El Bulli chef to chuck in apron
The creator of molecular gastronomy says he found working 15 hours a day ‘difficult’ and that it was difficult to continue to create.Wining and dining in internationally acclaimed restaurants may be the ultimate foodie experience for well-heeled gourmets. But running three-star eateries can be hell for the chefs toiling over the ovens.
Spain's Ferran Adria, the 47-year-old creator of much talked-about and often-criticised "molecular gastronomy", became Tuesday the latest top cook to buckle under the pressure.
His El Bulli, crowned the world's best for four years running by Britain's Restaurant Magazine, is to be temporarily closed in 2012 and 2013 due to fatigue as well as Adria's need for time to work on new recipes.
Adria, 47, who appeared tired and nervous, said in Madrid that he found working 15 hours a day "difficult".
"It's impossible with the current format of El Bulli to continue to create," he said. "It's like telling (British fashion designer) John Galliano to go work in a factory."
His decision to chuck in his apron and re-think the future came as no surprise to the cook who currently boasts more stars awarded by France's coveted Michelin guide than any other chef.
"He repeatedly told me he'd stop work early in life," Joel Robuchon told AFP of Adria in a telephone interview. "He'd say 'You were right! I promise you I'll stop'".
Robuchon dropped a gastronomic bombshell more than a decade ago by slamming the door on his three-star eatery when at the pinnacle of his success and having just been dubbed the century's best chef by the Gault-Millau food guide.
"It's a very time-consuming job, especially when you're listed as a top establishment by the guides," said Robuchon. "You worry about every little thing, there's enormous pressure."
"I'm a free man now," he said. "I've stopped worrying about what people say."
Robuchon has since opened new eateries that have earned him more Michelin stars than any other chef.
Three-star eateries, said French food critic Francois Simon who writes for the daily Le Figaro, "are luxury prisons".
"You have to be irreproachable all the time," he added. "You can't logically be happy there, so in the end these chefs rebel and leave."
"It was a coherent choice," he said of Adria. "These are people who have enough elegance to be true to themselves."
Robuchon gave up his stars in 1996 at the age of 51, the first of a run of great French chefs to turn their backs on gourmet stardom.
In 2005, another big French name, Alain Senderens, gave up his three Michelin stars at Lucas Carton after 28 years in search of a simpler, less formal approach to dining.
The following year in 2006, Strasbourg-based Antoine Westermann too cited changing times as his reason for walking out and going back to the oven to make simpler fare at the Drouant in Paris. Then in 2008, Olivier Roellinger at 53 decided to close his award-winning restaurant in the small Brittany port of Cancale.
"You also get sucked into a whirlwind of having to constantly do better to satisfy clients," he said. "You work 18 hours a day, noon and night, because things can quickly go badly wrong in the kitchen."
But not all of the great names in French cuisine are unhappy.
"I too work 15 hours a day," said three-star chef Guy Savoy.
"And I take immense pleasure in my work, I don't see it as a prison. Look at Paul Bocuse, he's had three stars for decades now."
AFP / Claire Rosemberg / Expatica