A symphony of ideas at a perfect tempo. That’s what is played and conducted by Ferran Adriá and Juli Soler inside the restaurant elBulli. Each client deserves a private-like performance. This concert of flavors, textures and surprises, is played in the most disciplined manner, to the very detail and at the exact rythm, by one of the best integrated restaurant crews in the world. When Juli Soler refers both to the people working at elBulli and to the clients, he speaks of family, friendship and respect. Adriá does the same. And true to his cook vocation, he promises that he will spend more time at the kitchen and less doing business.
When Easwind asked to both, Adriá and Soler, separately, whether elBulli would be the same without any of them, Adriá said: “No, elBulli is Juli Soler, Ferran and Albert Adriá and a whole team that makes it possible”. For the chef the tandem Soler-Adriá resembles “…a married couple”.
The same as one had read the mind of the other in the distance, Juli Soler replied: “Surely it cannot, we are a team for 25 years, always with the aim to deliver our customers and friends all the happiness, surprise and as much fun as possible” …. “The truth is, that since, we have always trained together great teams both in the kitchen and the dining room.
More than teams we ‘create’ families, with all the respect and the affection that we extend to all and, at the same time, with all the commitment to achieve success and be loved by our clients”.
Hotbed for star chefs and star dining room professionals
Albert Adriá has recently established the Inopia Classic Bar and Albert Raurich a tapas restaurant, a bit Asian, called Dos Palillos. What do you feel watching the closest partners grow?, asked Eastwind separately to both, Adriá and Soler.
“It is a great pleasure to watch how one’s closest associates establish their own business. I always try to help as much as I can”, says the cook.
And, the same as they both, Adriá and Soler, had a single voice, Juli Soler replied that he feels “a great satisfaction with the success and personal capacity of each. This is the natural outcome of the personal development of our entire family. Since always, both, our kitchen crew and our sommeliers and room team, have climbed up towards their personal peaks. Sometimes they develop more linked to us, sometimes by theirselves. The cases of Xavier Sacristá and Toni Gerez in the Mas Pau, Sergi Arola, Fermí Puig, Rafael Morales, Agustin Peris, Lucas Payá… ”
The public face of one team
Speaking more in particular about the kitchen, Adriá adds:” It has always been a team effort. I like team work. And the reason why is easy to understand, three people do more than one.
I must play the role of being the face of elBulli for the media, but the restaurant would not be what it is without the efforts of all our team, without my partner, Juli Soler, and without cooks as my brother, Albert, Oriol Castro and others “.
To the question, is Juli Soler a bit chef too?, the co-owner of elBulli replied: “We are all cooks. Yes, I love cooking “, although,”currently, it is our team under the leadership of Ferran who designs and creates all the menue “.
That’s true but the privileged winecellar of elBulli develops and grows under the Soler’s careful watch.
Spanish wine or wines coming from other countries?, asked Eastwind. “There is no conflict,” says Soler.
And he continues, “we have national high quality wines. If one has further the option and the choice to offer our clients a wide range of wines from all countries that produce, as we can do”… we’ve reached the number of “1,600 references in the wine list”…”Our wines have a unique personality, as the Sherrys, the Riojas, the Prioratos, the Galicians, the Riberas, the wines coming from el Empordà, …Good connosieurs enjoy the selection and the care of our sommeliers”.
elBulli is not expensive
“It is not cheap, but also not expensive. For years our best clients and friends push us to rise the prices up matching this way those of many restaurants accross Europe and around the World.
But always arranging our home economies and thanks to self funding, we keep on rising the prices very carefully just to match the CPI (Consumer Prices Index)”, says Soler.
Adriá and his team take part in a wide range of partnerships with companies such as Borges, Diageo (line of cocktails for the initiative called Nightology), Lavazza (an association, which goes beyond the solid coffees and gastronomic advice in the chain of restaurants called Espression Bar), NH (Fast Good and nhube), the support to Paco Roncero who develops his own cooking style in The Casino of Madrid. All these together with several lines of kits, which allow people “cooking like Adriá” at home (textures) and some lines of products for chefs and hotel branch professionals (ICC).
