Deconstruction. Spherification. Liquid nitrogen. Foams. They’re standards in fine dining today, all born out of Ferran Adrià’s kitchen at elBulli. The Catalan food mecca has since closed, but the food lives on in our culture–oh, and there’s a museum exhibit now, too.
ElBulli: Ferran Adrià and the Art of Food is a retrospective running at London’s Somerset House. It’s being touted as the world’s first exhibition showcasing a chef and his restaurant, and after running for a very successful year in Barcelona, elBulli will give Londonites a chance to peruse tasting menus, handwritten notes, cutlery, photos, a giant french bulldog made out of meringue (Adrià’s dog, where the name elBulli comes from), and, maybe most excitingly, the original plasticine models from the restaurant.
Much like Tokyo’s restaurants will feature wax sushi and ramen in the window to entice customers in, elBulli implements model food in its cultural servings. These inedible figurines are anything but appetizing. They look like an assortment of shiny, half-used, erasers, or maybe large, wet piles of chewing gum. But they were quite important to the restaurant, created painstakingly in perfect size and color to serve as a rubric for a dish’s preparation and plating. That might sound silly, but when you’re juggling soy lecithin and NO2 cartridges, there’s simply no natural grounding to prepare the food art consistently.
But I must say, it is a bit heartbreaking that the exhibition lacks an edible component. Food is a particularly exciting art form specifically because, with enough resources and talent, you can duplicate it. Food can allow us to not just read about but taste and smell other times and places. Then again, unless you’re in an elBulli-caliber kitchen, it’s hard to imagine anyone* being able to feed the hungry museum masses with their famous food.
Or put differently, if elBulli were willing to re-create the experience of elBulli, Adrià should just reopen.
*That is, other than the restaurant Next, which staged an elBulli retrospective dinner for a limited-time, sold-out run.