The power players behind elBulli and Dom Pérignon are decoding the science of food. The end-game? A six-course menu and champagne pairing called SNAACK, to hit top restaurants this summer.

By Nausheen Shah
Updated: January 24, 2017
Getty images for Dom Perignon

“Is a tomato natural?” asks chef Ferran Adrià. The journalists in the room glance at each other—and at the diagram-covered walls of Adrià’s elBulli Lab. They know it’s a trick. Adrià just stares at the room, waiting for them to devour the bait. Grinning at his observers, he replies: “No, it’s not.”

It’s been four years since Adrià’s paradigm-shifting elBulli closed its doors for good on the Costa Brava, but the chef’s quest to “feed creativity” and “reawaken the mental and emotional experience of dining” hasn’t abated. Here, in his Barcelona lab, where he poses existential questions about produce, that much is clear.

He’s channeling his inspiration through other avenues too: freed from the shackles of running a restaurant every night, Adrià’s been spending time forging new partnerships: a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil for a theatrical restaurant in Ibiza, for example, as well as an exciting new alliance with Dom Pérignon and its chef de cave Richard Geoffroy.

The duo is joining forces to launch a six-course menu and Dom Pérignon pairing called SNAACK, which will be served at some of the most renowned restaurants in the world over the next three years. Geoffroy has also taken over a wing of Adrià’s lab to assist with the chef’s ambitious project Bullipedia, a digital encyclopedia of food set to debut sometime in the next decade.

Getty images for Dom Perignon

The culinary world’s newest power couple is buoyant as they wind us through their joint research labs just off Placa Espanya near Montjuic and Sant Antoni. Adrià opened the elBulli Lab to deconstruct the complex world in which a chef crafts his creative processes and pioneers “sapience,” a new-age methodology in which rediscovering basic processes can redefine cooking and eating. Which brings us back to the tomato.

“There are two tomatoes,” Adrià explains. “There is a natural tomato, which you have never tasted because it is inedible. Not even goats would eat them. But there’s also the unnatural tomato, which is the one you eat and it has been tamed, it has been domesticated. A tomato is therefore created.”

Getty images for Dom Perignon

Over in the northeast side of the lab, blueprints, sketches, and diagrams make up the section dedicated to Dom Pérignon’s “decoding,” which is scheduled to take three years. Signs pose questions like Do you remember your first Dom? I open a Dom because…? They’re supposed to coax Geoffroy and his team into reimagining the bones of the brand and the wine universe writ large. That could mean unraveling the chronology of the champagne since genesis to the effect of the bubbles on taste.

Motivated by a mutual desire to create a paradigm shift in how the “performers” and “spectators” nourish each other, Geoffroy and Adrià recognize the brilliance that is born out of collaboration. 

“To breakthrough, philosophically, you need a another party. It’s foolish to believe you can solve all your problems by yourself. Life is great, there are so many people who can help you,” Geoffroy says.

Part of peeling away layers of epicurean history means stripping away unnecessary clutter. That’s the driving ethos behind Adrià’s mini tasting menu, a utensil-free menu of elevated snacks like ginger flowers, mimetic peanuts, and parmesan ice cream sandwiches that are meant to be enjoyed in one or two bites. Geoffroy pairs them with the 2005 vintage of Dom Perignon, a year notable for a small but exceptional harvest thanks to grey rot and drastic temperature swings.

Getty images for Dom Perignon

To announce their new initiative, the duo created a moving performance in the center of Barcelona’s Palo Alto Market to showcase small bites arranged into four categories: Minerality, Harmony, Seamless, and Intensity. 

Makeshift walls slowly dissipated after each category to reveal other diners sharing in on the same experience; no use of utensils, nor sharing plates, just a focus each diner’s personal journey.  SNAACK will go global this summer, popping up at restaurants such as Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, Daniel Boulud’s Daniel, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s Nomad in New York. 

"It’s unconventional,” explains Geoffroy. “Often we are so stiff and want to control things, but the important idea to understand is that as soon as you control, you restrain. The project with Ferran is not a food project. It’s about creativity."