The madcap chef is setting out to change the culinary universe. Can he do it?
Ferran Adrià didn't see his illustrious temple to molecular gastronomy El Bulli, which shuttered in 2011, as a restaurant. To the pioneering chef, it was an idea. All you need to do is step into his El Bulli Lab in Barcelona, where his team is building a comprehensive digital culinary encyclopedia, aptly named Bullipedia, to understand what he means. By delving into the origin and history of every ingredient and cooking technique, Adrià hopes to unlock the mysteries of taste and full potential of food. He recently sat down with T+L to discuss the ambitious project, a new collaboration with Dom Pérignon, and what a chef who works around the clock does in his downtime.
When do you plan on sharing Bullipedia with the world?
It’s a work in progress, we’re not in a hurry. The final project will take 10 years, but it’s infinite. We believe our library contains some of the most influential books from the beginning of time. If you went to Harvard or MIT, they would not say, “Hurry, do it fast!” because research takes time.
You partnered with Dom Pérignon to create a six-course menu called SNAACKS that will be available at restaurants like Le Bernardin, Nomad, and Daniel in New York. How do you feel about coming up with a menu that will be offered at other restaurants around the world instead of your own?
I don’t want to manage a restaurant—I did it for 30 years. I don’t think it’s exciting anymore. The creative part won’t stop though. The SNAACKS project with Dom Pérignon has really reset our relationship with the gastronomy world. I am not going to conferences anymore nor am I really in the circuit so to speak—so if anyone would like to see me, they need to come here. The Dom Pérignon collaboration, in a way, is like our lighthouse around gastronomy. I am actually in talks with Cirque du Soleil on another project and we have several more coming down the pipeline.
Anything you can share with us?
I am working on something involving children. It’s like a space, a sweet world for kids. We also have another beautiful project, which involves healthy food, with a company that is very important. It’s not a food company, but a very well known American entertainment company. I can’t say the name, but I believe it's easy to guess. Otherwise we are too busy at the moment to create anything new.
Do you ever miss El Bulli?
No. Creativity is disruptive. I don’t want to be repeating myself and the production in a restaurant over and over again. It's as if you were to write the same article everyday. It’s the same idea as before—my motive is not in the restaurant, but this is the new elBulli, the foundation. It is really important for everyone to understand that elBulli the restaurant was created, but you can still experience gastronomy without a restaurant.
When you're at home who cooks, you or your wife? What do you typically make?
I'm the one cooking because I’m faster. One perimeter in which to classify cooking is speed. So grilled fish is very fast. I tend to shop for seafood at the Boqueria market.
I heard that when you travel you never eat out.
When I travel for work I am only eating fruit because I need to look after myself. I work long hours and if you’re eating lunch and dinner out everyday, it’s not healthy. But when it’s the holidays, yes indeed. It’s important to try different restaurants and I’m very demanding, but not at a crazy level.
Which chef inspires you the most?
My brother Albert. People believe it’s just because he’s my brother, but I really respect his work. I'm also really inspired by chefs who create nouvelle cuisine. The other day I had lunch at a restaurant called Mumba and they served me a dish with asparagus and an entire egg along with a spherification (a molecular gastronomy process of shaping liquids into spheres). I ate them together and it was fantastic. I wrote it down and I already tried making it. I’m constantly inspired.
“Notes on Creativity” is your first major art exhibition. It showcases the drawings and sketches of your work process over the last several years. What led you to release them?
Five years ago I would have thrown away papers containing my work. You can’t display the final result of what a restaurant is because you need to eat, but you can exhibit the way it was created. Now you can come here and study the process and understand it through the exhibition and our lab. It’s a new concept within the world of gastronomy.
When do you find time to decompress?
Now it's very difficult for me to take a break because we have two projects. Once we build a larger team, I’ll be able to take a rest. I’ve only taken off four days in the last year.
What did you do for the four days?
Slept. Sometimes I watch a soccer game or spend time with friends. I have no kids, so my life is quite free. I like passion but not obsession. Even though people call me obsessive, I disagree with that. I can disconnect.
Are you able to escape for holidays?
I travel so much for work that my holidays consist of not traveling. My life is very difficult to understand because I don’t work. This is a foundation. I have no salary here. I do it out of a passion. I do it because I want to do it. I don't depend on anyone, yet I rely on everybody. But nobody will really tell me what to do. I have freedom and that is a privilege.
Since El Bulli got its name from French bulldogs, we have to ask—do you own a French Bulldog?
Funny enough, we have three French bulldogs joining us shortly in the new El Bulli foundation. Our greatest task is deciding what to name them.