I slaved away in the kitchen, described dishes to the guests in the dining room, trying to contain my own awe, amazement and drooling over the incredible creations. I occasionally had the opportunity to nibble or sample one small portion of a dish ... but I never [had] (and never will have) the opportunity to dine and experience elBulli ... a restaurant that holds such an important role in my life and my formation as a chef.
Then I thought, well that one is just too obvious. What about the great meals that I remember from my childhood? Like making zucchini bread with my grandmother using all the surplus zucchini that we picked together from her garden ... or the fact that, as a little girl, my favorite day of the year was Thanksgiving (for obvious reasons, being a young foodie). Or [that], being a Southern girl born in Conway, S.C., [I] crave, at all hours of the day, really really good pulled-pork barbecue with tangy mustard sauce and boiled peanuts and fresh peaches — the kind that you can only get from a tiny stand on a dirt road near the peach orchards in South Carolina — where the juice from the peaches drips all the way down your arm to your elbows and you are leaning forward like a girl with an ice cream cone trying to keep it from getting all over your clothes.
And, while all of those amazing food moments in my life would be equally worthy as a selection for my last supper, the problem with those options is that I can still make all of those happen — I could do it next weekend if I really wanted to!
But what I can't do and will never be able to do, is understand and participate as a guest in the elBulli experience. I call it an experience because it is definitely not just the dazzling food. It starts with getting dressed in whatever makes you feel comfortable (at elBulli you were accepted in jeans and a T-shirt or ball gowns), followed by the long winding road in a taxi cab from Roses to Cala Montjoi. On one side of the road is sheer cliff, with the waves below. It is truly spectacular and very much taken for granted by those that drive it everyday to and from work. I imagine you can really soak in the beauty if you are on the way to a magical dinner. Upon arrival, you are warmly greeted by the servers and maître d' and escorted to the terrace overlooking the cove of Cala Montjoi. On the terrace, you enjoy a welcoming cocktail and amazing snacks while soaking in the sun, and then you are moved inside to the dining room, where the amazement and wonder continues, course after course.
The whole experience includes the drive to the restaurant, the ambiance, the impeccable service that is always attentive and helpful but never stuffy or uptight. ElBulli's true triumph was how they were able to make every guest feel at home in their dining room. Even though you might be oceans and miles away from your actual home, at elBulli you are home.
For my last supper, I'd like to hand-select my menu of what in my mind would be the "best of elBulli." That is very individual of course, but it is, after all, my last supper. And the only person that I would like to share my last supper with would be my husband, my best friend, the love of my life and the best complement to a career as a chef that I could ever have: Felix Meana.
Cocktail: Gin Fizz Frozen/Caliente (mix of textures and temperatures of gin fizz)
Aceitunas verdes esfericas (The elBulli olives.)
Pescadito Frito (A twist on fried small fish, this is using rice paper and a dried powder made by dehydrated cod.)
Chicharrones de pollo (Boneless fried crispy chicken feet.)
Merengue profiteroles de remolacha y yogur (Meringue profiteroles of beet and yogurt.)
Petalo caramelizado de manzana con flor de apio (Apple chip with celery flower.)
Tempura de flor de hinojo (Fennel flower in tempura.)
Corte de parmesano (Like a parmesan ice cream sandwich from outer space with freeze-dried Parmesan cream inside.)
Muelle de caramelo (A caramel spring — like a slinky out of candy — with salt and olive oil.)
Bonbon de aceite de calabaza (Pumpkin-seed oil bonbon encapsulated in thin sugar shell.)
Air baguette de jamon (Crispy hollow bite size "baguette" topped with a thin slice of joselito jamon iberico.)
Caviar sferico de melon (Melon caviar.)
Pan de queso (This is a frozen inflated air puff of Parmesan cheese meant to mimic cheese bread.)
Aire de zanahoria con concentrado de mandarina (Carrot air with mandarin concentrate — this was featured in the New York Times.)
Momia de salmonete a la guindilla (The name translates to “mummy of little red mullet.” It’s the bones of tiny red mullet fish fried crispy wrapped in cotton candy.)
Carbonara (One long "noodle" that had all the flavors of carbonara.)
Gnocchis de polenta con cafe (Polenta gnocchi with coffee and egg yolk; these were spherical "gnocchis.")
Guisantes verdad o falso (Two types of peas that look identical served next to each other with the name “peas true or false.”)
Risotto de pinones (Young pine nut risotto.)
Gambas en differentes cocciones (Prawns cooked in different ways: Head of the prawn served fried and edible, soup of the essence of the head and the body on the grill.)
Espardenyes mentaiko ruibarbo (Espardenyes are a sea creature. The translation is "sea cucumber," but they aren't the same thing as the typical sea cucumber that you think of or see when you Google it. It has an amazing tasty, delicious flavor. Here it is served with mentaiko and rhubarb.)
Navajas con dashi (Razor clams served in the shell. One is a true razor clam and one is fake, made of dashi and served with seaweed.)
Tuetano de caviar con crema de coliflor (bone marrow topped with caviar and cauliflower cream.)
Mollejas de conejo con fisalis y aire de regaliz (rabbit sweetbreads with cape gooseberry and licorice air.)
Astanque (This means "pond" — it was a thin layer of ice in a bowl, topped with demerara sugar and green tea powder.)
Melocoton liquido (essence of ruby peach served in a spoon, with a frozen liquid peach liquor bonbon.)
La tierra (different textures of the earth dessert.)
Trufitas (A play on "truffle," these look like chocolate truffles — a thin chocolate shell covered in cocoa powder but inside they are liquid black truffle essence.)
Ambar (elderflower liquid sphere inside a honey gelatin shell.)
Marshmallow (a mint marshmallow dusted in cocoa powder, but the texture is the most amazing marshmallow texture you have ever put in your mouth.)
Caja de chocolate (last but not least, the chocolate box, filled with different types of chocolates.)