It was a tribute to the now-closed, best restaurant in the world, El Bulli, filled with dishes from throughout the restaurant’s history. But instead of Roses, Spain, we were in Chicago, Illinois, at Grant Achatz’s restaurant, Next.
Chef Achatz and his team painstakingly recreated 29 courses from the El Bulli oeuvre, with help from Chef Ferran Adria and his staff.
Most El Bulli dishes focus on representing a technique or idea. The menu presented to us last week contained many of these dishes. The first foam dish, well, ever. Spherified olives with no pits. Coconut-filled doughnuts that exploded in your mouth. A ravioli made using a thin slice of cuttlefish as the wrapper. A frozen cheese balloon, hollow on the inside, that you ate with your hands, as it began to melt at your table. A carpaccio made out of thinly sliced mushrooms. An entirely liquid version of a Spanish tortilla. So many dishes demonstrating ground-breaking techniques for their time.
While my meal was not the most delicious meal I’ve ever had, it was the most thought-provoking. Dishes that were designed to make you question your assumptions about food, itself. Why are they serving me a tiny cup of smoky foam? Am I really expected to eat shards of minty ice? What the hell am I eating right now? Is this supposed to taste like this?
As a friend wrote to me afterwards, El Bulli was not about food that tasted good. It was a way of thinking about food. I’m not sure I’ll ever think about food the same way again, which has been Chef Adria’s goal all along. Overall, an incredible experience, and one that I am lucky to have tried.
Full photo set.