ROSES // El Bulli, one of the world's most acclaimed and award-winning restaurants, has served its last meal.
On the final menu on Saturday were 50 dishes with intriguing names such as Clam Meringue, Olive Spheres and Hot Cold Gin Fizz.
For 14 of the 24 years that the virtuoso chef Ferran Adria has been in charge of its kitchen, the restaurant has maintained the almost unattainable Michelin three-star status and been rated the world's best restaurant five times by British magazine The Restaurant.
After a final dinner and drinks party for faithful clients and staff families, Mr Adria will close down the restaurant and begin turning it into a top level cuisine foundation he hopes to open in 2014.
"People think I should be sad but I feel the happiest man in the world," said Mr Adria. "El Bulli is not closing. It's just transforming."
He himself was not sitting at a table for dinner on the final night. Instead, as usual, he was in the kitchen, cooking.
El Bulli's location in a beautiful and isolated seaside cove on Spain's far north-eastern tip inspired Mr Adria, who started off as a hotel dishwasher, to think about the essence of what makes food taste delicious, prompting him to deconstruct ingredients to what he calls the molecular level. He would then reconstruct each dish using unexpected recombinations of the original components, presenting them in mouthful-sized portions.
Most required instructions on how to eat them, sometimes with bare hands. Food took on unexpected shapes, textures and temperatures as the chef used liquid nitrogen to produce vegetable or fruit foam, airy, ethereal reincarnations of solid food, combining seaweed and tea, or caviar with jellied apples.
His bunuelo de llebre is a small ball with an external surface of chilled delicate pastry that conceals "hot liquid hare which you must bite into with your lips closed", enabling its caramel-like taste to explode inside your mouth.
The restaurant's average price of €270 (Dh1,427) per head - not including drinks, tax or tips - was another of its distinctive features.
The restaurant had more than a million reservation requests every year. It seated only 50 and opened just for dinner, and usually for only six months a year.
Mr Adria used the other six months to travel the world in search of ideas and then to conceive and painstakingly practise preparing dishes that have astounded gastronomy critics and dedicated foodies alike.
"El Bulli will be opening again, just not for reservations," said Mr Adria at a farewell press conference in the rock garden outside his restaurant surrounded by dozens of colleagues, former and current. Among them were some of the most famous chefs to come out of the restaurant - Rene Redzepi of Denmark and Grant Achatz of Chicago.
"For me the spirit of this place has always been its freedom," said Mr Redzepi, adding that "the courage and bravery" with which they work in his Noma restaurant "came from here. It was like finding a treasure".
Four of the world's top five chefs trained at the restaurant, which takes is named from a pet bulldog owned by the German couple who first established a restaurant in the Cala Montjoi cove in the late 1950s.
"I thought that I knew cooking," said Mr Achatz, who now runs two restaurants, Alinea and Next, both considered among the leading lights in molecular gastronomy in the US. "When I arrived here and walked into the kitchen for the first time [12 years ago] I felt I was on another planet."
Achatz, like others, highlighted Mr Adria's daring and insistence on constantly breaking new ground.
"When I came here, cuisine in America was very stale. Everyone was following each other. So to see someone taking risks, expressing themselves through real food - it lights a fire."
Back in the US "it was very exciting to watch that seed grow and watch it spread over the country," he said. At 49, Mr Adria said he and his crew need to replenish their inspiration to come up with something new.
"There comes a time for change in everything so that we can maintain creativity," he said.
He added that the foundation "will create every day" and present its findings free to the world online. Last year, Mr Adria acknowledged that El Bulli was struggling financially, but on Saturday he flatly denied that it was closing for financial reasons.
His biographer Colman Andrews said that while the restaurant may have lost money, Mr Adria made substantial amounts through books, conferences and side businesses that depended on his name and that of the restaurant.
Besides functioning as a think-tank and laboratory with the best chefs and food experts from around the world, Mr Adria said the new establishment would be open for visits to everyone, from multinational executives to school children. He said it would also be organising benefit meals for charities and non-governmental organisations.
Although the premises may be closing to the public, Mr Adria said he would not be stopping.
"With things as they are, with the economic crisis, it would be a total lack of respect to take holidays," he said.
Mr Adria's immediate plans are to travel, spreading the Bulli word with trips to China, Peru and the United States, where he will give classes at Harvard.
He said serious work on the foundation will begin next January although he hopes to make an important announcement in October in Madrid.
At the news conference, Mr Adria was presented with a giant-sized white nougat sculpture of a bulldog, in memory of the "bulli" - a local Catalan word - that inspired a name that is now legendary in the culinary firmament.