Ferran Adrià: After elBulli, there’s no innovation in food (but it’s not over yet)

Chefs’ fears, shortsighted critics, a preview of the Bullipedia. Interview with the great Catalan chef, on holiday in Sicily

27-08-2018

Ferran Adrià with siblings Luca and Martina Caruso, maître and chef at Signum, on the island of Salina. The Catalan chef spent a week on holiday in Sicily and the surroundings and made himself available for a long interview

Ferran Adrià has just spent a week in Sicily. A journey with friends in Palermo and the Aeolian islands. We met him by chance at Signum in Salina, while he was swimming in the pool of the hotel owned by the Caruso family. «Hey, it’s him!». We took the opportunity to have a long chat with him on the current state of the restaurant industry and on his current important projects.

Good morning Adrià, what are you doing in Sicily?
I’m here mostly on holiday. I’ve just spent two weeks of holiday in Mallorca and wanted to discover your island and its delicacies. It’s the first time for me. The Baleares, Sicily, Sardinia, Catalonia, Costa Brava with elBulli: they’re all part of the same horizons. Same geographic and historic profiles. Mediterranean culture.

Did you enjoy Martina Caruso’s cooking?
The food was very good, Signum is a fantastic place. If you don’t do avant-garde, it’s important that you offer the best products a place has to offer, and this is what happens here. I enjoyed Salina, a summary of this island. Productos del mar.

Adria and Luca Caruso with Alfredo Olivieri, author of the best granita on the island of Salina

Adria and Luca Caruso with Alfredo Olivieri, author of the best granita on the island of Salina


Speaking of products, people often say that, compared to 10 or 15 years ago, products now prevail on technique.
It’s a big lie, lie, lie [he repeats mentira 3 times]. ‘Tradition is back, bla bla bla’. I’m 56 and I’ve been hearing people say this regularly in different ways since I was 35. Today however there are very few professional chefs who cook traditional food, as few as ever. Tell me the name of a Spanish chef who likes making properly made traditional food. I don’t know any. Etxebarri? Not him for sure. Nobody has ever made parrilla the way he does. And in Barcelona you won’t find a traditional Catalan restaurant.

Not even your Bodega 1900?
It’s the most traditional of my brother Albert’s restaurants but it’s not a traditional restaurant. It serves fantastic products in a constant evolution and food that a few decades ago did not exist on our tables. Tradition and avant-garde: there’s lots of confusion with these two categories.

What do you mean?
Take pasta. Do you think it’s a product-based cuisine? Of course not: it’s everything but a simple food. How about burrata or mozzarella? You like them, don’t you? But they’re very complex products, they have very little in common with high quality prawns served raw, straight from the sea. When people today speak of returning to tradition, they never really refer to tradition. They say it just because they don’t want to admit they lack enough ideas to innovate.

A group photo at Signum. While travelling in Sicily, Adrià is guided by journalist Francesco Pensovecchio (second from the right), who reported on the journey on Wine in Sicily. Standing next to Luca Caruso, his partner Natascia Santandrea, the patron of Tenda Rossa in Cerbaia (Florence)

A group photo at Signum. While travelling in Sicily, Adrià is guided by journalist Francesco Pensovecchio (second from the right), who reported on the journey on Wine in Sicily. Standing next to Luca Caruso, his partner Natascia Santandrea, the patron of Tenda Rossa in Cerbaia (Florence)

Now elBulli is closed, who’s capable of innovating these days?
As far as I know, nobody. In Cala Montjoi we set a benchmark so high that nobody knows or wants to see what’s beyond [qué hay màs allà]. Today there are very capable chefs, but they are satisfied with doing what I call amiable creativity. They do a fantastic job but they’re always beneath that benchmark. Yet there’s a great need to set the limit even further. To do avant-garde even if it means becoming unpopular, fighting without being afraid to kill. It’s very hard, I know.

How can one go beyond that limit? 
I only know one way. Inspiration is born from culture, from knowing what exists, and how this change. Even within traditional cuisine things change: if I eat pasta with mussels, in 9 times out of 10 mussels will be overcooked, and bad. Knowing that you should cook it less is already a small innovation. Tradition must evolve siempresiempresiempre.

Compared to the past, is the situation more or less favourable?
It’s much more favourable because we have access to endless ideas and information. I see people complain that in Australia you can find very similar food to Peru. In fact, food was once much more homogenous because there was just one form of culinary art, French haute cuisine, which colonised most of the world. Today there are many more sources and they’re more accessible: Mexican, Peruvian, Japanese tradition … Great cuisines based on emotions. Do you know who were the first to spread Japanese cuisine in Europe?

The poster from "elBulli, the story of a dream", a documentary series available from Amazon Prime as of July 2nd. The 12 episodes were filmed over 13 years, a not to be missed chance to retrace the history of the most influential restaurant in the past 30 years

The poster from "elBulli, the story of a dream", a documentary series available from Amazon Prime as of July 2nd. The 12 episodes were filmed over 13 years, a not to be missed chance to retrace the history of the most influential restaurant in the past 30 years

You? 
2005, third edition of Madrid Fusiòn: we invited to Spain some great chefs from Japan, in years when people only mentioned Michel Bras, Paul Bocuse, Michel Guérard… Only French chefs. When speaking of the heritage left by elBulli, culinary critics only speak of techniques, of molecular cuisine, and so on. But the greatest lesson we left is a philosophical one. It’s a message of freedom, of wider horizons, of culture and knowledge.

Are the 23 points in the famous manifesto del Bulli still current? Take the tasting menu format, it looks like it’s going through a bit of crisis.
They’re still current, sure, but we’re updating them and enriching them in a book soon to be published. That thing about tasting menus is another big lie told by critics. They say it’s no longer trendy, that we should move to à la carte menus. But those who visit a specific type of restaurant order the tasting menu most of the times because they want to enjoy a feast. Tasting menus are always the best tool available to the chef to create a new language. At elBulli we served 45 dishes in 2 hours, I would do it again.

The imminent publication of the Bullipedia volumes is much awaited. 
On November 30th we will present the first congress on coffee with Lavazza in Milan. At the same time the next volumes of the Bullipedia will be out [after the first Bebidas volume]. These books will be on coffee, wine and cocktails, the first in a project of 35 books, over all, each with 700 pages. Writing the first two was simpler than the third because there’s no book that can sum up the work of the greatest bartenders in recent history. The volumes on wine alone will be 6, a total of 4,500 pages. Bullipedia requires huge research efforts. We’re late because in 2013, when we presented the project, we were not sure of the work it would require. We should complete the work by 2022.

Bebidas, the first books of the Bullipedia: volume 1 Definición, historia, tipos y composición (available on the Bullistore); volume 2 Productos elaborados con uso de bebidas, volume 3 Uso en el restaurante gastronomico. In November, they’re going to present the books on wine, coffee and cocktails in Milan

Bebidas, the first books of the Bullipedia: volume 1 Definición, historia, tipos y composición (available on the Bullistore); volume 2 Productos elaborados con uso de bebidas, volume 3 Uso en el restaurante gastronomico. In November, they’re going to present the books on wine, coffee and cocktails in Milan

Why debut with these three topics?
Because coffee, wine and cocktails are Bebidas, that is to say the expression of service, a crucial component of the restaurant industry, which is experiencing a dramatic phase. Most of the best food critics these days don’t speak of dining room service. They say the food was great, but mention nothing more. This is why with Lluìs Garcìa, director at elBulli, we’re working on a book that will give guidelines for the dining room service and for all those managing different products and tasks.

A huge job.
Four people from the technical team of Lavazza and the University of Pollenzo have worked on coffee alone for 15 months in a row. The book on Nikkei [Japanese-Peruvian tradition] alone required the work of two people for two years. Do you know which was one of the hardest topics to analyse? Italian traditional cuisine, a huge heritage that was never catalogued and categorised. Should we put recipes? We wondered. How many? And what are the 20 most important books on Italian food? For sure, one is Massimo Montanari’s "Storia dell’alimentazione". And who are the fundamental Italian chefs of your time? You’ll see.

The restaurant scene has lost some important people in the past few months. 
Yes, 3 among the 25 most important people in the global contemporary food scene after Nouvelle Cuisine. Gualtiero Marchesi was a grandegrandegrande chef, the most committed person in defining Italian culinary identity. Paul Bocuse, the founder of Nouvelle Cuisine, taught us the essential role of marketing. Joël Robuchon was the chef par excellence, an incredible, institutional professional, obsessed with perfection, which of course does not exist. Our task will be to illustrate their great contribution in detail. The great challenge we’re now facing is not avant-garde, but knowledge.
Ferran Adrià, 56

Ferran Adrià, 56



Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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