Today, I finally made it to the elBulli Exhibit at Somerset House. Yes, I know I said I was going last week, but on our way there we realized London Fashion Week was underway. Since Somerset House is ground zero for all of that madness, we decided to postpone. I had been very curious to know how they were going to create a museum exhibit around something as ultimately interactive and fleeting as food. Here’s how they did it. Initially I was overwhelmed by the amount of detail which outlined the history, the original owners of the house and their dogs (French Bulldogs, hence the name elBulli), and the evolution of Chef Ferran Adria at this mythical location in Spain. However, a theme slowly emerged. All of this minutiae and memorabilia adds up to the art of food – the creativity involved in making exquisite dishes, the surprise, joy and delight of it all. This is about more than just elBulli, although one could argue they did it first and best.
Located in Catalonia, Spain, elBulli was likely the world’s most recognized restaurant until it closed two years ago. Chef Feria took a little cafe and transformed it into a must- stop location on any foodie pilgrimage. Initially his focus was on haute cuisine using local produce which earned him Michelin stars, but then he took it one step further, becoming known as the father of molecular gastronomy, experimenting with food, flavors and the unexpected. This had the knock-on effect of every chef in the world putting flavored foam on our plates, most with questionable results. It was one of those places I sort of thought would always be there for me to try on down the road, on a trip to Spain, sometime in the future. Sadly, that road abruptly ended and my chance (even if I could have scored an elusive reservation) has passed. Seeing the exhibition made me all that more wistful.
I’ve always said that chefs have a unique blend of traits: extreme artistry and uptight precision. Yet, they are somewhat at odds with one another. This exhibit showcases the very best of these two traits (and so much more), inspirational to anyone who loves to create art. An interview with Richard Hamilton, a famous British artist, was featured at the show. He said that Chef Adria was creating a new vocabulary with food…and then finding a new syntax and grammar to fit this vocabulary into. He compared him to Shakespeare who introduced so many new words into the English language. Wow! Now, the elBulli Foundation will continue to promote and nurture creative culinary types at their retreat in Spain. And with this transition into a new realm, Chef Adria didn’t see the closing of his famous restaurant in 2011 as the end, it was just the beginning. We should all take a lesson from his book, don’t you think?