When Ferran Adrià closed his legendary elBulli, on Spain's Costa Brava — he served the restaurant's final dinner on July 30, 2011 — he stressed that the place was not really closing after all: it was evolving into something new and very different. The site, with the original buildings repurposed and new structures added, would be converted into a foundation for the study of gastronomy, an institution that figured to be as original and possibly as influential as elBulli itself had been.
At the big Spanish gastronomic show Madrid Fusión, in January of 2011, Adrià and his chosen architect for the project, Enric Ruiz-Geli, unveiled dreamy renderings of the proposed foundation complex, including a "tunnel of knowledge" or "expositive linear courtyard;" an "ideario" of "thinking spaces;" and a "brainstorming" building, faced in coral and limestone, depicted as looking something like a ceramic spacecraft crashed nose-first into the Earth. It all looked very complex, avant-garde, dreamy — and incredibly ambitious. It would open, promised Adrià, in 2014.
I was on the Costa Brava in late August and, since 2014 is just around the corner, I thought I'd drive up to elBulli and see how this fantasyland foundation was progressing. What I found was elBulli looking exactly as it had when I said goodbye to the place two Julys ago, though now deserted. There was no sign that a single piece of work had yet been done on the site.
Since a 2014 debut seemed unlikely, I later asked Adrià what the new timetable for the foundation was. "Work will begin in November," he replied, "and the foundation will open when everything is finished. However, we're not in a hurry." Local rumor has it that Adrià has not yet received construction permits for the undertaking.
Meanwhile, though, Adrià and his team — including his trio of star chefs from elBulli, Eduard Xatruch, Oriol Castro, and Mateu Casañas, who now also have their own restaurant in nearby Cadaqués, called Compartir — continue to work on the foundation, and on a massive online project, Bullipedia. This will consist of a "Creativity Today" section in which some 30 participants in the foundation programs — chefs, writers, scientists, and others — share their studies as they conduct them, and "Creative Archive," an encyclopedic database of recipes and food knowledge.
Adrià, who is developing his various projects in partnership with the international telecommunications giant Telefónica, has just announced a contest which calls on "creative and talented people" from all disciplines to suggest design and technology proposals to aid in the development of Bullipedia. Winners in the fields of design, computer science, and data visualization will be sent to Barcelona for three months to work on the project. Adrià calls the contest "Hacking Bullipedia."