Back to the origins
The design of kitchen tools (Faces), tableware (Ola) lines of home textiles (Armand Basi), books, the conferences and lectures are included among the above mentioned collaborations. elBullitaller, elBullicatering (1995), one Hotel school as well as a magical Hotel called Hacienda Benazuza in Seville are another areas in which Adriá, Soler an the team of elBulli are active, these latest all related to the core business. Every year new activities, new projects. elBulli has become a first row creative centre, which has proved very profitable, and which everybody would like to become associated with.
Among this bunch of activities and businesses, Ferran Adriá has recently announced that “the creativity of 2008 willbe a return to the origins”. This means “spending more time in the kitchen, leaving aside a little bit the the business field”.
Buying their creative freedom
“If I get retired”-in the future-” it will be on the business side of the activity. Apart from elBulli, we will keep on running 2 or 3 business that will enable us supporting thestructures of the restaurant and of the workshop” (elBullitaller). ” In any case I am going to take it easier. All projects require time. Cooking is what I enjoy the most and I am not going to stop doing it. I am not interested in the rest of the businesses but, as many people depend from them, so I must keep them running well, above my personal preferences. No matter if I enjoy this businesses much or less. And this is a huge responsibility “.
To the question: would Ferran Adriá take part in any extra-Bulli adventure, even if he is not interested in it from the creative point of view?, the chef replied: “No. In each new project, I always consider if we are able to provide something new and, therefore, what we can learn us from it”…”We do business to buy our creative freedom. I want to make clear that I don’t like to do business, but this is the philosophy behind: since we do, enjoy”.
Talking about the collaboration with Diageo, Adriá says that this consists of “a transfer of techniques and concepts from of our way to understand the cooking to the cocktail world. The most interesting in all this has been, perhaps, that the cooks have placed themselves behind the bar to develop the cocktails “.
While the partnership with Diageo has begun recently, cocktails are playing one of the most creative roles in the menue of elBulli for years.
Alicia Foundation and Documenta Kassel, all but business
Documenta Kassel asked Ferran Adriá to participaticipate in this fair in 2007. the official chair Ferran Adriàáon Gastronomic Culture and Food Science had been stablished some years before at the Camilo Jose Cela University.
Furthermore, elBulli collaborates with the Alicia Foundation.
“We began to work with people from the chemistry field at the restaurant and together with Caixa Manresa we began to mature the idea of assisting the society throug joining efforts between the world of food and the science world”, stated Adriá.
With regard to his contribution to Documenta, the chef explains: “One day Manuel Borja, the director of MACBA (Museum of Art of Barcelona), came along with Roger Buerguel, Commissioner of Documenta, and I was proposed to take part at this fair, I knew almost nothing at that time about it.
Among other projects, Alicia has launched in some Catalonian hospitals a program to improve the health of the ill people, through raising the culinary qualities of their diet.
“I always say yes to the proposals to extend my work beyond my kitchen. I am very curious “… “The way in which it was conceived this contribution of putting the vanguard cuisine within the world of art, transformed the restaurant elBulli into a pavillion inside Documenta. During the 100 days that lasted the fair, the 50 clients, who had dinner at elBulli each night, became visitors to the fair, not in Kassel, but at Cala Montjoi “.
Would you return to Documenta, if asked so again?. “Yes, but I do not know how my participation would be”.
To the question: Is cuisine an humanistic or science discipline?, this chef ‘honoris causa’, Medal of the Fine Arts in 2007, replied: “Cuisine is a cultural fact, so I find quite interesting that food, cooking, gastronomy enter into universities. It is something that sure, can only be positive for both sides, the university studies and the professionals in the cooking sector”.
The best restaurant in the world ‘was born’ in a beach bar
Everything started back in 1961, when Hans Schilling, an open minded homeopath doctor, and his wife Marketta decided to build a minigolf in the same place, where now it is located the restaurant.
The German couple baptized the minigolf with the name Bulli, the loving diminutive, they used to apply their dogs, two sympathetic French bulldogs.
