But now the age of El Bulli, and of the inventive, high-wire, superstar-auteur haute-cuisine cooking that Adrià embodied, was coming to an end. Adrià may have reinvented what high-end cooking could be, but the ambitious young chefs I knew back in New York were already moving on. They wanted to make pilgrimages to Andoni Luis Aduriz’s famously chaste back-to-nature restaurant, Mugaritz, in San Sebastián, and the latest “best restaurant in the world,” Noma, in Copenhagen, where an Adrià disciple named René Redzepi is constructing spare locavore dishes using root vegetables and herbs he forages himself. It is common knowledge in gastronomic circles that El Bulli, with only one seating a night and its 50-course meals, was losing money. Adrià had decided to go out at the height of his powers. “I want to quit like the greatest football player,” he’d told me the day before, “at the top of my game.”
Back in the restaurant, the menus signed by Adrià and Monsieur Geoffroy were laid out at all the tables, along with folding scarlet-colored boxes filled with candies shaped like delicate pieces of red coral and pearly curls of white chocolate embossed with mint leaves. At 1:30 a.m., the guests started crowding into the kitchen to toast the chef who was lined up with his team of cooks behind him, like a great actor taking his last bow onstage. The iPhones and video cameras flashed and clicked. I stood in the back of the room, with the venture capitalist, who was waving his arms and cheering, and the editor from Shanghai, who would be boarding his own fifteen-hour flight back to China in the morning. Another of the weary gastronomes wandered by, sipping the last silky dregs of his thousand-dollar Champagne. We clinked glasses. “To the good life,” I said.