Once called “The Salvadore Dali of the kitchen”, Ferran Adria and his restaurant, El Bulli, processes more than 8 million reservation requests per year, while only seating 60 customers for lunch and dinner (8,000 diners yearly). It is considered the ultimate mecca for foodies and most will plan an entire Spanish vacation (not a bad punishment!) around a reservation at El Bulli.
How to get a reservation: At the end of the current dining season, El Bulli will take reservations beginning December 20th through an email system located on their site: El Bulli. The reservations will be taken in a single day, and you should hear back within 2 months or so. It is better to be very flexible on your date range, or perhaps not give any restrictions at all. If you have certain ones, check the calendar on their site for dinner/lunch servings and closures.
How to get to El Bulli: El Bulli is about a 2 hour car ride from Barcelona, and is located in Roses, next to the sea. The restaurant overlooks the sea. You will pretty likely assume that you are lost on the way, upon which you will see the El Bulli sign.
The restaurant: The restaurant is a lovely roof tiled building, and the interior has a one which features paintings of bulldogs, in a homage to El Bulli’s name. Upon entering, you’ll have several stops before you enter the main room – Adria greets each and every diner. You’ll also be taken to the kitchen for a tour (when I was there, it was 43 chefs for 60 diners). Next stop is the terrace, which has a lovely sea view, where you’ll be presented with cocktails and snacks. The final stop is the dining room where the meal really begins. There’s been a ton written about the eating experience so I’m not going to go into it- if you want to learn more about the actual dishes, here is a good link. I think all that I need to add in this section is a quote from Adria himself: “If you know nothing about what to expect, it’s like magic.”
What comes into the preparation: Every day, there are about 40 chefs, and approximately 20-30 wait staff who work at El Bulli, a pretty good ratio considering that the restaurant only has 15 tables, or approximately 50 patrons. The chefs work with about 7,000 grams of food, of which after all is said and done, only 10% is served to customers. A schedule of the day’s preparations:
7 AM – 12 PM : Purchasing produce at local markets, getting deliveries, etc.
10 AM: Adria arrives
3 PM: Cooking begins
4 – 530 PM: Dining hall cleaning and prepation
730 PM : Dinner service begins
Recipe creation: El Bulli is only open from June through December, for its final seasons (2010 and 2011). Traditionally in past years the restaurant was closed from October – March, and this is when the menu was created, and the process to generate and create a new menu idea could span from several hours to several months. It is rumored that the dining season has been pushed out because Adria enjoys the fresh produce which autumn offers. Below is the 2008 menu preparation timeline, from “Un dia en elBulli.” (A Day at ElBulli). Of course all during restaurant season, the staff and Adria will continue to evolve on recipes.
El Bulli in numbers:
Reservation requests per year: 8,000,000
Customers per year: 8,000
Diners for lunch and dinner: 50 people
Average staff daily: 60 people
El Bulli kitchen space: 350 square meters
Dining space: 330 meters (including terrace)
Wines on wine menu: 1,616
Styles of glassware: 55
Average final meal price per person: 230 euro (Approximately $325 US)
% of tables reserved for returning customers: 50%
Number of years the restaurant has operated at a loss: 10
I have met Ferran Adria both at his restaurant and in the United States for a speaking engagement, and he is a wonderfully charming man. He is humble, unimpressed by flashiness and show, and simply wants to cook good food and advance the field of molecular gastronomy. It is unfortunate that 2011 will be the last season for El Bulli while he takes a two year hiatus. While Adria says he will come back in 2014, it is no doubt that El Bulli will be changed. I will miss the old El Bulli but am very excited for things to come.