Then they constructed a beach bar (1963) and José Lozano, a Cordovan friend of the couple, built the shack. Soon the beach bar becomes a meeting point for the fans of diving coming from around the world that even today visit Cala Montjoi. The shack was known as the Bar Alemán -German Bar-.
Since then the restaurant started to win more and more clients, both national and international, and also to earn the best reputation. A good name, which was widely consolidated between 1970 and 1975. When Müller went away, Jean Louis Neichel came through the door and with Neichel it came the first Michelin star.
The revolution started off in the 90’s
In the 70’s elBulli offered the best international French style cuisine and the best dinning room service to the Swiss style.
The chef was trained in the Nouvel Cuisine culinary art followed by the best restaurants in Europe.
That was the proposal at elBulli in the begining of the 70’s. At the end of 1977, they were copying and improving recipes from other cooks and the chef began to create his own dishes, always within the Nouvel Cuisine style.
In 1990 the revolution starts off. The Schillings sell elBulli to Juli Soler and Ferran Adriá. This allows Ferran Adriá to cook and learn in total freedom. At that time the chef and his team discovered the work of Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Bras.
From the first one they learnt “that everything is possible” and from the other one they learn “the sensitivity, the world of nature and the respect to the characteristic taste of each product”. This kicks off the new style of elBulli “from an indigenous cuisine towards a vanguardist creativity without local roots”.
What it is really “strange” is something relative
A tireless traveller and curious to death, Adriá feels a certain affinity with Asia:”I have visited many countries and each one has inspired me in some way.
“With the cuisine that I feel most affinity is perhaps the Asian, but it is a matter of taste, since each country has an excellent gastronomy and for me there remains many to visit. I like to travel because I am glad getting to know other countries and because I obtain inspiration to create new dishes. The travels, on the other hand, allow us to realize that we are nobody.
“Through travelling, you widen your vision of the world and, in my case, it has taught me that the concept of what is ‘rare’ in the food world is something that has to do with culture and no longer makes sense.
What is ‘strange’ in Spain can be normal in Japan, or vice versa “…”Looking deep inside, our cuisine encloses many concepts and features of the Asian cuisine. It is a great point of reference, and we profit from many of its products, concepts, techniques… “.
The relationship between Adriá and Japan had begun long before that he took part in the Spanish culinary embassy at Expo Aichi 2005 and not only keeps alive through the collaboration with the school Hattori in Tokyo.
The whole world as larder
For a global inspiration, a global pantry is needed. Eastwind wanted to know where hides the secret to get the products of the best quality, although coming from far away, and Soler replied:”It is one of the great advantages of the so called globalization. The oportunity to get the best products, whether coming from the most exotic places in the planet. This just needs for dedication, commitment and study of all the raw materials that one might find “.
The quality is the parameter, under which the choice of products is decided at elBulli , where the creativity comes as the first consideration, a view everything but snob on the best products to use at the restaurant.
“All products are interesting. Their value is not determined by the price, but by their features”, said Adriá.
One of the first western restaurants that served sea urchins on the table, at elBulli it is still preferred the seafood against meat.
Beet laces with vinegar powder (2004) -left-; beet in textures a version of the chocolate in textures by Oriol Balaguer (appetizer-dish/tapa-plato 2004). Photos by Françesc Guillaumet. © El Bulli.
“We are fortunate to be anchored by the sea and in a village of fishermen as Roses is. Because of this reason it is logical that our cuisine the use of fish and shellfish is more developed”…”elBulli is closed in the winter months, this makes impossible for us to use many of the hunting products that are available in those dates”, the chef states.
About the algae, one of the exotic ingredients that elBulli usually imports from Asia, Adriá points: “It is still not a very well known product, with some very peculiar features, which has been introduced recently in the professional cuisine”.
The turning point: the creative team and the technical-conceptual cuisine
The year 1990 marks the breaking poi fornt the change and in 1994 they were ‘cooked’ the two basement concepts for the development of all the subsequent creative outcomes at elBulli: the creative team and the technical-conceptual cuisine.
First of all, the level of innovation that Ferran Adriá and Juli Soler had imposed themselves, made it necessary professionalizing the creative process, having a team devoted to the creative development. The group took the name of development crew and this new profesionalized creative process brought the “foams, new pastas, the new ravioli, the world of salty ice creams, the new caramelisation”.
