When Ferran Adrià closed his legendarty elBulli in 2011, he announced that it would be reopening in 2014, not as a restaurant but as a foundation for gastronomic studies. Since then, there has been much speculation about just what form this foundation will take, who will be able to visit or participate, whether or not it will serve meals, and so on. Adrià himself has talked frequently about it, but his own ideas of exactly what it will be and how it will work have evolved, as it has become apparent that it would not reopen — at least not fully, or on the site of the restaurant — in 2014 after all.
Not long ago, at a Culinary Conclave Adrià convened at LeDomaine — a luxury hotel in a converted monastery adjacent to the Abadía Retuerta winery in Spain's Ribera del Duero region — he spoke in considerable detail about the Foundation and revealed some interesting facts about its genesis. As usual with Adrià, he spoke in something of a stream-of-consciousness style. This is an edited transcript of his remarks:
"When we made the decision to close the restaurant, people were saying 'They're broke' or 'Ferran and Juli [Soler, Adrià's longtime business partner and the co-creator of the modern-day elBulli] are fighting' or 'Ferran and Albert [Adrià's brother, also a chef-restaurateur] are fighting.' Rumors would kill any project, so we had to say something and make decisions in no time at all. So we said we would create a foundation. We just wanted some time off to think.
"We realized how important the legacy of elBulli was, but we didn't know exactly where we were, because there was no frame of reference. There were months of confusion. We knew we didn't want a museum, because a museum is old stuff, kind of dated. In my view, museums won't work anymore. So we decided it was going to be a lab — we had the first laboratory in gastronomic history — but not exactly. As we were working, MIT became interested and wanted to work on the conceptual project. What would this foundation be like? Forget about cooking, it’s not about that. We are envisioning Pulp Fiction — a film, a narrative line. We are working on before, during, and after the visit someone pays us, and how the new technology will affect this. This will be elBuilli as an exhibition, and also 40 people working on conceptual issues. There will be videos on YouTube. In 1998, we were the first to make a presentation using video.
"To finance the Foundation, we sold wine and other items at auction. We made 1,800,000 euros [about $2.5 million]. The last year of elBulli, we closed the restaurant to the public for some nights for business dinners — another four million euros [about $5.5 million]. I don't want any controversy about the Foundation. Of the money we make, 90 percent goes to the Foundation. We need an endowment of 100 million euros [about $137 million] for the next 50 years. We will have dinners at elBulli for ten years to raise money, Ferran Adrià conferences. I'm sure we will reach a deal with American Express, to do conferences with them. Will people pay to come to the Foundation? I don't know.
"There are three parts to the Foundation: elBulli 1846 [the number signifies both the birth year of the seminal French chef Auguste Escoffier and the total number of original recipes generated at elBulli in the Adrià years], elBulli DNA, and Bullipedia.
"elBulli DNA will be 30 or 40 creative people, not just chefs but people in other disciplines, sharing the creative process. Everything will be broadcast online in real time, and everyone will work on joint projects using new technologies. elBulli 1846 will be an exhibition devoted to the history of cooking, the culinary genome, and the creative genome
"Bullipedia is a way of trying to bring order so that the gastronomic world shares a common language as much as possible. Fruit, for example. What is fruit? Earlier it was easy to answer this question, because it was always French. "Mayonnaise" is a disaster on Wikipedia. It is not a sauce. I can use it as a sauce but that's a different thing. Type "creative cooking methods" or "cooking styles" into Google and it's a disaster. The question is, after Google as a search engine, what? Bullipedia is not about cooking, it's a search engine. We can't afford to change the name now, but we would if we could.
"This is a very important project for the Internet world. It is a unique design, a browser for a profession. There are lots of projects on the web that are for sharing, hippie projects, but nothing like this. Telefonica [the Spanish-based telecommunications giant that engages Adrià as a spokesman and is heavily involved with the Foundation] doesn't know what will happen. Some 150,000 people enrolled in our science and cooking course with Harvard online, so we know this is going to be a big revolution. This is one of the solutions to social problems, because education is vital. With the Internet, we can discover talents in Mongolia, in places you've never heard of. The role of Bullipedia is to be objective. All of you [i.e., journalists] can add the subjective later. [Just before Easter, Adrià officially opened a 16,000-suare-foot Bullipedia Lab on the Plaça d'Espanya in Barcelona, where "people will gather and bring together all the information.]"
"We need a new model for expressing culinary creativity. The Foundation is one form. But the Foundation is done not for us but for the next generation. We won't know the next elBulli for 15 years."