/ 14 February 2010

World’s most revered restaurant finds a new role

It is the end of an era in culinary history. But it is also the beginning of a new, even grander one — the crowning moment when high cuisine is formally inducted into the world of high culture.

The world’s most famous chef, Spaniard Ferran Adrià, on Saturday confirmed that the world’s most revered eatery, his groundbreaking, three-Michelin-star El Bulli, north of Barcelona, will not reopen as a commercial restaurant after it shuts next year. It is to be transformed into a non-profit foundation, by 2014, similar to those that run museums and art centres throughout Spain.

“It has been the love of the people that made us decide we should become a foundation,” Adrià said. “This is really a question of popular demand.”

The decision comes three weeks after Adrià shocked the world’s gastronomes by announcing that the restaurant would close its doors for two years while he pondered the future. Exhausted by years of maintaining the spirit of experimentation at his 60-seater restaurant, near the town of Roses, he said he needed a rest to think out the next stage of his life.

The 15-hour days running the restaurant were threatening to damage his creative edge, the 47-year-old Catalan said: “With a format like the current one, it is impossible to keep creating.”

Last month’s announcement led to speculation about the loss of a global cultural jewel in newspapers from New York to Tokyo. The chef said many people had argued that El Bulli had become too important a part of Spanish culture for it to be left to the whims of commercial enterprise. “I didn’t think people would give the matter the importance that they have done,” he said.

The concept of creating a foundation had flowed from that. “It means the spirit of El Bulli will be even stronger and will live on for ever,” he said. It would also, he said, prove less risky in the long term than running it commercially.

Adrià and his partners had been losing €500 000 a year on the restaurant. Their business followed a similar model to those of haute couture fashion houses which lose money on their collections but then make a profit by using their brand to sell anything from perfumes to handbags. Adrià’s brand is on everything from olive oil to crockery and silverware.

“The restaurant was already effectively being subsidised, so this model makes sense,” he said. “We will be providing funds to the foundation but obviously we will also be open to others putting funds in as well.”

Adrià has given himself two years to think about what the new foundation will do. “We are open to suggestions,” he said. But he is absolutely sure it will involve cooking and serving food on El Bulli’s hallowed premises. – guardian.co.uk