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Ferran Adrià, the powerhouse behind El Bulli, which won the title of World’s Best Restaurant a record-breaking five times, has not rested on his laurels since the restaurant closed in June this year. First up is a new cookbook, detailing the ‘normal recipes for normal people’ that the kitchen team would cook for its daily sit-down lunch. The chef is also transforming his restaurant into the El Bulli Foundation, a centre of learning and experimentation with cuisine, which will open in 2014. And a Hollywood movie is in the pipeline, which will bring to life the story of Adrià’s restaurant. Here, the iconoclast chef talks to Square Meal about his life and work.
‘Deconstructivist’ cooking and molecular gastronomy don’t exist. What does exist is El Bulli. 25 years ago, we created our own style of cooking. At first, it was inspired by the food of the Mediterranean; it was modern cooking that was influenced by Spain. Then we started to search for our own cooking language. We were looking to make dishes that were our own, and we developed 1,846 recipes. So the cooking of El Bulli is a style of cooking that we’ve built and rebuilt. The themes from the science world that people talk about are a very recent thing; we only started using liquid nitrogen in 2004. It’s a tiny part – a very important part but a tiny part nevertheless – of what we do.
If you haven’t worked in El Bulli, you don’t have the spirit of El Bulli. What is our spirit? Passion for what you do, freedom, sharing and risk-taking. Put all this together with the techniques of El Bulli, then you can go back to your country and start to develop your career. Some people will develop imitative forms of cookery, others less imitative. René Redzepi from Noma took the El Bulli spirit and a few of our techniques and concepts, but then he took it to his country and applied it to Nordic cuisine – he perfected and developed his personality within the cooking style of El Bulli.
I never worked towards being number one in the world [in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list]. When I started in the restaurant business, the only thing that mattered was Michein stars. Now, Michelin and the 50 Best are important, but they’re not the only things that matter. I’m not going to win any more prizes of this type; my ego is covered. What is fantastic is that today, numbers one to six on that list are sons of El Bulli. It’s much better than me carrying on at number one.
Being on the cover of The New York Times in 2003 was the most important moment of my career. It was 15 pages in the Sunday edition, and it marked a change in the history of cooking – The New York Times said that El Bulli was at the vanguard of cooking. It was a shock and provoked a polemic.
There are people in the world who don’t like Ferran Adrià – and they don’t even know me. But that’s what happens in life: you can’t please everyone, especially if you’re doing very radical things at the vanguard of cooking. That’s life; it’s a polemic I’ve lived with since I started cooking. The movement was so radical that people said, ‘this is not cookery’. The debate still surrounding El Bulli, 25 years after we started, is unbelieveable.
I miss nothing about El Bulli; I put all my energy into the future. I’m going to carry on what I did at El Bulli: cooking, creating, and having contact with people. What will change is how I will allocate my time. I’ll have more time to create and less time to produce. But I’m going to carry on doing the same thing I’ve always done.
There’s no such thing as a ‘last’ meal or ‘favourite’ meal. What you feel like eating at any given moment is what you should have. If I feel like eating something at a particular moment, I wouldn’t change it for a kilo of caviar. And if I die, I won’t care what’s in my stomach!
When I go to eat at Dinner by Heston, more than it pleasing me, it has to excite me. People in the food business get sick of eating, so we like to eat something that excites us. I’m looking forward to going to Dinner because it was a challenge for Heston. I’m very, very good friends with Heston and I think The Fat Duck is fantastic. He’s worked very hard on Dinner and I’d like to see how he’s done it.
An important trend has been the development of the social function and social responsibility of chefs. We have lots of responsibility and we participate a lot in society. In Latin America, cooking is being used as a means to further socio-economic development. In the States, chefs are contributing to the important ecological work that’s being done. Look at what Jamie Oliver has done in schools in England. We all have something different to contribute and it’s different in every country. I’m working on the El Bulli Foundation. The question is how far we should go: how far do you have to go to make it work?
In avant-garde cuisine, the trend is the same as it always has been: creative talent. In more day-to-day restaurants, things have undergone a seismic change towards informality and sharing, which has been years in the making. Nowadays, people don’t want just one dish; they want to order lots of things and they want to do it in fun places, places that give them an experience. The experience that a restaurant needs to offer is no longer just based around the food.
Ferran Adrià’s new book, The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià, published by Phaidon Press, will go on sale on 3 October, priced £19.95.
Interview by Nicky Evans, News and Online Editor, September 2011