MADRID — El Bulli, the Spanish restaurant repeatedly crowned the world's best, will be closed for two years from 2012, its chef Ferran Adria said Tuesday, citing fatigue and a need to perfect new recipes.
"No meals will be served in El Bulli in 2012 and 2013," said the controversial guru of avant-garde cuisine and creator of "molecular gastronomy".
"But El Bulli is not closing down. These are not two years on sabbatical. I need time to decide how 2014 is going to be. We want the year 2014 to stand out and I know that when I return it will not be the same."
A statement on the restaurant's website added that "these two years will be devoted to thinking, planning and preparing the new format for subsequent years."
El Bulli, on Spain's northeastern Catalan coast, last year came top of the World's 50 Best Restaurants list for the fourth year in a row following a poll of more than 800 chefs, restaurant critics and industry insiders for Britain's Restaurant Magazine.
Gourmets the world over reserved sometimes years in advance for a table in the establishment, where about 30 avant-garde dishes are available on a menu for a price of about 200 euros.
But Adria, 47, who appeared tired and nervous, said he found working 15 hours a day "difficult".
"It's impossible with the current format of El Bulli to continue to create," he said at Madrid Fusion, the annual international culinary conference focusing on the cutting-edge in haute cuisine.
"It's like telling (British fashion designer) John Galliano to go work in a factory."
He acknowledged that in closing the restaurant, he would lose his three Michelin stars.
"I have a lot of respect for the guidebooks, and when you go, you go."
Adria, who joined the kitchen staff of El Bulli in 1984, and Heston Blumenthal in England have since the late 1990s rocked the world of gastronomy by using science to "deconstruct" and rebuild food, both astonishing diners and delighting reviewers.
Taste-bud treats on the El Bulli menu have included oyster meringue, hot ice cream, frothy truffle cappuccino and liquid ravioli, while vegetables are turned into lollipops or whipped foams.
But he has had to respond to critics who say the chemicals used in his "molecular gastronomy" make it unhealthy.
"Can we be proud of a cuisine ... created by Ferran Adria and his chorus of fans which fills plates with gelling agents and laboratory emulsifiers?" another top Spanish chef, Santi Santamaria, said in 2008.
Adria at the time dismissed the comments as "nonsense".
"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.
Santamaria was again dismissive of Adria after Tuesday's announcement.
"The news of the temporary closure of El Bulli seems to be of very secondary importance, especially considering that Ferran Adria has been increasingly involved in his other projects, mostly related to administration," he told AFP.
"After this non-news, Madrid Fusion has become Madrid Bulli."
But France's Joel Robuchon, a one-time "chef of the century" who threw in his apron to find happiness, said he fully backed Adria's decision.
"He repeatedly told me he'd stop work early in life," Robuchon told AFP in a telephone interview. "He'd say 'You were right! I promise you I'll stop'."
"It's a very time-consuming job, especially when you're listed as a top establishment by the guides," said Robuchon. "You worry about every little thing, there's enormous pressure."
Robuchon was the first of a run of great French chefs to turn their backs on gourmet stardom, followed notably by Alain Senderens in 2005 and Olivier Roellinger in 2008.
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