Top Spanish chef to close El Bulli for two years

El Bulli, the Spanish restaurant repeatedly crowned the world's best, will temporarily close in 2012 and 2013 while its famed chef Ferran Adria takes a "sabbatical," he announced on Tuesday.

"No meals will be served in El Bulli in 2012 and 2013," he told a news conference at Madrid Fusion, the annual international culinary conference focussing on the cutting-edge in haute cuisine.

"But El Bulli is not closing down. These are two years on sabbatical. I need time to decide how 2014 is going to be... I know that when I return it will not be the same," said the father of so-called molecular gastronomy.

El Bulli, on Spain's northeastern Catalan coast, was last year named the world's best for the third year in a row by Britain's Restaurant magazine. Other publications have similarly raved about Adria and his food.

But Adria said he found working 15 hours a day "difficult."

"It's like telling (British designer) John Galliano to go work in a factory," he said.

Adria and Heston Blumenthal in England have since the late 1990s rocked world cuisine by using science to "deconstruct" and rebuild food.

Taste-bud treats on the menu of Adria's three-star restaurant have included oyster meringue, hot ice cream, frothy truffle cappuccino and liquid ravioli, while vegetables are turned into lollipops or whipped foams.

He has had to respond to critics who say the chemicals used in his "molecular gastronomy" make it unhealthy.

"Homemade ice-creams, those which are excellent, must have a stabilising substance to avoid crystallisation. Sugar goes through a chemical and physical transformation. Chocolate contains lecithin. Agar is a thick substance that has been used in Japan for centuries," he said once in response to criticism from another top Spanish chef, Santi Santamaria.

"The tomato also has a chemical composition," he said.