It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since ElBulli served its last meal. At the height of its innovation and fame, repeatedly hailed as the best restaurant in the world, ElBulli’s head chef Ferran Adrià closed its doors, saying that its 30-course menus were no longer a challenge, and it was time for the next step. Well, his most recent forward motion is a new exhibit, Ferran Adrià: Auditing the Creative Process, on view at the Fundación Telefónica in Madrid until March 1. It’s the first exhibition that focuses solely on his creative process, and it’s also his largest exhibition to date, charting 25 years of the restaurant’s history with more than 1,000 photographs, models, books, and drawings as well as animations, art installations, and an audiovisual display of every dish ever created at the restaurant—all 1,846 of them. As Adrià’s good friend British artist Richard Hamilton said of his frequent visits to the restaurant, “Looking at and tasting the succession of dishes on the menu at ElBulli is an experience that is as aesthetic as looking at a painting.” Think of Auditing as Adrià’s retrospective.
The exhibition took more than a year to create by a team of designers, data technicians, artists, and the like, joining forces to immerse visitors in Adrià’s creative universe. A drawing he made of the one-word question “Why?” is repeated throughout, reinforcing his continual challenge of what it means to cook and, in turn, what it means to eat. The floor plan of the exhibition is cleverly laid out as a map of his creative process, so visitors can walk through each step, learning everything from how the staff worked to achieve its hyper-efficiency to how Adrià and his team developed some of the restaurant’s most legendary dishes, such as disappearing ravioli. Some 4,000 hours were put into the development of each of ElBulli’s menus, and here, visitors get a glimpse into what all that time was spent doing and how cooking evolved into something else entirely in the process.