The world's most exclusive restaurant just got that bit more exclusive: epicureans the world over will lament, as they scramble for a last chance to sample fare at the Catalonian eaterie El Bulli, after its owner's decision this weekend to close for good.
Ferran Adrià, the Catalan chef who has spent two decades in the vanguard of avant-garde cuisine, recently announced that he planned to close El Bulli in 2012, reopening two years later having considered its future direction.
But in an interview with The New York Times on Friday, Mr Adrià, 47, had changed his mind. The restaurant will close permanently next year because, despite having a reported 3,000 people on its waiting list for a table, it is losing too much money.
In its place, Mr Adrià will run a cooking foundation offering scholarships to the world's most talented chefs.
El Bulli, in the town of Roses, north of Barcelona, has won the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards a record five times and has three Michelin stars; it has just four dozen seats, which are allocated by lottery.
But it has operated at a loss since 2000. Mr Adrià and his partner, Juli Soler, had been losing half a million euros a year on the restaurant and his cookery workshop in Barcelona. He said: "At that level of contribution I think we would rather see the money go to something larger, that expands the concept and spirit of what El Bulli represents."
This money, earned mainly from consultancies and El-Bulli-related books, will now be spent establishing his new academy as "a place for free thinking and kicking around ideas". It will also fund the scholarships.
The demands of 15-hour days running the restaurant had also taken their toll, he added. "At that bestial pace, it would be impossible to continue."
For many years the restaurant closed for half the year to allow Mr Adrià and his chefs time to develop new techniques, and their labours have widely influenced "molecular gastronomy" over the years, with the chef Heston Blumenthal being the style's principal British proponent.
The Catalan chef arrived at El Bulli, which then served French food, in 1983. After taking control of the kitchen, by the 1990s he had transformed it into a laboratory for daring innovation.
The American chef Anthony Bourdain said of the recipes in the recent El Bulli cookery book: "Pastry chefs everywhere – when they see this – will gape in fear, and awe, and wonder. I feel for them; like Eric Clapton seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, one imagines they will ask themselves 'what do I know?'."
Among Mr Adrià's signature dishes are pine-nut marshmallows, steamed brioche with rose-scented mozzarella, rock mussels with seaweed and fresh herbs and passion fruit trees.
The restaurant will reopen after its winter break for six months in June this year, before closing for good in December 2011.
'A spoonful of pina colada'
Try this El Bulli recipe...
Ingredients: Half a pineapple, stabiliser, gelatine, coconut milk, cream, white rum, organic crystal sugar, freeze-dried pineapple chunks, one siphon, one nitrogen cylinder.
Liquidise the pineapple, heat to 160F, strain for six hours. Dissolve stabiliser in small amount of juice, heat to 185F, add gelatine, stir in remaining juice. Place in Pacojet sorbet-maker. Freeze.
For foam, mix coconut milk and cream, pour into siphon. Charge siphon with nitrogen cartridge, refrigerate for two hours. For rum jelly, dissolve gelatine into heated rum, leave to set.
To serve, place teaspoon of rum jelly on soup spoon. Garnish handle with pineapple chunks; sprinkle with sugar. Top with coconut foam, place on plate beside blob of sorbet.