Spanish restaurant elBulli helped change the way the world thinks about food through its ceaseless innovation and experimentation. A new show at London’s Somerset House charts its remarkable story but it does much more than that – presenting one of the most insightful and inspirational studies of the creative process I have ever come across.
Taking its name from the French bulldogs so beloved by the restaurant’s original owner, the transformation of a beer and and sandwich shack on the Costa Brava coast into the most revered destination in world gastronomy is interesting enough. Told through photographs, clippings, sketches, menus and other ephemera, visitors get a sense of how this happened.
But to help us really understand this incredible journey, the exhibition also delves into the ways in which Ferran Adrià’s dedication and drive – paired with his exquisite inventiveness – brought about this remarkable change. We learn about the overarching philosophies and Ferran’s desire to bring irony, humour, surprise and provocation into the eating experience alongside the other five senses. Playing with texture and taste, wrongfooting diners’ expectations and using cutting-edge technology to produce the most incredible dishes, Ferran inspired a generation of chefs including Heston Blumenthal.
But we also learn about his meticulous, rigorous approach – we see the detailed records he and his team kept of every creation they tried out, the plasticine models used to teach staginaires the exact way of plating every dish (below) and the extraordinary ways in which the elBulli mindset has gone on to engage with graphic design, art, music and science.
Ferran said at the opening of the show: “Even though the restaurant is now closed, the spirit of elBulli is still very much alive and this exhibition is one of the ways of keeping it so. For some, I hope it will revive good memories, and for others it will give a flavour of a fine dining experience like no other. Overall, it is an ode to the creativity, imagination, innovation, talent and teamwork of everyone at elBulli, but especially the world-famous chefs who trained with us and took these values into their own restaurants around the world."
Anyone with an interest in the creative process should make every effort to see this show.
elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food runs until September 29.