Now it was our turn. We’d been flown in from food capitals around the world by the Champagne company Dom Pérignon. The event was being billed on the press handouts I’d received as “An Offertory From Two Creators.” The first “creator” was Richard Geoffroy, the “Chef de Cave” of the venerable Champagne company, who had chosen a series of rare vintages to go with our meal. (Factoring in travel and lodging, as well as food and spirits for 50 people, the event’s price tag, we giddily estimated, was at least $350,000, and maybe north of that.) The second creator, of course, was Adrià.
On the evening before this epic event, we’d assembled for a welcome dinner in a medieval castle in a Catalonian town down the coast from El Bulli called Vulpellac. Tapas were served in the courtyard, and after that, a banquet dinner of goat confit washed down with magnums of Dom Pérignon ’96 drawn from the company’s private, rarely seen “oenothèque” vintages, in the castle’s vaulted dining hall.
Heather Graham was at the giant communal table, nibbling politely at her plate of goat, along with a few fellow journalists and a contingent of Japanese gastronomes lead by a mysterious gentleman who was dressed like an English dandy in wingtip shoes and a bespoke pinstripe suit. I exchanged business cards with a magazine editor from Shanghai who said he had a friend who was a part owner of eBay in China who was willing to pay thousands of dollars for her last dinner at El Bulli before it closed. “When she heard I was coming to Spain, she wanted to kill me,” he said.
Similar stories were circulating among the plutocrat gourmands I knew back in New York. “It’s a frenzy out there,” said one of my hedge-fund friends who managed to obtain his Last Supper at El Bulli (LSAEB) when one of his colleagues bought the entire restaurant for the evening (“took it down,” in traderspeak) in exchange for a €150,000 donation to Adrià’s new foundation. “The whole El Bulli thing is like a fantasy,” he had told me. “It’s everything that those of us who are enraptured by the drama of great chefs and their restaurants live for. It’s the sanctum sanctorum, Platty. It’s the ungettable get.”
On the day of our Last Supper, Heather Graham and the rest of the VIPs were dispatched on a leisurely picnic cruise along the Costa Brava, while the rabble of scribes assigned to write their LSAEB stories were driven in convoy to the little restaurant for an audience with Adrià. We toured the legendary atelier-style kitchen, where a crowd of cooks were busy chopping mushrooms, shucking oysters, and feeding esoteric ingredients into giant, gleaming blenders. A young chef named Mateu Casañas showed us a translucent wafer made of clarified potatoes. It would be used, he said, to create a “never before seen” mushroom tart.
Adrià and Dom Pérignon’s Geoffroy were sitting out on the patio of the modest, hacienda-style house, being interviewed by a stream of writers in strictly allotted segments of twenty minutes. The great chef, who turned 49 this May, had a pale, exhausted cook’s complexion and a serious, intensely expressive face that reminded me a little of paintings I’d seen of Napoleon. Adrià’s English is imperfect, so while questions were translated for him he examined his iPhone and stared politely into the middle distance.
He said he’d felt a sense of “lightness and relief” when he’d finally made the decision to close El Bulli. “Maybe you can run a restaurant for 40 years,” he said, “but to run a truly great restaurant for that long, I think that is impossible, the pressure is too intense.” After he and his team serve their final meal, he plans to travel to China, then Peru. He’d taught a class on the physics of gastronomy at Harvard last year, and he aims to do that again too. When I asked Adrià what he would choose for his last meal on Earth, he thought about the question for a moment, then answered with a grin. “The best Iberian ham,” he said, “and a bottle of Dom Pérignon.”
Back at the hotel that evening, we loaded into the choppers, which were arranged in a little row on the lawn, and lifted off for dinner at precisely 6:20 p.m. When we landed by the little bay, we were ushered into limousines and whisked to the restaurant’s parking lot, which is surrounded by a stand of tall eucalyptus trees. The venture capitalist gave me his iPhone and asked me to snap a picture of him giving his investor friend, Alex, the finger next to the famous El Bulli sign. “This is my tenth visit,” he cried. “Now I’ve been to El Bulli one more time than he has.”