previously been considered ‘the rules’ or the ‘way’ to eat and cook.”
In his definitive biography of Adrià, Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food (out this month), writer Colman Andrews reports that when Hans Schilling and his wife, Marketta, discovered the cove called Cala Montjoi in the 1950s, the hills and the shoreline were untouched except for a small guardhouse from which the Guardia Civil watched for smugglers. Schilling was a German doctor who fell in love with the rugged Costa Brava and eventually bought five and a half acres above the beach. They built a house above the treacherous road from Roses, and built a mini golf course to attract tourists, as well as a beachside snack bar. The golf course was a failure, but the Schillings, who were prototypes of the species known as foodies, decided to turn the snack bar into a real restaurant, the kind that might someday attract people like themselves to the remote cove. The restaurant was named after Marketta’s beloved French bulldogs, bulli being a French slang term for the bat-eared breed. In the meantime, Dr. Schilling returned to Germany and took up with his housekeeper, but he continued to visit Marketta and El Bulli and subsidize the restaurant.
In 1975, the year that Franco’s death signaled the beginning of the end of Spain’s cultural isolation, the Schillings hired Jean Louis Neichel, an Alsatian-born French chef with an impressive résumé. In 1976 he won El Bulli its first Michelin star, although how the inspectors found the place is a bit of a mystery. There was no telephone, and the road from Roses was so bad that vendors from the town, six miles away, refused to deliver supplies. One early customer, British Pop artist Richard Hamilton—who first visited El Bulli with his neighbor Marcel Duchamp—used to pilot his Zodiac from nearby Cadaqués and land on the beach.
In 1981 the Schillings hired Juli Soler, the man who would become Adrià’s business brain, to manage the restaurant. Soler was a Rolling Stones fanatic who had previously helped open a discotheque-slash-restaurant and had a brief run as a concert promoter. El Bulli got a new French chef, Jean-Paul Vinay, in 1981, and in 1983 his nouvelle-cuisine-inspired menu won a second Michelin star. That same year, a young naval recruit named Ferran Adrià decided to spend his summer leave in the kitchen at El Bulli. Adrià, who’d had some restaurant experience before being called up for his military service, was assigned to work in an admiral’s kitchen, where he eventually met Fermí Puig, another young chef, who would become his close friend. When Puig arrived in the admiral’s kitchen with a collection of French cookbooks, they set about teaching themselves classic and nouvelle cuisine. It was Fermí who suggested Adrià try a stint at El Bulli.
“He told me it was one of the best in Spain, and that it had two Michelin stars,” Adrià wrote in a history of his restaurant. “At that time I had no idea what that meant.” Ferran was more interested in the restaurant’s proximity to the beach and the nearby resort of Roses, which attracted Swedish and German tourists. A high-school dropout who had hoped to play professional soccer, Adrià had taken his first restaurant job, as a dishwasher at the beachside Hotel Playafels, so that he could finance a summer on Ibiza. He would often show up at chef Miguel Moy’s kitchen only an hour or two after leaving the bars and discos, but he demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for cooking. Colman Andrews writes that one day Moy called Adrià’s father, who had arranged the job for his son, and said, “Please take your son back, because now this boy knows more than me.”
WHY IS THE WORLD’S GREATEST RESTAURANT LOCATED SO FAR FROM CIVILIZATION?