Today the team withdraws to ‘the chapel’ at elBullitaller, while the restaurant remains closed. There they are developed, among other concepts and products, all the dish surprises, which clients have the opportunity to taste then at the restaurant in Cala Montjoi.
The birth of the technical-conceptual creativity is the milestone that makes the difference between a merely creative and an evolutionary cuisine.
When Eastwind asked, whether it is essential the collaboration between science and cuisine, the chef replied: “Yes, I think it is necessary and very useful. The collaboration between science and cuisine is something relatively new in the field of gastronomy. Not so in the world of food products, since in the food industry it is ordinary and necessary this collaboration.
“Within a context of constant search, it is logical that the cuisine try to find in other disciplines the tools, which are necessary for its own evolution”.
A ‘technological’ cuisine that pays respect to ‘Slow Food’
To the question, is the creative work a interdisciplinary work?, Adriá answers: “I think that all the disciplines are profiting of everything that surrounds them without thinking if they belong to one or another field. Whenever they add, everything welcomed”.
The technology doesn’t hinder at elBulli the greatest respect for raw products and the environment in which they are grown. In fact, both Adriá and Soler maintain a close friendship with Carlo Petrini, the founder and first promoter of the Slow-Food movement. “The movement Slow Food, stablished by Carlo Petrini in 1986 points, among other things, at protecting the quality of products, their seasons, respectful processing… and this is benefitial not only in the professional cuisine field, but in all the branches of food industry”, said Adriá.
Soler agrees and underscores: “Yes, all our respect for the movement which declares, organises and heads our friend Carlo Petrini”.
In 2008, the nature inspires the sweet world
Rooted in this technical-conceptual approach, they dance on the menu, caipirinhas nitro, margaritas spray (daisies spray), fresas-Lyo (strawberries-Affair?), apple caviar, a deconstructed potato omelet (Spanish omelet), that is served in an glass and can be eaten with spoon or else drinked, foams, morphings, dry and fresh snacks, tapas-dishes, small crazyness…
A whole universe, which is always evolving, not only in the texture, raw produce and taste features, but also in the dish and menu concepts themselves.
To the question, which new creations are going to be offered for the season 2008?, Ferran Adriá replied that they are maturing a bunch of concepts and techniques “like the work with the salty chocolate, crocants of sisho or the inspiration in the wild nature within the sweet world” … As every year, we begin gradually, first changing the cocktails, snacks, tapa-dish…till we offer the new menue at a 100%, more or less by May “.
‘Miniature dishes’, just a need
With regard to the structure of the menu, Eastwind asked: What is good, if brief, twice as good?. Adriá replied: “No, it can be found a deep harmony also in a big portion, but when offering a vanguardist restarurant cuisine, one tries to deliver satisfaction to the clients with the largest number of techniques and concepts. And this objective is difficult to achieve just in one big portion.
“We don’t offer miniature dishes, but the portions must be small to be able to serve the largest number of them. At elBulli, it is served a menu comprising about 30-35 dishes. This sorto of menu, which has been defined along the years, presents a structure rather unchanged since 1998. It consists of 1 cocktail + 10 to 12 snacks + 10 tapas-dishes + 2 avant desserts + 1 dessert + 4 morphings”.
Under the baton of Juli Soler since 1981
Chef Neichel wanted to stablish his own restaurant and the Schillings had to find another person.
At the time elBulli was called Hacienda el Bulli, the phone rang “just sometimes” and the road was still full of potholes. Today Cala Montjoi is a protected natural area. At that time, it was just a derelict place. But in that isolated and rustic location, the gourmet doctor Schilling had succeed in establishing a restaurant as good as the best restaurants in Europe.
Despite he had received many other very tempting offers, Juli Soler decided to stay with the Schillings in order to lead a refined establishment where some clients, even today, keep on arriving by boat, as it happened in the ‘beach bar era’. “In fact the customers continue arriving by boat. The warm hospitality has not changed at all. The only problem is that, at that time, we were willing waiting for more customers to come and now we are worried about not being able to meet all those who want to visit us “, assures Soler.
