"Make it new!" When poet Ezra Pound issued his 1934 manifesto to modern artists, he surely didn't have cooks in mind. But there is probably no creative force today who takes Pound's dictum more seriously than Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. After two decades spent revolutionizing modern cuisine, he and his business partner Juli Soler astonished the culinary world in January by announcing that they would close their restaurant El Bulli for a two-year period of reflection in 2012 and reopen in a new format. Now Adrià has detailed to TIME his plans to reinvent what many consider the most influential restaurant in the world. "In the 25-year history of El Bulli, there have been five moments of rupture, and now it's time for another," says Adrià. "The one thing we can't have is monotony."
In the past, those "ruptures" involved opening only for dinner and developing a workshop to test new ideas during the six months the restaurant is closed each year. This one will be more dramatic. El Bulli will change from a restaurant to a nonprofit foundation, operating as a think tank where talented young chefs will explore new directions in gastronomy. It's a subject with which Adrià, 47, and his team have ample experience. The chef will probably always be identified with radical innovations like potato foam and foie gras "noodles" frozen with liquid nitrogen. But more than any one dish or technique, he has changed the way people think about food. Chefs around the world have adopted not only his dazzling concoctions but his ethos to bring science, art and cooking into closer collaboration; to use food not only to please and satiate but also to amaze and provoke; and above all, to constantly reinvent. Fellow holder of three Michelin stars, chef Juan Mari Arzak defines Adrià's role simply: "He is the most important chef in the history of cuisine."
Adrià is careful to emphasize that he is not opening a culinary school. "This is about creativity more than cooking," he says. "We're not going to be teaching anyone how to break down a cod." The foundation will grant fellowships to 20 or 25 young cooks a year so they may spend 12 months working with El Bulli's core staff, investigating new techniques and developing new flavors. Discussions led by prominent chefs and leaders in art and design will complement their research. Each year, the foundation will release a book and video that catalog its discoveries, and a team will disseminate those ideas at chefs' conferences and culinary schools. The fellows will also help Adrià compile an encyclopedia of contemporary cuisine. To accommodate all this, El Bulli will expand. The sleek, airy kitchen and homey dining room will remain untouched, but Adrià and Soler are meeting with architects to draw up plans for an audiovisual room and a library. The two have high ambitions for the foundation, which has already attracted interest from outside sponsors. "Our dream is that each year, we'll turn out one or two chefs who will be extremely important for the future of cuisine."
That's all well and good, but for the millions of gourmands who clamor for one of the 8,000 reservations the restaurant assigns in an annual lottery, the more pressing question is, Will there be anything to eat? "We're changing the economic model, and we're changing the reservation system," says Adrià. "But we're still going to be feeding people." How exactly they'll do that is yet to be decided. The restaurant will be open for normal six-month seasons in 2010 and 2011, but after that, all bets are off. When it reopens in 2014, El Bulli may offer impromptu tastings, Adrià says, and will serve roughly 60 meals a year in the formal style of a restaurant. Just don't ask him how they'll decide who gets in.
Why all the changes? Like many restaurants with three Michelin stars, El Bulli does not make a profit. (Its principals support themselves through consulting, investments and speaking engagements.) But Adrià says the financial burdens of the restaurant, as well as the obstacles it poses to family life, merely accelerated his decision, not determined it. His primary motivation was to maintain the creative spark. "Part of my job is to see into the future, and I could see that our old model is finished," he says. "It's time to figure out what comes next."