They say patience is a virtue but when it came to this exhibition I was never going to be able to stay away long. Three days in I was through the doors and caught up in the inevitable crowds. After taking a cursory glance over what was on offer I decided to return when the novelty and throng had worn off.
This is a comprehensive retrospective and semi archive of the history and work created at elBulli and for anyone with an avid interest it is worth investing time in the exhibition. Luckily it runs until February 2013 so there’s plenty time for repeat visits if you live in Barcelona and it all proves too much to take in first time round.
From there we start with the background history to the restaurant, from the German & Czech couple that originally bought it in the late 50s (and whose French bulldogs gave the restaurant it’s name and logo), through to how brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià along with manager Juli Soler started working in the catering trade to their eventual takeover of elBulli from the previous owners.
From here we then look at the evolution of the food from its classical nouvelle cuisine beginnings to the more experimental work as the years progressed, demonstrated through short films and photographs.
No element of their research and development seems to have gone unrecorded and several of the stained notebooks and diaries are available for us to peruse.
One of my favourite elements was an evening’s service at elBulli condensed into a 5 minute short film, different clips of which were shown on three separate screens. An assembly line of chefs working with calm precision which got me thinking of the level of coordination needed for it to work smoothly night after night. Whilst this is hardly cooking in its purest sense this appeals to my love of well thought out organisation.
From the restaurant a more research based focus developed and some of the most senior chefs started to work from a taller or workshop in C/Portaferrissa in central Barcelona. The restaurant was closed for several months of the year so they could focus on new techniques, flavour cataloguing and development of new equipment for their creations. Here we see some of the output from that research.
As if to further emphasise the sensory overload we arrive at a full wall of photos from each year’s service at the restaurant. Some beautiful plates of art which are simply just too many for the eyes to consume.
From his humble beginnings in working class Barcelona neighbourhood L’Hospitalet de Llobregat Ferran is now a world known celebrity who has even made an appearance in the Simpsons. His illustrated image greets you as we come to the final section which shows heartwarming video of the last service at elBulli, a list of all those who’ve worked and done a stage their during its life and the sharing of the knowledge gleaned from their research via courses run at Harvard University and through the Fundació Alícia.
To send us on our way we are shown a tantalisingly unobtainable box of Willy Wonkaesque chocolates and treats that would’ve ended the meal for those lucky enough to have eaten there. A terribly cruel gesture to exhibition goers in my opinion.
Ferran Adrià and elBulli. ‘Risk, Freedom and Creativity’ exhibition – until 3rd February 2013. Free entry.
Palau Robert, Passeig de Gràcia, 107