Saturday, February 11, 2012

Déu salvi el Bulli

A word about my motto:  About a year and a half ago, I became obsessed with a small restaurant in the coastal town of Roses, Spain by the name of elBulli.  Before this time, I had been oblivious to it's existence, but once I found out about it, I knew that I wanted to go.  The only problem was, so did everyone else.  There were only about eight thousand seats each season for the several million reservation requests they received.  Only, that wasn't even the only problem.  elBulli had just announced that they would be closing their doors for good on July 30th, 2011.  They would not be taking any more reservations.  If you did not have a seat already, you would never have one.  As you might imagine, this was distressing.

So, I adopted a slogan.  A motto if you will.

Déu salvi el Bulli

That's Catalan, or at least I meant for it to be.  I'm not completely positive that it is correct use of the Catalan language, but I like the way it sounds.  God Save elBulli.  It may not be much of a plan, but I didn't have anything better. 

I also created a logo.  I took an image of the elBulli sign and overlaid my motto.  It was supposed to be reminiscent of the Sex Pistols cover for God Save the Queen.  No one got it. But I still like it.

I had a T-shirt made up with my logo.  I wear it proudly all over the place.  No one has any idea what it means, but lots of people ask about it and it makes me happy when they do.  So I begin to explain:

elBulli is the best restaraunt in the world, and it is closing.  People don't understand.  They think I'm talking about some cafe down the street.  I patiently, of all the restaurants in the world, elBulli is THE best.  Certainly you could make the case for other places, and I am sure that they are all very good as well, but you would be wrong.  This is the point when people begin looking at me like I'm insane, or just start walking away altogether.

So....I came up with a plan.  If elBulli was closing, and I would not get the opportunity to eat there, I would recreate the experience myself.  I would create a dinner in the style of elBulli.  I would invite friends and we would have our own elBulli experience.  This is the point where I started to think I might be insane.

Let me step back for a minute: 

The menu at elBulli varies, but a dinner there is typically somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-45 courses.  Yes, 35-45 courses.  That is a lot of courses.  So think spherification, reverse spherification, foams, airs, liquid nitrogen.  Savory sweets and sweet savories.  If you were lucky enough to dine at elBulli, you went into a database so that if you were even luckier to get the chance to return, you would not see any of the same courses on your menu that you had previously seen.  I could go on, but let me just say, this is not homestyle cooking.  To even attempt this at home was (and is) beyond my feeble culinary skills.

So, I tried to enlist help.  If I couldn't do this alone, perhaps I could con others into helping me.
Now you might think I'd look for cooks and chef type people, but I had a better idea.  A chemist, an innovation guru, and best of all, a magician.  This was my wishlist for fellow cooks.  I even tried to recruit them.  The response was mostly wary.  "Um, what is it you want to do?"  So I would explain.  They sort of got that I wanted to do a big dinner party and wanted help with the cooking.  To say they were enthusiastic would be a stretch.  To a one, they had never heard of elBulli and when I started to explain, they quickly thought I was nuts.  I got vague responses of interest, but really no commitments.   

Undeterred (or at least still under the belief that this was all somehow possible) I started conceptualizing the dishes for my menu.  I had some solid ideas that I knew I could pull off, and a few that might be tricky but at least seemed reasonable.  I had a running list of ingredients I wanted to use, but didn't quite know where or how yet.  Then I had all kinds of ideas that seemed interesting, but I didn't even know where to start if I wanted to actually make it a reality.  They were contradictions and impossibilities, but I wasn't going to let that keep them off the list.  I worked on the menu, refining the ideas, adding more, combining ideas and ingredients into finished dishes.  I worked the menu up to 18-20 dishes and still had some ingredients I wanted to incorporate.   

Alas, it was not to be.  I'd like to say that I had a good excuse, but mostly I just failed to get it together in time.  July 30th came and went.  I started thinking about the logistics.  25 dishes (I thought 35 was probably unreasonable) at the rate of 1 every 15 minutes becomes 6 hours of service.  Even with my help (who still wasn't committed to actually, you know, help) that seemed like it might be difficult to manage.  Also, you know, I wanted to also enjoy the meal with my guests.

And on July 30th, 2011, elBulli closed its doors.  I never got to eat there.

I have tried out a few of the dishes on their own for family and friends, and while they were usually pretty ok, I don't know that I could pull off 25 of them in a single evening.  Though someday I might still try.

I had almost moved on.  I still thought about it, but not regularly.  I wasn't adding new dishes to my menu (though continued to produce some of them every so often).  And then, I found out that someone else was working on the same thing, only, unlike me, he was actually in position to pull it off. 

Unbeknownst to me, Grant Achatz, of Alinea fame (and a one time elBulli stagiare), had started a new restaurant in Chicago.  It is a brilliant, if  somewhat crazy concept for a restaurant.  Pick a theme, develop dishes, create a menu, open the restaurant, run service for about 3 months, and shut it down.  Then do it all over again.  3 completely new restaurants per year. No reservations.  Tables would be sold like a Broadway show.  You buy your table in advance.  Meal, beverages, tax, tip, all prepaid.  No out of pocket on the day of the meal for the diner, no last minute cancellations for the restaurant. 

The restaurant is Next.  The first season (or year if you will) was Paris 1906, then Tour of Thailand.  I would have loved to do both, especially Paris, but somehow this was not on my radar at all.   I first heard about the concept during the final performance of the season, Childhood.  Again, too late to get tickets, but it piqued my interest.  Then I heard the announcement for the 2012 season.  Up first, elBulli! 

I started waiting and watching for tickets.  So did everyone else.  I was checking daily, looking for announcements, hoping I'd be one of the lucky few to score tickets.  Today, those tickets went on sale.  Sometime after 8PM elBulli time said the announcement.  At 1:00 central time (8:00 in Roses, Spain) I was at my computer frantically refreshing the facebook page for Next, waiting for word that tickets were up.  When I saw the update about 10 minutes later, I was ready to go.  There were less than 1000 tickets to be had.  I was in mere seconds after it went live and secured my space in line.  #654.  When I reached the front of the queue, I'd get an email, and would have 1 hour to buy tickets.  I began to wait again.  At 5:56 I got the email.  2 minutes later, I had my table.

Ok....breathe.  I have a table.      

Now, I'm waiting again.  I can't wait!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Brian! I am so happy for you. If there are only 1000 tickets in the world, you and Jamie definitely deserve one each. Enjoy it, really. (Do you think that they let you box it up? Like 35 boxes x 2 people?)