THE (HUMBLE) BEGINNINGS OF THE WORLD’S BEST RESTAURANT
elBulli started out as a modest minigolf course in 1961. Its founders, the Germanhomeopath Hans Schilling and his wife of Czechoslovakian origin, Marketta, named the business
as they playfully called their French bulldogs. Two years later,the elBulli golf course became a beach bar frequented by local diving enthusiasts, before being converted in 1964 into a restaurant serving roast chicken and barbecue fish alongwith other simple dishes. It was in the 1970s that the restaurant began to serve moresophisticated, French dishes including flambéed sea bass and fennel and double sirloinsteak with béarnaise sauce. The French influence became even more pronounced with thearrival of chef Jean-Louis Neichel in 1975. A year later, the restaurant was awarded its firstMichelin star. When the restaurant was closed in the winter, Neichel was sent to work witha distinguished French chef and visited leading European restaurants in search of inspiration. In 1981, however, Neichel announced that he was moving to Barcelona, andMarketta began to seek a new team. This was when she met Juli Soler in a bar. Followingan interview with Dr. Schilling, Marketta’s husband, Juli was hired on December 25
1981to manage one of the best restaurants in Catalonia. This is how Juli Soler remembers it:
At that time, a table at elBulli was already different to tables in other restaurants inSpain. Even the cutlery, glassware and china were imported from Germany anddrew their inspiration from the great restaurants of the time, belonging to AlainChapel, Jacques Pic, and so on. The service, consideration – in short, the way therestaurant was run, were also based on these models. … the Doctor suggested I dotwo months of intensive travelling, visiting the best restaurants in France, Belgiumand Germany. On my return, in the middle of March 1981, I was ready to face myfirst season as manager. … elBulli was an enchanting place, getting there wasalmost an adventure, but thanks to our clientele and word of mouth, Germans,French and a good many Catalans came to savour a cuisine that, although verydifferent to that of today, was already in the forefront of new European trends.Jean-Paul Vinay’s menu was very much in the nouvelle cuisine line, with lightinfluences from his home town, Lyon, and from Michel Guérard, as one of the last places he had worked had been in his restaurant; and added to all this was thequality of the best produce from our region: the best home-grown vegetables,succulent fish and shellfish, and so on. And then, of course, there was our philosophy, our interest above all in giving pleasure to the diner, so that he wouldleave the place a satisfied and happy man. In fact, inspired by unwritten, but ever- present guidelines, we ensured, and still do, that the atmosphere in elBulli wasunique.
Ferran Adrià entered elBulli in 1983 on one month’s leave from his military service in thenavy in Cartagena. His previous experience in other restaurants had enabled him to work inthe admiral’s kitchen where he had to serve a new menu every day. This is Adrià’sexplanation of what happened in that era:
By chance, at the beginning of that year, another budding young chef, also Catalan,was posted to the kitchen to assist me. He was Fermí Puig, now chef at the prestigious Drolma restaurant in Barcelona. … As everyone knows, military
Source: History of elBulli (www.elBulli.com).