When the creator decides to stop composing, the sycophants think to themselves— now what?
That question is derived from the fact that the most cutting edge chef of our time (by popular definition) has decided to shut the doors of his 3 Michelin starred restaurant. I personally have never eaten or worked at elBulli, but I have encountered a few who had the pleasure of clocking time at “the best restaurant in the world.”
I remember when I arrived in Chicago, July 4th of 2010. I came to do a two-day stage at Alinea. I arrived a few days early and was lucky enough to eat at Alinea, Tru, and Schwa (in that order) before reporting to 1723 N Halsted St.
Reflecting back on the dining experiences I had, and my short stints at two of the aforementioned restaurants, I began to think… How much can one take from a stage? That question led me to ask someone who has seen more stages than anyone I know. Surprisingly, Chef Dave Beran said that his “ah-ha!” moments were mostly in dining experiences rather than working in kitchens.
I’m going to rewind here to eating at WD-50 on January 23rd, 2010 — for the second time. I’ve come to believe that this was my first “ah-ha” moment. I can’t be sure if it was the scrambled egg in egg raviolo with charred avocado and Hamachi (which I didn’t even particularly enjoy), or the string of 7 desserts made by Alex Stupak including an inflated ice cream, flavors of chicory, and techniques I had never seen, that changed the way I thought about food. But from that moment on, my life had been changed.
When I arrived in Chicago for my stage at Alinea, I had already eaten there just three days before. Funny thing is, again, I probably got more from the dining experience than my twelve days in the kitchen. However, I will say this: Alinea changed the way I work. The efficiency learned in a kitchen like that is priceless. I remember trying to pull everything out of every single second and store it in my brain like that weird Harry Potter memory bank thing. I’ve done that in a lot of places. Some people can pick up more knowledge in one day than others in an entire season. In the words of the chef Beran, “It’s all in what the stage is trying to put in/get out of it.”
I guess where this is going is that when elBulli closed its doors, I felt a brief moment of regret. Regret that I was never there, that I never got to experience what Chef Achatz had the privilege of witnessing. But you know what I have had? Awesomely talented people around me — always willing to show me something new, discuss a better technique for an ingredient, or honestly just lend some wiser words than my brain could muster up.
One door closes and another door opens. Don’t be upset that you never made it to elBulli. Instead, be grateful you have this new breed of thought-provoking, emotionally-charged cooking that is apparent in the likes of Chefs Yoshiaki Takazawa, Miguel Romera, and John Shields. Find comfort in knowing there is always new knowledge to be taught and just as many eager young chefs who want to absorb it.
“Thus the sum of things is ever being reviewed, and mortals dependent one upon another. Some nations increase, others diminish, and in a short space the generations of living creatures are changed and like runners pass on the torch of life.”