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A new way of serving food


Daily Gullet Staff
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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1145918940/gallery_29805_2457_37779.jpg" width="324" height="285" hspace="5" align="left">Everyone

knows that a restaurant is not just its kitchen, and that there are many essential

factors without which the establishment would not function. It is obvious that

the kitchen would be nothing without a group of people attending to the diners

and acting as a liaison with the chefs. In El Bulli it has been our intention

that the treatment afforded to our guests, like our cuisine, matches our own outlook

on life.<br><br>

As we have said before, this outlook on life is embodied in an attitude marked

by cordiality and helpfulness. The service in El Bulli treats customers with

respect and friendliness, with the same attitude as if we were receiving a friend

at home. We should not forget that our main objective is the diner's pleasure,

a factor that is sometimes analysed in a way that is overly self-serving: the

customer's happiness should not just be interpreted as a guarantee that

he will return to the restaurant one day, or that he will speak favourably about

his visit. The happiness of each diner is a chef's greatest reward, beyond

other interests related to financial factors or prestige, although these undeniably

have a part to play when we remember that a restaurant is a business that needs

to be more or less profitable in order to stay open. <br>

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<td><img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1145918940/gallery_29805_2457_5635.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">El

Bulli has followed a pattern of attention that has been perfected over time,

and which increasingly matches the general philosophy of the restaurant.

One of the most important factors has been the revision of the conventions

of gourmet restaurants, avoiding arbitrary customs that only owe their existence

to habit, and which add nothing to the diner's pleasure. We have already

spoken of our interest in avoiding the excessive solemnity of some restaurants.

In this respect, we have a maxim that has always guided us: the diner should

feel at home. This is embodied as much in the physical surroundings (which

aims to be welcoming, elegant and warm, but without any superfluous elements)

as in the typical restaurant accessories (cutlery, tableware, furniture)

and in particular, the conduct of the staff. <br><br>

This last aspect is the one that, in our opinion, distinguishes us from

others. In El Bulli we are aware that every meal is like a theatrical

performance, which begins with the preparation of the dishes in the kitchen

and continues with serving them at the table. The waiters are the actors,

professionals who must know their lines perfectly. That does not mean

that there has to be a fictitious or artificial distance with respect

to the diner; on the contrary, a good waiter should know how to transmit

with his attitude, with his conduct and with his knowledge of what he

is serving, and that his objective is, once again, the comfort and pleasure

of the diner. In this respect, it has been important to instil a particular

attitude: a waiter at El Bulli must avoid routine at all costs, and use

his five senses for each dish he serves the diner, with no distinctions

whatsoever. The objective is to give the same service to all types of

diner. <br>

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All this means that an El Bulli waiter should not be just a true professional,

perhaps with proven experience in other gourmet restaurants, but he should

be steeped in the spirit of our restaurant. And the strangest thing is that

this does happen, and in just a few days the waiters are immersed in this

philosophy and seamlessly integrate as players in this show. For this we

are lucky to have senior restaurant staff who are the real backbone of El

Bulli, who have been with us practically since the start of our story.<br>

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<td> Another particular aspect of El Bulli has been the elimination of the

barrier that traditionally exists between service in the restaurant and

the kitchen. The waiters are a definite liaison between the kitchen and

the dining area; they have access to both worlds and become transmitters

of the work done at the stoves and serving benches. In this respect, it

may be said that there is no separation between the kitchen and the dining

area. In addition, in 1994, when the new kitchen came into service, we installed

a table to serve diners with the same care and attention as in the restaurant

area, and it has enabled us to reduce even further this traditional gap

between the two worlds. <br>

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1145918940/gallery_29805_2457_8188.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">As

we have said, this care of the diner has been an objective pursued since

the beginning, but it has been adapted over time. 1994 saw the introduction

of changes in the cooking style that needed to be carried over into the

restaurant area as well. Getting rid of the à la carte menu in favour of

the menu de dégustation, and the fact that this was growing yearly, meant

that a type of service that reflected these changes had to be introduced.

