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So El Bulli, as we’ve all heard by now, will close. But was it ever really open in the first place?
To too many people it wasn’t, because they couldn’t plan as far ahead as El Bulli required them to and make a reservation some six or nine or even 12 months in advance, fixing a far-off vacation with that sort of exactitude, letting one restaurant and one meal stand as the tent pole around which a year’s worth of travel was organized. El Bulli had a limited number of seats; a table there was yours for the night; the restaurant shut down for six months of the year; and yet tens of thousands of gourmands worldwide clamored to get in, because a visit there was synonymous in many circles with real gastronomic erudition. The arithmetic was brutal.
While this justly storied restaurant signaled the rise of Spain and the advance of what was sometimes referred to as sci-fi cuisine, it also reflected, better than any restaurant in the last decade, a sort of madness that came to infect the food world, a strain of merciless competition that split food lovers into two camps: those with the economic means and single-minded focus (or professional affiliation) to gain access to experiences as exclusive and rarefied as El Bulli, and those who had to listen to the rapturous accounts, nod appreciatively and cop to envy, which they were absolutely supposed to feel.