'World's best restaurant' elBulli closes

elBulli, the beachside Spanish restaurant repeatedly crowned the world's best, closed Saturday after pushing the boundaries of cuisine for over two decades under acclaimed chef Ferran Adria.

The 49-year-old announced last year that he was closing the eatery overlooking a cove in the Mediterranean in Cala Montjoi near the resort of Roses, a two-hour drive north of Barcelona, and replacing it with a culinary research centre.

Preparing dozens of courses each night and fielding the tens of thousands of requests for a table that the Michelin three-star restuarant received each year had left him with little time to be inventive in the kitchen, he argued.

"We created a monster and it was time to find a way to tame it," he told reporters as he sat at a table outside the resturant before the final meal was served, flanked by past and current elBulli chefs dressed in white.

"It would be logical for this to be a very sad day but it is the opposite, we are happy, very happy because the project will continue," added Adria, the co-owner and, since 1987, the head chef of the restaurant.

The elBullifoundation is scheduled to open in 2014 in a building to be built beside the restaurant, which is reached by driving along a winding mountain road surrounded by pine and olive trees.

It will grant between 20 and 25 scholarships annually for chefs to spend a year working with elBulli's core staff on new creations. The results will be posted online.

Adria's trailblazing approach to cooking uses hi-tech methods to take apart and rebuild foods in surprising ways.

The 50 guests invited the final meal at elBulli began their meal with his version of a dry Martini - a dish composed of a spherical globule of reconstituted olive that was placed on the tongue and then spritzed with atomised gin and vermouth.

Pistachio ravioli, clam meringue, liquid croquetas and olive oil chips were among the other dishes on the 50-course menu served by waiters wearing black T-shirts that read: "elBulli the last waltz".

After dinner a party was held at the restaurant to celebrate the opening of the culinary think tank.

"We have never had a party at elBulli before," said Adria.

The restaurant is credited with pushing back the boundaries of cuisine and helping transform Spain from a culinary backwater to a world leader.

Britain's Restaurant magazine ranked it number one on its list of the world's top 50 restaurants a record five times - in 2002 when the list was first published and for four years in a row through 2009.

Several chefs who worked at elBulli and went on to found top restaurants of their own credit the freedom they had to break culinary rules during their time at the eatery for their success.

"The courage and freedom to do what we do at our restaurant came from here," said Rene Redzepi, head chef and co-owner of Noma in Copenhagen, as he sat beside Adria.

"And that is like finding a treasure," he added. It was Redzepi's restaurant that deposed elBulli at the top of Restaurant magazine's rankings last year.

Noma was ranked the world's best restaurant in 2011 for the second year in a row. elBulli was not included in the rankings this year because it was closing.

"To see someone taking risks and expressing themselves through cooking, through food, it lights a fire," said Grant Achatz, the head chef at Chicago's acclaimed Alinea restaurant who also spent time at elBulli.

elBulli was open only half the year. Staff at the 50-seat restaurant annually fielded more than two million requests for its roughly 8,000 sittings, with tables in the rustic dining room alloted mostly by form of lottery.

Dinner was a degustation menu of between 30 and 50 small dishes, which cost 270 euros ($385) not including tax, drinks or tip.

But despite its popularity, the restaurant was losing half a million euros a year, in part because preparing the dozens of items on the menu often involved more chefs in the kitchen than the diners it hosts in one night.

It made up the shortfall through a series of elBulli spin-offs, including books, a range of kitchenware, speaking engagements and by lending his name to a range of products, from olive oil to cutlery.

ds/jj

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