Best maître of the year in 2007
Prior to joining elBulli, Juli Soler took a flash-master traveling around some of the best European restaurants, to catch up with the new responsibility, that he was going to assume at elBulli. Despite the fact that he was perky and experienced, despite his know how, he felt not yet enough trained to assume the responsibility. Dr. Schilling proposed to him visiting the best establishments in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland because of that. Back from the tour, Soler is hired definitively as the Director of elBulli in 1981.
After a lifetime devoted to his profession, the best maître of the year 2007, at least for the users of the Gourmetour Guide, agrees that this profession, “despite the great responsibility, builds oneself”. He also believes that this profession is something that, “if you do not actually like, you should never dare to try”.
Before joining elBulli, Soler had worked in the restaurant owned by his family and had spent some years working in London. He got in the world of music and everything seemed to lead him towards a different destiny.
Eastwind asked him, if there is still music in the life of Juli Soler. The experienced co owner of elBulli replied: “Of course there is still music, but not in the restaurant. It is a matter of respect to the music. There’s no ambient music at elBulli. I keep the music within my mind, at home and inside the car, where I’ve spent so many hours “.
Just one service a day from April to October
Few gourmet cuisine restaurants offer a openings and closings schedule as special as that implanted at elBulli since 1987.
The establishment used to remain closed from 15th January to 15th March. In that year Soler decides to extend this the closing season to 5 months, since mid-October to mid March.
Shortly after, it is extended again. This time to 6 months, from 1st October to 1st April.
At first this was due to economical reasons, since the shortage of customers would have brought elBulli to bankrupcy if it would have open. But afterwards, it has remained the same schedule, despite the fact that each year hundreds of customers can’t fulfill their wish to have lunch or dinner at the restaurant.
“Today we could no way maintain the creative level that we have set, without closing all these months”.
In 2001 it is implanted the single service, “precisely to better serve our clients along more hours”. As they spend “more than 4 hours in our restaurant” – and we wanted at the same time-“set some propper opening hours for our team, the solution would have been hiring two crews. But we have chosen having only a first team. That is why we only offer one service a day”. Within the week elBulli opens just at dinner time, while weekends only at lunch time.
In&out the Michelin Guide
The restaurant disappears from the Michelin Guide after Neichel is gone, though the establishment keeps on receiving more and more clients, both domestic (mainly from Catalonia), and international (mainly from France).
But the ‘debarring’ from the Red Guide didn’t last too long.
Juli Soler learns of the exclusion thanks to a French client, who tells him about.
After a flash trip to Paris “to ask for an explanation”, elBulli soon recovers the qualification and, even more, the Guide awards the restaurant its second Star.
It is neither the first time nor the last time that the ‘bulldog from Roses’ loses the consideration of the Michelin. The ‘lettuce days’ with Adriá at the head of the stoves were hard times. Michelin withdraws the stars again and the Red Guide does not return the calification till 1990, when the Schillings sell the restaurant to Adriá and Soler.
The support of Joël Robuchon is key for elBulli. Thanks to him, food critics and the international gourmet world focus their eyes upon the restaurant and, of course, upon what is being cooked there.
The third star arrives in 1997 and never left elBulli up to date. At that time only Arzak and EL Racó de Can Fabes had reached the 3 Michelin stars level in Spain.
From 1981 to 2008 Juli Soler succeed creating an characteristic elBulli style through his always evolving way of leading the dining room. Eastwind wanted know which is the secret behind this seccess and he told us: “dedication, never stop learning … Both the food and the wine worlds are endless.
If you are determined, every day you can become better and better, you can learn more and more.
“Of course, service has changed much from the past 30 or 40 years. It happens the same inside the kitchen. They have changed, both, in the behaviour, more professional, and in the outcome, ensuring that clients feel more comfortable within this sort of real theatre play “.
Ferran Adriá arrives to stay
Ferran Adriá joined ‘the bulldog of Cala Montjoi’ 3 years later that Juli Soler. He was conplying with the mandatory military service in Cartagena, where he was serving at the kitchen of the admiral. One colleague of the chef, Fermí Puig, recommended him to work at elBulli during the Summer holidays.
