How El Bulli restaurant turned dining into an experience
A restaurant in Roses, on Spain’s Costa Brava, changed the world of the gastronomy and the way we see food, creativity, and experience.
This is the story of El Bulli restaurant and its chef, Ferran Adrià
Restaurant magazine judged them as the world’s best restaurant five times.
They’ve been awarded 3-Michelin stars.
They had 2 million reservation requests per year, but only served 8000 customers (less than 1%)
How they made it? The short answer is they focused on the experience.
Could a chef be creative and serve the customer at the same time?
Well, Its definitely a challenge, at least in the traditional sense of the restaurant. In the case of El Bulli, for six months during the winter, and for economic reasons at the beginning, Ferran and his team closed the restaurant and used this time to create new dishes. This particular condition training them to operate in two different modes.
ElBulli worked with two operational modes: Creative Mode and Production Mode
The Creative Mode
Lapse: From January to June
Location: Barcelona, at El Bulli Taller
El Taller was located at Barcelona’s Gothic neighborhood and it was El Bulli gastronomic workshop, where they explored new ideas and techniques without the pressure of the daily service.
The process started when Ferran and his team analyzed the way different ingredients behaved.
Everything was documented with extensive notes and sketches.
They did 5000 experiments to created 125 new dishes every year.
(2% success — 98% learning)
They made prototypes, for example, on the left is a prototype of a dish made with play-dough and on the right is the final dish.
Every chef had a creative notebooks.
In the creative mode, Ferran also worked with other professionals like industrial designers, artists, computer engineers, architects and designers.
Some food techniques invented at “El Bulli Taller” were:
- Used of Liquid-Nitrogen
All this creative system and process look alike the design thinking process, where the main goal defines a methodology to generate new ideas.
As the famous British actor John Cleese said:
Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating
The Production Mode
Lapse: From July to December
Location: Roses, at Cala Montjoi
Here was the place where elBulli served their creations to their customers. Also was the moment when concepts and techniques generated in the creative mode were transformed into dishes. Everything was done with meticulous precision and timing.
More than 50 chefs worked as an orchestra every day during this season.
They had a daily stand-up meeting to made sure everyone was on the same page
The new dishes were served to customers, and the reactions and observations were documented to perfect the dish
The production mode at El Bulli was a strict time/goal run. At this moment the most important was delivery the best experience and food like an orquestra. Very similar to a design agency or a software startup.
What has been the result of these two operational modes?
This unique process for a restaurant allowed El Bulli became the most influential restaurant in the history and redefine the avant-garde cuisine.
We can recap El Bulli’s creative process in this image:
This model can be found also in companies like Apple, Facebook and Google.
Adrià classified and photographed each oh the 1846 dishes created at elBulli since 1992
How was the dining experience at El Bulli?
The last meal at El Bulli was served on 2011 but from the videos, dining at El Bulli was a 3 to 4 hours experience, with involved from 30 to 40 courses. Here some examples:
You must be ready for when the muses of the creativity arrive.
Update: In 2018 I have the chance to eat at Tickets, one of the restaurants Albert Adria opened after El Bulli. Here is my recount of eating at Tickets: