Acquiring experience with Ferran Adrià

A map of bullinians. «His heritage? Creative freedom». Speaking with Fanella, Baiocco, Cedroni, Giacomello, Lacalamita

10-01-2017

According to a Catalan website, there are some 150 bullinians around the world, that is to say starred chefs who trained in Ferran Adrià’s iconic restaurant. This is a low estimate, there are even more. Here are some of the Italians. Loretta Fanella, Stefano Baiocco, Moreno Cedroni, Terry Giacomello and Luca Lacalamita told us...

Photogallery

Loretta Fanella with Albert and Ferran Adrià
Terry Giacomello and Ferran Adrià at Identità Milano 2006 (photo by Sandra Salerno)
An old pic with Adrià and Moreno Cedroni
Ferran Adrià and Stefano Baiocco

Ferran Adrià lives and fights with us. Ok, he’s no longer in the kitchen (almost); ok, elBulli, his iconic restaurant, has been closed since the 30th of July 2011. Indeed Paolo Marchi recently wrote here: «Nostalgia in Cala Montjoi near Roses. There’s a building site where once stood elBulli. As the Romans said: sic transit gloria mundi. Indeed it is true: you must enjoy the present and never believe something’s eternal». True, nothing lasts forever: yet the heritage of Adrià continues in global cuisine: because his lesson – technical but most of all conceptual – was absorbed a bit everywhere, preached first of all by the very many chefs who worked with him, bullinians as they are called on the www.ccma.cat website from Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals, a public radio and television created by Generalitat de Catalunya, the Catalan autonomous region. Journalists Louis Hill and Irene Vaqué counted almost 150 starred chefs all around the world who owe their luck (also) to the fact they passed through elBulli – some for a few days, some for years: in both cases fully breathing air full of creative freedom. They created a global map of bullinians, with which you can play here.

Our colleagues say: “The heritage of Adrià continues through the chefs who have adopted his spirit, that is to say innovation and creativity with excellent products. It’s the case of his brother Albert, who with the elBarri project lit up the culinary map of Barcelona with three new stars, at Tickets, Hoja Santa and Pakta (read here). But it’s also the case of Andoni Luis Aduriz, chef at Basque Mugaritz, or the patrons at Disfrutar (read here) in Barcelona, Oriol Castro, Mateu Casañas and Eduard Xatruch (read here), who met at the very elBulli”.

The bullinians map on www.ccma.cat

The bullinians map on www.ccma.cat

However, as pointed out by on www.ccma.cat, bullinians are a bit everywhere: in Sweden and Denmark, US and Portugal, UK and even Greece. In Italy they mention four: Stefano Baiocco, Massimo Bottura, Moreno Cedroni and Enrico Crippa. This list only includes starred chefs (and not even all of them) but it seems ungenerous with one of the beloved daughters of elBulli, though she has not received a Michelin star yet. After all, her restaurant only opened a few days ago in San Miniato: we’re speaking of Loretta Fanella, in the kitchen of Opéra del Relais Sassa Al Sole since the 1st of December. She spent four years at elBulli, running the pastry making: «I coordinated the work of seven people». What did the experience give you? «In general, it changed my way of conceiving a dish. I’ll sum it up like this: “Go beyond what you knew you could do before”. I ended up spending eight hours in a row working with an apple: this leads you necessarily [if you have talent] to think of something different, of upturning what is known to create originality».

A concept that Stefano Baiocco of Villa Feltrinelli also stresses. He spent 3 months at elBulli, in 2003, «which later became the decisive year, the year of air and spherification. Perhaps some may turn up their noses today speaking of these things, but it was a turning point». He tells us on the phone from Ancona: «Until early in the new millennium, in order to acquire experience you’d go to France. It was the mecca. Or to Switzerland, Germany or London, but to French restaurants. Nobody went to Spain, Japan was only considered for sushi, culinary speaking. In other words, we were a little narrow minded. Even I had completed internships at Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Ducasse, and I felt almost complete. I had been sous chef at Palazzo Sasso with Pino Lavarra since 2001. However, I felt I missed the cherry on the cake, and in those years people started to speak often of this great Catalan acrobat. I was curious».

In 2002 I sent a curriculum to elBulli. The answer was no: they were full, come back in 365 days. Baiocco did so: «They hired me, from July to September 2003, meanwhile Adrià was now famous for being a revolutionary, a new genius». You mentioned air, spherification: what was his biggest heritage? «We would take a simple product, say a tomato. Usually, you would only use the pulp, perhaps the peel. We would work for hours looking for a way to use it all, with thorough experiments. We went beyond the obvious». Another lesson from Adrià «was how to organise the kitchen: very large teams [also thanks to interns, who were at least 60% of the total] made a perfect discipline essential. The role of the “thinking chef” was thus born, that is to say someone who would manage the creative side, while others had to coordinate the kitchen: until then, destining a person to “ideas” had always seemed a waste».

Moreno Cedroni is listed among the DOC bullinians, even though he only went to elBulli for a brief course. Yet decisive. Adrià himself writes: “I met Moreno in the winter of 1998 during a three day internship that Gambero Rosso organised at elBulli. I immediately had the feeling he was a special chef, a very sensible one. But our special feeling only began in 2001, when I discovered his restaurant (…). We arrived in Senigallia (…). As soon as we parked, I immediately felt the strong smell of the sea (…). I knew Moreno was one of the best chefs in Italy, what I learnt then, tasting and appreciating his dishes, was that he’s a chef with a soul, something that sets a simple cook apart from a magical one”.

The staff at elBulli in a photo from 2007

The staff at elBulli in a photo from 2007

Cedroni says about his experience at elBulli: «Without Adrià dining would be at least ten years behind, because he has changed its features. He has erased our subjection to France, yet in Italy his thoughts have often been distorted, he’s considered “the powder man”, while reading his books would be enough to understand his depth, which will serve as a lesson for decades. He gave us the gift of a concept: creative freedom».

Cedroni is back from a dinner at the above mentioned Tickets, one of the restaurants in Barcelona of his brother Albert Adrià: «I found some of the atmospheres of elBulli, especially in the dessert section – the kingdom of the brilliant Albert – but not only there. Even in terms of savoury recipes, many tapas are from elBulli, in a fun journey». Cedroni – and Baiocco too – notice that that mentality devoted to research can still be noticed in chefs like Quique Dacosta or Andoni Luis Aduriz: «Of course, among many innovative dishes, there were and still are some that are not successful». In the words of Aduriz himself (read here): «Indifference is the worst thing. It’s best to make mistakes».

There are other Italians too, among the bullinians: like Luca Lacalamita, now pastry chef at Enoteca Pinchiorri, who spent over a year as an intern at the Catalan restaurant, then at El Taller, the bullian research lab: «there were Albert Adrià, Castro, Casañas, Xatruch...». He explains: «I believe the strength was in the greatness of Albert, the most creative person I’ve ever met. Ferran had a stronger impact. He was more outgoing, media-confident. But Albert’s capacity of innovating was stunning. The merits of elBulli must be well divided». As for the supposed faults, Lacalamita is sure: «Many have spoken of molecular cuisine in negative terms. I agree with Hervé This: molecular cuisine doesn’t exist, in that even cooking sunny side eggs, or baking bread, is molecular cuisine. I’ve always fought such nonsense».

Mauro Buffo, now at 12 Apostoli in Verona, Luca Meccheri, Luca Balboni, and Bottura for a long time, and many more have also been working at Da Cala Montjoi. Even Mauro Uliassi. And Nicola Dinato of Feva, as he told us himself. However, we’ll end this list with a photo, the second from the above photo gallery: there’s Ferran Adrià at Identità Milano, in 2006. Next to him, a popular face among gourmands. On that occasion he acted as translator for the Catalan chef: Terry Giacomello, of Inkiostro in Parma: «Adrià changed my way of thinking, of seeing things. It wasn’t just creative freedom, but also discipline and attitude. He conveyed a strong humbleness. See, he showed that you had to look at things from a different point of view».


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Photogallery

Loretta Fanella with Albert and Ferran Adrià
Terry Giacomello and Ferran Adrià at Identità Milano 2006 (photo by Sandra Salerno)
An old pic with Adrià and Moreno Cedroni
Ferran Adrià and Stefano Baiocco
Luca Lacalamita with Ferran Adrià
Lacalamita with Juli Soler, the dining room man (and not only that: he was Ferran’s alter ego) at elBulli. He died in July two years ago
The team at elBulli in 2003. Sixth from the left, back row, Stefano Baiocco