After he finished his military service, in 1983, Adrià returned to El Bulli and, when Vinay left to start his own restaurant, became one of the joint chefs de cuisine. Adrià was joined by his younger brother, Albert, in 1985 collaborating with Ferran, Albert would become the pâtissier, responsible for most of the exotic and bizarre desserts that were an important part of the menu. Ironically, it was a classically trained French chef who provided Adrià with his road-to-Damascus moment, his conversion to the avant-garde. In the early days the menu at El Bulli reflected both French traditions and the innovations of nouvelle cuisine, but in 1987—the same year that Adrià became sole chef de cuisine—he decided after listening to a lecture by Chantecler chef Jacques Maximin to try to invent his own cuisine. “Creativity means not copying,” Maximin declared in answer to a question. “This simple sentence was what brought about a change in approach in our cooking,” Adrià wrote later, “and was the cut-off point between ‘re-creation’ and a firm decision to become involved in creativity.” That year Adrià decided to close the restaurant for five months in the winter—a period later extended to six months—to devote the hiatus to experimentation and creation. One early innovation, created with the help of a whipped-cream siphon, was his famous “foam”—essentially a super-light mousse—which has since become something of a gastronomic cliché, imitated from Toulouse to Topeka. The first foam, made of white beans and served on a sea urchin, made its appearance in 1994. He even made a foam which was infused with woodsmoke. At about this time he began his “deconstructions” of traditional recipes like his “chicken curry”—chicken sauce over curry ice cream. This new cuisine would eventually be tagged with the label “molecular gastronomy,” a phrase which Adrià is weary of, though he may never escape it. He prefers “avant-garde cuisine.”
El Bulli gained a third Michelin star in 1997, but perhaps even more significant was the declaration by Joël Robuchon the previous year that Ferran Adrià was the best cook on the planet. Robuchon himself was widely regarded as the best chef in the world, and when he ostensibly retired, in 1996, he identified Adrià as his “heir” in a French television interview. The fact that the grand master of the French culinary tradition passed the baton to a Spaniard provoked howls of indignation in France. In fact, l’affaire Adrià was only one of many signs that classical French cooking had stagnated and that Spain represented the creative cutting edge of cuisine, a perception endorsed by a 2003 New York Times Magazine cover entitled “The Nueva Nouvelle Cuisine: How Spain Became the New France.” Chicago chef Charlie Trotter was quoted as saying, “Spain is where the zeitgeist has shifted.” At the center of this shift was Adrià: “Like Elvis or Miles,” wrote Arthur Lubow, the author of the cover story, “he is usually known by his first name alone: Ferran.”
Adrià himself acknowledges that the Times article was seminal in the history of El Bulli. “It was the consolidation of our reputation,” he says. “The beginning of the myth.” In 2006, Restaurant magazine named El Bulli the world’s best restaurant, a title it maintained for the next three years. Suddenly, Adrià was an international celebrity, and every gastronome on the planet wanted to get into the restaurant, along with countless heat seekers who didn’t know the difference between a purée and a foam. One can only imagine the frenzy of sharp elbowing and conspicuous displays of entitlement that might have resulted if El Bulli had been located in New York, or even in Barcelona, which is on everyone’s New Europe itinerary.
Like many before her, my wife, Anne, couldn’t help wondering why the world’s greatest restaurant was located so far from civilization, a question Adrià answered in the course of a two-hour monologue without my even having to ask it. “We wanted to create a discourse with our diners, to create an experience,” he says when I meet him at the restaurant a few days after the commencement of its final season. We are sitting on the terrace, overlooking the beach at Cala Montjoi and the Mediterranean, the view framed by pines. I have just driven some 25 minutes over the still-treacherous road—in fact I passed an accident scene, two police cars with flashing lights perched at the edge of the road, a banged-up Audi at the bottom of the hill 50 yards below. By all accounts the road is much improved since the early days. The rugged countryside is extraordinarily beautiful, the steep hillsides covered in olive trees and pines. “The road coming here, getting a reservation—it’s all part of the experience.” But more than that, he says, “this project would only be possible outside a city. For many years almost nobody came, so we had time to grow and experiment. The environment, the peace and tranquillity here, make our work possible.”
FERRAN ADRIÀ’S FAMOUS “FOAM” HAS BEEN IMITATED FROM TOULOUSE TO TOPEKA.
The landscape may be tranquil—Adrià is anything but. For two hours he talks, answering my first question, waving his arms for emphasis, pausing only when our translator touches his arm to remind him that she needs to do her job, listening intently to her translation, and sometimes repeating a word or nodding in agreement. He has a plastic, wildly expressive face, which reminds me a lot of Jackie Gleason’s. I start with a simple question, the one that everyone’s asking: Is El Bulli really closing for good?
