The wait is nearly over. More than a year after getting the go-ahead from the city of Girona’s planning commission, trailblazing Spanish chef Ferrán Adrià finally has an opening date for elBulli 1846, his ambitious “exhibition lab” taking over the former elBulli restaurant space in Cala Montjoi, Catalonia. “We have passed through some struggles to get all the permissions,” Adrià says. “But now it’s all set.” elBulli 1846 will officially start its work February 2020.
elBulli, which was named the world’s best restaurant on five occasions, closed in 2011 after 28 years in business. And since 2014, Adrià has talked about opening an exhibition center meant to preserve the restaurant’s legacy (the name refers to the number of dishes created in elBulli in its almost three decades, all catalogued online). For elBulli 1846, the former restaurant space has been expanded to an area of 16,000 square feet that will be dedicated exclusively to creativity and innovation. “It is a space of pure experimentation, where we will test formats and recipes, and further deepen our studies,” says the chef, who in recent years has devoted himself to spreading gastronomic knowledge with projects like the world’s first culinary Wiki and Sapiens, a methodology Adrià developed to apply creative processes to food.
Adrià is still unsure whether the lab will be regularly open to the public, though he told Eater during the Madrid Fusión symposium that it may host private dinners and other events. “We kept the room and the kitchen, even though they have been renovated, but it will definitely not be a restaurant,” Adrià says. “Everything is possible. I know we’re about to start working now, but how it will look is still unknown even for us.”
elBulli 1846 will be staffed by a team of around 20 professionals with different backgrounds, including philosophers, cooks, journalists, and nutritionists, who will all be tasked with exploring new culinary techniques. Some of the lab’s initial team has already been chosen by the members of elBulli Foundation, which manages all the chef’s projects, and its sponsors. Food world experts and personal friends will select other team members. For example, Adrià says chef José Andrés will nominate one person to join the staff.
The first official call for nominations will run from February 3 to July 2020. A second team will be assembled during a second call for nominations from September to December 2020. During this period, anyone will be able to apply to become part of Adrià’s “dream team,” regardless of age or profession. “As long as he/she meets all the requirements, of course,” Adrià adds. The main requirement is creative talent: In other words, team members should have ideas for disrupting the culinary world. “elBulli has not become known because of its dishes, but because it got people thinking,” the chef says. “It is this spirit that we will deepen in this new initiative.”
The idea for elBulli 1846’s format, although not entirely defined, was inspired by research and arts centers Adrià has visited over the past few years, such as Robert Wilson’s arts and humanities lab the Watermill Center, near Southampton, Long Island. “I’ve always been interested in how other areas, such as architecture and the arts, for example, face the creative process. Why not take this research process to food?”
As with much of Adrià’s work since elBulli closed, the goal of elBulli 1846 is to promote more global culinary knowledge. “The concept of a restaurant as we know it is just 200 years old. This is a very new area of knowledge,” Adrià says. “We are missing the base, and I hope we can reach something beautiful in culinary expertise.”