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Food for Thought

Above: Various press & magazine articles featuring elBulli + a 5ft tall French Bull Dog, created out of hundreds of tiny meringues. 

It’s often observed at R Studio how Junior Designers Lisa and I fuel our hard graft with a rather ‘hearty’ and eclectic diet, from Japanese takeaway to Italian deli sandwiches, and plenty o’Swedish fancies in between. And who can really blame us with all the appetising packaging we’ve recently been designing for Tesco and Knorr.

To say we’re in love with grub doesn’t even cut the mustard, which is why checking out elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food (on show at Somerset House until 29 September) was our pick of the cultural menu last week. A major retrospective on the global icon of molecular gastronomy, the exhibition charts the evolution of Adrià‘s internationally-renowned restaurant, elBulli, from modest Spanish seaside bar—with plans for an adjoining miniature golf course, no less—into the world’s most imaginative eatery, attracting over two million reservation requests a year.

Above: Restaurant sign for the restaurant. Table projection of people being served food & me wandering through the gallery space!

We’re huge fans of such innovative thinkers as Adrià, who was famously quoted as saying, “stop copying, start creating.” The legendary kitchen saw the invention of close to two thousand curious and creative dishes…Easter coconut nitro-balloon or caramel handkerchief, anyone?

The multimedia show offers a behind-the-scenes peek into the workings of the kitchen-laboratory, with hand-drawn sketches and diagrams, and video clips of the chefs in action. Our taste buds were particularly tickled by the to-scale plasticine models of the tasting menu, which were used as a means for quality control of colour, portion size and even positioning of their culinary creations on the plate.

Above: An amazing collage of 1,846 culinary delights that Adrià created during his time at elBulli & Matt Groening’s drawing of Ferran Adrià for the cover of his book ‘elBulli: Food for Thought, Thought for Food’

Above: The to-scale plasticine models of the tasting menu.

Although a feast for the eyes, the show’s concept doesn’t entirely triumph. A teasing flaw lies in the presentation of food as a purely visual experience; a display of menus, food photography and tableware, may well whet your appetite, but they tell less than half the sensory story of fine dining. Could the curators have taken a page out of the restaurant’s inventive cook book and added a further dimension of experience to the show, such as wafting through the tempting aromas of the kitchen’s concoctions? In this manner the show raises a question we consider when branding and designing packaging within the food industry: how do we best capture the joy of eating through a simple visual representation of a product?

Above left: Sketches by Adrià explaining the concept and creativity of food and the complex way he devised his dishes. 

Leaving with pangs of peckishness and disappointment (realising that was the closest we’d ever be to experiencing the culinary wonderland of the now-closed elBulli), we sought comfort in a big juicy burger at Soho’s Patty & Bun—part of our continued quest to find London’s ultimate burger (suggestions on the back of a postcard, please).

With thanks to Matthew Lloyd / Getty for Somerset House