“A lot of people talk about this, but no one really understands it,” he says. He admits that even he was taken aback by the international hue and cry occasioned by his announcement at Madrid Fusión that he was closing the restaurant for two years. At the time, his vision of the future was somewhat inchoate, but in the intervening months his plans have become more concrete.
“If you look at the history of El Bulli,” he says, “you will see that it’s exceptional. This is a logical stage of the evolution of the restaurant. In 1987 we decided to close for six months of the year.” In 1998 he created the Taller, the studio/experimental kitchen/laboratory in Barcelona where the El Bulli team experimented and created new dishes in the off-season. “In 2001, when El Bulli was becoming very well known, the logical thing would have been to open year-round. But, for us, the most important thing was creativity. So we decided to close for lunch, and the level of creativity kept getting higher. But at some point I realized we wouldn’t be able to continue to evolve as a restaurant.” In other words, in order to save El Bulli, he would have to close it to the public.
As El Bulli evolved and became more and more successful, it became less and less accessible. At each stage, pushing the boundaries of cuisine required a respite from the demands of running a restaurant. Viewed from this perspective, closing the restaurant is the final stage in its creative evolution. The pressure of customers, the spectacular disparity between the supply of seats and the number of customers who want them, seems to have reached some kind of tipping point for Ferran. He’s a friendly and gregarious man who travels extensively in the off-season, and everyone he meets, sooner or later, is going to ask for a reservation for himself or a friend or a friend of a friend. And Ferran hates to say no, though he claims to have no problem turning away celebrities. “Only if it’s somebody I really admire,” he says. “I don’t really care about movie stars. I want this to be a democratic place.” For this reason he refuses to charge what the market will bear—around 250 euros a head isn’t cheap, but he could charge three times as much and still fill the place 10 times over. “It’s an affordable luxury,” he says, “not like a Ferrari or a private jet.” But he realizes the result is not so much a democracy as a nepotocracy chefs seem to form no small part of the clientele, plus friends of friends. When I ran into a Williams classmate in the dining room, I asked him how he’d gotten in, and he explained that his girlfriend worked in a museum whose director was a friend of Ferran’s.
In 2014, El Bulli will reopen under a different format, one that probably will not accommodate paying customers. “It will be kind of a think tank,” he says. “Not a school exactly, but a foundation. A private nonprofit foundation.” He still seems to be defining and refining the concept, improvising. “We’ll have 25 people here, chefs, two or three journalists, tech people. At the end of the day our work will be posted on the Internet. We will collaborate with the world of art and design. It will not be a restaurant. No Michelin, no customers, no pressure. Every year will be different.”
TWO MILLION PEOPLE TRY TO BOOK RESERVATIONS IN A TYPICAL SEASON.
“There aren’t enough professionals dedicated to analysis and research,” he says, drumming the table in front of us. “This is work that people are doing at universities. Cuisine is entering a new phase. There will be cooking at Harvard.” I would have scoffed at this notion if I hadn’t already read that Adrià is bringing cooking to Harvard this fall, presiding over a course called Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter. The course will bring together Harvard science profs and top chefs like Adrià, his friend José Andrés, Wylie Dufresne of WD-50, and Dan Barber of Blue Hill.
“Cooking provides an ideal framework to study a variety of complex phenomena—from basic chemistry to materials science to applied physics,” says physics professor David A. Weitz, one of the organizers of the course. “In fact, much of what we do in the lab is what chefs like Ferran Adrià are now doing in their kitchens.” (In fact, El Bulli’s kitchen looks a lot like a lab, with around 40 chefs and stagiaires in pristine whites lined up on either side of several spotless stainless-steel induction cooking surfaces. There’s not a flame in sight, and just three hours before the first seating the atmosphere is strangely calm and focused.) The Harvard course grew out of a hugely popular one-night stand in 2008, when Adrià spoke to an overflow Harvard audience about such subjects as the use of hydrocolloids that allow delicate fruit or vegetable purées to be transformed into a dense gel, and techniques like spherification, creating a resistant skin of liquid—like my spherical martini olive.
