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Influential Restauranteur, elBulli Co-Owner Juli Soler Dies at 66

He was often referred to as the "soul of elBulli."

A young Juli Soler.
A young Juli Soler.

Juli Soler— the restaurateur many credit with the success of famed Spanish restaurant elBulli — passed away Monday. According to the New York Times, Soler was 66 and suffered from a degenerative nerve disease. Chef Ferran Adrià — who announced Soler's death on Twitter — tells El País (translated), "Without Juli, elBulli would have not happened." He adds that Soler "invented the concept of the modern dining room."

Solar — who worked many front of house jobs within restaurants — ran a record shop for years before he interviewed with the owners of what was known at the time as Hacienda El Bulli. The Associated Press writes that Soler became the manager of the restaurant in 1981 and quickly removed "Hacienda" from the title. He then hired a "modern-minded" French chef, Jean-Paul Vinay, who helped the restaurant gain a second Michelin star.

However, when Vinay left in 1984 Soler took a deep interest in Adrià, who was then a line cook, and within 18 months, Adrià was running the kitchen. Many credit Soler with allowing Adrià to "experiment wildly in the kitchen," which helped him develop his revolutionary and avant garde style. In 1990, Soler and Adrià became joint owners of the restaurant, and transformed it into one of the most "daring and influential restaurants of its time."

El Celler de Can Roca chef Joan Roca notes: "Without being a chef, Juli was one of the most important and influential figures in Spanish and global cuisine. He was a seer.  It was he, together with Ferran, who invented elBulli's magic." Solar is frequently described as the "soul of elBulli" and he co-authored many books with Adrià. He eventually became an honorary president of Adrià's elBulli Foundation, but had to step down due to his health. Adrià called the death of Soler "the saddest news I wish that I have never had to bear."