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The Thinker

Author S. Indramalar Illustration Graham Roumieu

SINGAPORE

LAST FEBRUARY, Spanish chef/guru Ferran Adrià blanched the culinary world when he announced he would be shutting down his revered restaurant, El Bulli, for two years starting in 2012. The reason wasn’t lack of interest; to get a table at this molecular gastronomy mecca, which is two hours north of Barcelona, guests reserve some six months in advance. Culinary chins wagged. What could the mercurial Adrià— whose dishes often require liquid nitrogen and calcium chloride and include such mirthful ingredients as “frozen air of Parmigiano”—have up his sleeve?

Standing backstage at the World Gourmet Summit, where chefs, food lovers and potential investors gather from around the world to discuss the future of food, Adrià is about to present the documentary A Day at El Bulli. Sipping a coffee, he tries to explain his decision.

“People wonder, If El Bulli is where everyone wants to go and if we are winning all the prizes, why change?” says the 47-year-old Adrià, who has a surprisingly calm and pleasant demeanor for a superstar chef. “They say we should be opening El Bullis around the world. But the most important thing for me is that we are happy with what we are doing. If we aren’t, we won’t cook well, and the customers won’t be happy.

“We’ve spent the last twenty-five years creating something new every year,” he goes on. “But working fifteen hours a day leaves us very little time to create. Even the months we take off during the winter aren’t enough.”

So in 2012, El Bulli will close its doors to the hungry public and transform its kitchen into a think tank gastronomique. Chefs and scientists will huddle together in Adrià’s laboratory and figure out where the next culinary revolution will take us. The chef is visibly thrilled at the idea. “There will be nothing like it in the world. There are no references. That’s the magical part. That’s the challenge.”

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