Never having finished high school, Adrià seems tremendously proud of the Harvard connection—and of the honorary degrees from universities. The other honor he seems to value the most is the recent invitation to participate in the 2007 Documenta, the quinquennial art fair in Kassel, Germany. Rather than performing or speaking at the fair, Adrià decided to make El Bulli a pavilion, albeit one some 850 miles away from Kassel. Every day two festival-goers were selected to travel to Cala Montjoi to partake of the El Bulli experience and write about it these collected essays and responses, along with assorted photographs and documents, were published as Food for Thought, Thought for Food. The selection of Adrià was not without controversy, some questioning the idea that cooking and art were co-extensive. But Adrià is proud of the fact that the question has been raised. Says Tony Bourdain, “The word ‘artist’ can’t and shouldn’t be used in respect to chefs—with very few exceptions. Ferran Adrià is, without a doubt, an artist. I always find myself comparing Ferran to musicians—rather than other chefs. People like Jimi Hendrix … or Charlie Parker, who heard notes, heard music, where others heard nothing, who made noises come out of their instruments that no one else had ever dreamed possible. I don’t know—but suspect—that Ferran, like Hendrix, like Parker, might find it a burden year after year to be that far out in front of everybody else. I can’t imagine what that pressure might be like.”
I’m not entirely certain whether what Adrià creates is art, but I can say that dining at El Bulli is the most exciting aesthetic experience I’ve had this year. I felt more than a little like Keats on first looking into Chapman’s Homer. I’d been afraid the meal would be too intellectual to be genuinely enjoyable—a rap that one hears against Adrià, especially from those who have never eaten here—but in fact it was a hedonistic revel, a feast more than a mind game, Dionysus and Apollo wrestling on the plate, the senses ultimately triumphing over the brain. At each stage it seemed hard to imagine how the kitchen was going to follow up on some particularly exquisite creation, but the rhythm of the meal felt perfect, the individual courses seeming to add up to something like a narrative, although it was not necessarily linear. Definitely postmodern. There was a Japanese chapter of about seven courses, including the best miso soup I’ve ever eaten and 10 iterations of soy on a single plate another chapter focused on strictly local ingredients, including sea anemone and pine nuts. Sweet and savory elements alternated throughout. At times we couldn’t help cracking up. Beetroot cookie? Gorgonzola with chocolate? At other times we felt more like stout Cortés as described by Keats, stricken silent with wonder at the spectacle. And for brief moments I felt high, as if I’d ingested some short-acting THC or psilocybin.
“CUISINE IS ENTERING A NEW PHASE,” SAYS ADRIÀ. “THERE WILL BE COOKING AT HARVARD.”
It would be interesting, if utterly improbable, to imagine the diner who arrived without preconceptions, with no expectations. The unfussy, rustic Mediterranean décor of the dining room certainly couldn’t prepare you for what was to come. Your fellow diners are a mixed bunch, two well-dressed young newlyweds from France a middle-aged New York couple in black a Spanish couple in jeans and T-shirts two glamorous women with much older men, both in white jeans and skimpy tops, one blonde and one brunette, speaking English with a French and an Italian accent. You might sense a certain giddiness in the air. Many of the diners are brandishing cameras, and Juli Soler, the co-owner of El Bulli, with Ferran, volunteers to take pictures. There is no silverware on the table, only a white linen tablecloth.
