The Instagram post is mysterious and then dramatic.
A man in a black T-shirt places a glass jar with an herb onto a white, backlit Jony Ive-ish niche, part of a wall of small cubicles holding colorful translucent vessels. The camera pulls back to an immense universe of such jars in rigid order. Then, the lights go off behind some: Letters are being outlined, spelling out El Bulli, Ferran Adria’s historic but now-shuttered restaurant on Spain’s Costa Brava that pioneered what some folks decried as molecular gastronomy, while aficionados hailed the fare as modernist cuisine. Indeed, foodies may see a resemblance to Adria in the figure in black at the beginning of the video.
Two more restaurant names appear: Enigma in Barcelona, run by Adria’s brother and collaborator, Albert; and Alchemist, the avant-garde and crowd-pleasing temple to edible trompe l’œil helmed by the young Danish chef Rasmus Munk. Then two dates flash: Feb. 3 and Feb. 4. The caption says “celebrating the legacy of elBulli” — the missing space between the words is how Ferran Adria likes to style the name. The affair will take place in Copenhagen.
El Bulli — which served diners only six months a year — was once the most difficult reservation in the world of haute cuisine. Today, a meal at Alchemist will set a solo diner back more than $700, excluding wine and drinks. If this two-day event is indeed a kitchen collaboration, it won’t only be a crazy-difficult ticket to snag but also the capstone of the revival of a culinary philosophy some critics declared passé a decade ago. Munk has been at the forefront of the resurrection since he opened. He is unapologetic about emulating what the Adria brothers started — even though he is too young to have eaten at the Catalan institution, which shut down in July 2011 and is now a museum operated by the El Bulli Foundation.
The old-guard French chefs were happy to see El Bulli close. They had been eclipsed for a couple of decades when the Adrias redefined what cuisine was — basically, not classic French — starting in the late 1980s. The revolution was formally recognized when the New York Times put Ferran on the cover of its Sunday magazine with the words: “La Nueva Nouvelle Cuisine: How Spain Became the New France.”
That stung in Paris and Lyon. Many young men and women who would go on to become famous chefs found their way into the El Bulli kitchen as unpaid stagiaires or employees. Among them, Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago; Jose Andres who, when not feeding victims of catastrophes, runs several restaurants in the US; and Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen. Redzepi has said that Adria didn’t impart a style but liberate a generation.
“Ferran’s rule,” he said, “was there are no rules.”
The victory lap of the French traditionalists didn’t last long. That’s because the younger generation of chefs — even in France — have been infected by the swing-for-the-fences, no-holds-barred style of El Bulli. It also freed countless national cuisines from the straitjacket of cooking à la française to achieve recognition. Last year, a young Asian chef exchanged emails with me, excited by the fact that I considered Ferran a friend and had eaten at El Bulli several times. He had studied many thick volumes of El Bulli lore and watched videos downloaded via BitTorrent about the restaurant’s cooking over and over.
That youthful enthusiasm for the work by the now-63-year-old modernist is embodied in Munk, who is 31. I accompanied Ferran and his wife, Isabel, and our mutual friend Lisa Abend to Alchemist’s spectacular new space in the Refshalevej neighborhood of Copenhagen a couple of months after it opened in 2019. The younger chef was both proud of his space and thrilled by his idol’s presence. For his part, Ferran was visibly flattered and moved by the revitalizing of the techniques and ideas he and his team at El Bulli had worked on for years in Spain.
Before the mysterious video, which dropped on Instagram on Nov. 1, I would have said the restaurant event of 2024 would be seats at Noma’s final season. This is now a contender.
Last November, Munk had a one-evening collaboration in Denmark with Andoni Luis Aduriz, the chef at Mugaritz in San Sebastian, who Ferran has hailed as his ideological successor. That may have been a trial run for February’s two-day celebration of El Bulli. Places at the Mugaritz-Alchemist show sold out almost immediately. If you want to see culinary history repeat, get ready to pounce.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Howard Chua-Eoan is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion covering culture and business. He previously served as Bloomberg Opinion's international editor and is a former news director at Time magazine.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com/opinion. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.