For 10 years, Ferran Adri‘s restaurant elBulli carried the most commanding reputation for food expression and innovation. While its doors closed in 2011, the restaurant’s visionary chef has applied his intellect and curiosity toward the development of the elBullifoundation: a home for reclassifying and better understanding the world of everything edible. It was here that we joined Adri and the winemakers at Dom Prignon, with a mission to decode their Vintage 2005. It was a first step in a multi-year partnership between elBulli and Dom Prignon, and one that saw Adri don his apron for the first time since the restaurant closed.
The focal point of this inaugural event, the product of three months of research and development, happened to be one seated meal, titled “This is Not a Dinner.” It was here that Adri presented 29 coursesall of which were considered bite-sized snacks developed to fit within four architectural pillars that the chef drew from the latest Dom Prignon vintage release: Minerality, Intensity, Seamless, and Harmony. This meal was not an average pairing session; it was the matching of raw materials with the profile of other raw materials. The aim was precision, experience and ultimately an intention to elevate the experience of consumption by analyzing the tangible elements of what we define as pleasure.
It’s about getting to the soul of Dom Prignon. It’s like poetry in a way.
Everything began with questions. How do we experience Dom Prignon? What is the experience? How would we define the Prignon experience? From there, Adri and Dom Prignon’s Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy, friends for 20 years, began to strip things away. At the surface, the minimum requirements for an experience are simply the bottle, the wine and a subject. From there, they sought truth across all senses, the nose, the palate, the eyes. “We take Dom Prignon,” begins Adri, “It allows us to reflect on this one thing, it’s the same language, which is creativity. It’s about getting to the soul of Dom Prignon. It’s like poetry in a way. At the end it will be practical, but you have to ask yourself why.”
This project is led by Lluis Garcia, the director of the elBullifoundation, and Vincent Chaperon, a winemaker at Dom Prignon. They, along with Sandra Lozano, an archaeologist and food historian at the elBullifoundation, walked us through the elBullifoundation process called Sapience. This is a four-step process that seeks to decode how something is created, the people and processes involved in making it, experiencing it and marketing it. In the case of Dom Prignon, this literally breaks down the core elementsthe Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, the fermentation, the soil, the bottle, the cork and of course the brand’s rich history. At the end of the journey they will have a manual of sorts, one that breaks down and explains the components of the brand and product, allowing future creators to leverage that knowledge as they seek new ways to express the wine and the brand.
Our attraction to Dom Prignon is based not on its exclusivity or luxuryit’s in the brand’s unique position in the marketplace. Where most brands seek to achieve consistency from product to product and year to year, Dom Prignon releases a champagne only when it feels a harvest merits it. With the 2005 it’s only the 41st vintage release since 1921, and the first time a vintage has been released four years in a row. What’s most notable is that each vintage, while grown on the same vines, is unique. Building upon a similar foundation each vintage is created to maximize the character of that year’s harvest, a challenge that Geoffroy and his team tackle with infectious enthusiasm.
Wet, warm, then cool, and then hot, 2005 was more dramatic than many other summers. The harvest was not as large as the bounty of 2004. These two traits are key to the 2005 vintageit’s spritely, fruit-forward, more aggressive than the 2004. The small harvest makes it one of the most limited vintage releases, expected to last on store shelves only a few months. All of this factors in the elBullifoundation’s thoughts, discussion and our experience.
The theater of our “This is Not a Dinner” unfolded in four acts, each paired with an aspect of the Dom Prignon Vintage 2005. Minerality, speaking of the soil in which its grapes are grown, was enjoyed quietly, under low lights, privately at our table for 10. The first six snacks were presented: Mango croquant leaf and marigold, Mimetic peanuts (our favorite), Yoghurt pistachulines, Hibiscus and peanut palet, Beetroot and yoghurt meringue/profiterole and Walnut catanias.
The second act, Intensity, pertains to Dom Perignon’s upfront power and its lingering strength. A wall that had been dividing the space was moved, exposing the neighboring table and its ten guests. As the name would suggest each of these seven flavor-forward snacks presented expressions of regional food: tomato and olive oil air bag, tomato biscuit, spherical green olives, Iberian sandwich, parmesan ice cream, parmesan macaron, and an incredible single raspberry fondant topped with wasabi and accompanied by raspberry vinegar.
At the start of the third act, Seamless, the curved wall dividing the space was retracted, joining all forty guests at our four tables. This course brought our attention to the whole, the coming together of the room as well as the grapes in the bottle. The seven snacks were among the most intricate of the evening: Kyosaka muffin, black sesame and miso sponge cake, presented on top of a Marc Newson-like steel chair, nori empanadilla, ginger, flowers and yoghurt canape, an oyster with walnuts, seaweed and a spherical emulsion of Dom Prignon 2005, goose barnacles with caviar, and a simply presented boiled prawn.
The snacks, conversation and endless champagne kicked the room into high gear, and everyone moved to a lounge area to mingle and share the last nine snacks, presented under the Harmony theme: asparagus canape with black truffle butter, truffled Sain-Flicien cheese blini, bone marrow, cured cow meat, lentils from Montjoi, Veracruz chicken, Trip to Mexico, mullet mummy with chili, and the surprisingly tasty fried rabbit ears. The snacking and drinking continued as the chef and his team came out to great us and celebrate an exceptional evening.
The transformative space aimed to push the boundaries of a Dom Prignon experienceand all of the snacks served a “decode wheel” that outlines not only the sensual experience of sipping a glass of champagne, but the overall culture behind it. “It’s a project for all the people in the Dom Prignon family to get further into the experience. How many people know perfectly what is Dom Prignon? I am learning, every day,” Adri explains.
“Creativity is a way to invent the past. Creativity is just the capacity or the ability to behave. It depends on many things. What do you want to value?” adds Geoffroy.
The partnership will continue for three years, as all parties involved know there is still so much to learn. However the main takeaway from this first experience was in learning how we define things and how we can alter the way we experience the pleasure of eating and drinking in its most seductive form.
Photos by Evan Orensten