And then comes that deconstructed martini, followed by four more “cocktails,” including what looks like a strawberry made from frozen Campari, a gin-fizz “snow,” and a hot-and-cold gin fizz. At some point a piece of sculpture arrives, a wavy blond convoluted ribbon which looks like a deconstructed plywood Eames chair, which the waiter insists is corn bread. It is without doubt the most delicious corn bread I’ve ever tasted, crunchy, salty, and slightly sweet. It’s followed by what looks like a softball. The waiter cracks it open, the substance in question about as thick as a Christmas-tree ornament, and sprinkles it with nutmeg. It’s a sphere of semi-frozen Gorgonzola.
Anne’s two favorite foods in the world are bone marrow and oysters, but she never thought that she’d eat them together, out of an oyster shell, or that the combination would be brilliant. Only a fanatic would try to match a wine to every course—though it’s apparently been done—so we drink champagne, which is what the chef has recommended, although he himself favors beer. He consults for one of Spain’s biggest breweries and came up with the idea for a beer in an attractive wine-like bottle for the fine-restaurant trade. (Adrià’s occasional consulting for food and beverage corporations helps subsidize El Bulli.)
At some point a single honeysuckle blossom arrives on a small plate and we are instructed to pull off the stem and suck it. We can’t help laughing. In fact, we laugh through much of the meal. The honeysuckle teases forth memories of childhood. The nectar of the blossom is almost certainly enhanced, more intense than I remember it from those long-ago summers, though when I ask him about it later Ferran is uncharacteristically cagey about what was in it. The marinated rose petals with artichoke foam were not a complete success. They tasted exactly the way roses smell, but I learned that I don’t really like rose petals. A good thing to know, perhaps. The sprig of marinated pine, on the other hand, was delicious. Since my last, unpleasant experience eating a sprig of pine, some 45 years ago, back in the days when I tasted almost everything I encountered in a spirit of childish open-mindedness, I didn’t think I would ever want to eat one again. But I was wrong.
In the nights that follow my evening at El Bulli, I will dine at two Michelin one-star restaurants in Barcelona, including one run by a disciple of Ferran’s. And I find myself disappointed to be back in the realm of conventional fine dining. It’s like climbing behind the wheel of a Camry after spending the day driving Ferraris at the company test track in Maranello. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it’s like returning to the present day after spending a few hours in some Utopian future complete with anti-gravity and previously unimagined erogenous zones. This feeling gradually fades, thank God, and I’m able to enjoy retro cuisine once again. But I find myself scheming, devising scenarios for a return.
Time is running out. Barring some further revision of the plan, the restaurant will, after a brief hiatus around Christmas, reopen in mid-January to continue its final season and serve its last meal on July 31. Whether or not you make it to El Bulli, it’s quite likely that what you eat in the years to come will be influenced by what happens there in the future.
Refurbishments in Magic Kingdom
Splash Mountain remains closed next week as it undergoes its annual refurbishment. This might not seem like too big of a hit as we’re definitely in the chilliest time of year for central Florida, so maybe getting soaking wet wasn’t in your plans anyways. Splash is currently set to reopen next month on February 28th.
Splash Mountain Refurbishment
Click here for everything you need to know about the Splash Mountain closure!
Walt Disney World Railroad
Still no train rides around Magic Kingdom as the Walt Disney World Railroad remains closed until further notice. The track, unfortunately, goes through TRON Lightcycle Run, so the train will remain stationed at Main Street Station (go grab a photo!) until construction reaches a point that the track can be used. The coaster is expected to debut sometime before Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 so that’s most likely the latest the train would be closed.
Magic Kingdom Train Station
Want more info on TRON Lightcycle Run? Click here!
Downtown Disney is open
The Downtown Disney shopping and dining area reopened 10 months ago on July 9, in line with California's restaurant and retail guidelines. (Between December 2020 and January 2021, Orange County was subject to strict stay-at-home orders due to ICU capacity falling below 15%, with Downtown Disney forced to close until Jan. 25.)
Currently, all dining and shopping locations in Downtown Disney are open, apart from locations in the Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. The Grand Californian reopened April 29 and Paradise Pier will open on June 15, but the Disneyland Hotel remains closed for now. No ticket is needed to shop and dine in Downtown Disney.