This gave more importance to the role of the waiter as a transmitter of

a cooking style, as a person who accompanied the diner so that he would

adapt to the rhythm set by the kitchen. This rhythm, far from being frenetic,

aims to maintain human contact at all times, to the extent that, whatever

the rhythm our “show” calls for, the diner’s requirements are always paramount.

In this respect, the attention given by the waiter is fundamental. In short,

from 1994 onwards, the service at El Bulli was even more distinctive and

was devoted to the transmission of a culinary philosophy, but with the same

requisite at all times and an objective that has been paramount since the

outset: for the diner to be happy. <br>

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One of the typical scenes in a creative restaurant is the waiter explaining to diners how a dish should be eaten. In a traditional restaurant, this hardly ever occurs, since the diner usually knows in advance what type of dish he has ordered, and any variations are minimal. There are usually two reactions to the waiter’s instructions, acceptance or rejection. The latter is not very frequent, but there may always be a diner who mutters to his partner that he does not need to be told how to eat. This is a perfectly reasonable attitude, as is reading alternate chapters in a novel or looking at a painting upside-down.

<br><br>

The waiter’s instructions are not gratuitous, and they are delivered in

order to explain the best way of eating a dish so as to fully appreciate

the chef’s intention, and thus receive more enjoyment from it. The idea

is that the dish in question has been created to be eaten in a particular

way. For example, if a diner does not know how a fondue works, someone needs

to explain it to him. On the other hand, there is nothing to stop someone

in a Japanese restaurant from eating a sashimi and soy sauce separately.

Yet almost certainly the fish will taste insipid and the sauce too strong.

With a creative dish, especially if the concept is brand new and there is

nothing to compare it with, it is imperative to know what order to follow

. . . (F)or some dishes it is essential to know the sequence in which it

should be eaten, otherwise the diner will not be able to appreciate all

the refinements. This should not make us lose sight of the fact that there

are gourmets who, when they see the layout of the elements of a dish, intuitively

guess (usually correctly) the order in which they are to be eaten. But they

are exceptions that prove the rule, and the waiter’s instructions, far from

restricting the liberty of the diner, are directed at ensuring that the

maximum pleasure is obtained. <br>

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<font size="-2" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Our thanks to Juli Soler for his invaluable assistance in this project. <br>

Copyright Ferran Adria, Juli Soler, Albert Adria © 2006. Photographs by Francesc Guillamet. <br>

Introduction by Pedro Espinosa.<br>

El Bulli books may be purchased here.<br>

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The service at El Bulli when I was there was exactly described in this excerpt. It is nice to see that at least in my experience their objectives were fully met.In fact, I have never had a more relaxing service experience anywhere. This started the moment we entered the door of the restaurant.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The service at El Bulli when I was there was exactly described in this excerpt. It is nice to see that  at least in my experience their objectives were fully met.In fact, I have never had a more relaxing service experience anywhere. This started the moment we entered the door of the restaurant.

This is too cool, I wish I had more time to write! Gotta make my orders!

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I’ve just got back from El Bulli, and these words echo my experience exactly. In every way, I found the experience unique; but I think what astonished, and surprised me the most, was the true warmth of the welcome, the service, and the complete lack of pretension.

The restaurant is unbelievably relaxed; there was even a smattering of people in jeans. There is no fussy napkin folding and replacing, and the very capable waiting staff move around comfortably, implementing an extremely complicated service with an extraordinary ease. You get a strong sense of the solid backbone of people who know the business inside out from Luis Garcia and the senior waiting staff, and you can see that the younger staff are clearly enjoying the experience and sucking up the knowledge which is being imparted to them. The underlying feeling is always one of generosity and giving. And as a diner, you feel part of this great exchange of ideas and energy. It's like we're all absolutely meant to be in it together. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

We have been lucky to spend an evening at El Bulli two years ago on the occasion of my birthday and our experience was absolutely exactly the same as described in the above testimonies.

Actually it is our very best experience ever, until and since then. We also have been deeply impressed by the unpretentious wholehearted warmth of the welcome and service (not to mention the excellence of our meal)

This is true generosity, this is perfection !! I know from the bottom of my heart that this will never change because the team at El Bulli is composed of real honest people whom I admire.

Thank you is not enough to express our gratitude.

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