He did a Summer stage (unpaid practice) at the restaurant. Once he had finished the military service, Adriá was hired in March 1984 to stay at elBulli forever.
In October of the same year he was head chef together with Christian Lutaud, after Jean Paul Vinai had left the restaurant. Adriá, Lutaud and Toni Gerez were also thinking about stablishing a new restaurant in Setcases (Campodrón).
But Juli Soler asked them to stay and they decided to do it: “I was the director of the restaurant and this was my best decision. I asked the two to continue working at elBulli with the aim to remain a different and modern establishment, following the style of the best restaurants in Europe at that time “.
Adriá and Soler buy elBulli in 1990
Shortly thereafter, in 1987, Ferran Adri becomes the head chef.
Would Ferran Adriá have stayed at elBulli, if Juli doesn’t ask him not to leave?.
“I do not know what would have happened, the facts at that time made me taking this decision”, says the chef.
In 1990 the Schillings decided to get retired and offer to Juli Soler and Ferran Adriá the opportunity to buy elBulli. The acquisition of the restaurant roots both partners for life in Cala Montjoi and makes it possible for them to start their creative evolution in total freedom.
Some other chefs, including masters like Michel Bras or Pierre Gagnaire, have opened restaurants all over the world, even in Asia.
Does not feel you both tempted to do the same with elBulli?. Eastwind receives again the same answer under a different face.
Soler tells us: “For many years we have had proposals to open more restaurants, both in Asia, and all over Europe, also in Spanish capitals of course.
But our goal has been always improving both the service and the cuisine for our clients, providing them unforgettable moments inside the restaurant in Roses. We don’t want to open any branch at all. We enjoy meeting our visitors personally and that’s why I always say: elBulli is located in Cala Montjoi “.
Ferran Adriá agrees once more with his partner: “We have received many proposals, but today we have no intention to stablish any other elBulli”.
Since that does not exist and there will be no other elBulli, what do the clients find at Fast Good, nhube, Hacienda Benazuza and the restaurant at El Casino de Madrid?.
Adriá explains that, in Fast Good, the customers find “fast food of very good quality”; in nhube a “a 3 star restaurant concept for hotels, where all is arranged to make the client feel at home with a simple cuisine based on high quality raw products”; Hacienda Benazuza is “a magical hotel with a special charm in a special land, where our contribution is to implement the philospy of elBulli, which is present 24 hours a day.”
El Casino de Madrid is “one of the best restaurants in the capital city of Spain, where Paco Roncero develops his own cooking style, inspired in some extent by elBulli’s approach to cuisine”.
Cosmopolitan, but homey
Located in a lost cove in the Gulf of Roses, elBulli welcomes customers and partners coming from the five continents.
The official language at elBulli, says Soler, is “the Catalonian, by the percentage in the origins of our team. The Spanish is absolutely usual and by nature in all of us and our kitchen crew also works in English and French without problems.
“In the dining room our clients are served in English, French, German, Italian…, whenever needed, of course “… “We welcome customers from around the world”, he continues, “thanks to the bookings demand we can ‘filter’ a little, in order to give an equal chance to all nationalities without exception.
Due to the great demand from Asian countries, across Europe and America, it is a bit difficult for us to reserve a good quota for our customers coming from Spain.
“Our home region visit us.
This is something that I’m interested in and also I don’t want to lose my Andalusian, Galician, Basque, Valencian, Navarran clients, the ones coming from Madrid and from all points accross Catalonia”…”Customers have always arrived at elBulli coming from all parts of the world, but this happens specially today, when so many people is ready to queue up for the privilege to live, at least once in their lifes, the experience that is offered by elBulli.
“Certainly, different languages and origins mix up within the kitchen and the dining room, but it doesn’t really matter, because, as ensures Adriá, “the cuisine speaks no national language. And we try to make the clients feel at home in all regards “.
Image above the headline.- Ferran Adriá thinking -left- and Juli Soler tasting. Both photos by Maribel Ruiz Erenchun. Composition, Eastwind. Photos © elBulli.