What does the man hailed as the world’s greatest chef do to top his three-Michelin-star restaurant being ranked number one for the third year running? He writes a book explaining how it’s done.
Ferran Adria, 46, who started his career as a dishwasher and military cook, has achieved gastro-god status for leading an avant-garde cuisine revolution at his restaurant elBulli near Barcelona in Spain.
A Day at elBulli: An insight into the ideas, methods and creativity of Ferran Adria, takes a behind-the-scenes look at a working day for the chef and his 70 staff, including preparing the 30-course tasting menu and selecting 8000 guests each year from the 2 million reservation requests.
The 528-page book includes recipes with freeze-dried chocolate “air”, melon caviar and liquid-nitrogen-dipped pine nuts from menus that used groundbreaking techniques and chemical agents to create the edible foams, powders, papers, jellies, liquid infusions and “morphings” the restaurant is famed for.
Adria spoke about creativity, success and being misunderstood during his first international book tour about creativity, success and being misunderstood.
How would you define what you do?
What we do at elBulli is to push the limits of what can be done in cuisine. What is the limit so that it will remain cuisine?
What is the limit?
I don’t know. When we find out we’ll retire. It needs to be eaten to be called cuisine. Otherwise it would be a performance, which is fine, but it wouldn’t be cuisine.
Do you feel pressured to maintain your reputation?
I’ve been under that pressure for 15 years now. But I’ve lived 15 years without thinking that I’ve become something. In 1996, (Joel) Robuchon retired and he named me as the best chef in the world. The best was Ferran Adria.
For me that was more important than any other prize. For me, that was something incredible. Not just for myself. I think cuisine in general in the world, we didn’t attract so much media and press at that moment.
We didn’t have the world looking at us. That was just 13 years ago. I don’t work at trying to become the best restaurant in the world. I work because I enjoy what I do.
Two years ago I thought it was going to be quite difficult. I realised though that many new routes have been opened but many are yet to be explored. I’m talking about Spain because I understand and know more about the evolution there.
Ten incredibly good years where there hasn’t been the need to create a new language because the language had already been created.
But yes, to continue exploring this new language on one hand. Another thing is the world is a very large place. There are so many new places, so many new products, so many new methods and many that have not entered high-end cuisine.
Are you still searching for new techniques?
I have been saying this very incorrectly in the last few years. Techniques are not as important as elaboration. I was wrong.
The cuisine I called technical and conceptual, we always said it was the most important cuisine as far as creativity goes, because we had to find new techniques and new concepts.
But in the end I realized what we’re really looking for is new elaboration. The foam is not a technique. It’s an elaboration. Technique is required, and a new concept, but the most important thing is the way it’s made.
Creating new elaborations, together with the creations of new philosophies, that’s the most important thing in high-end cuisine.
What do you eat for lunch at elBulli?
I eat with personnel, traditional food, a paella, gazpacho, spaghetti Bolognese, just normal food.
What is your favourite food?
Luxury is what you feel like at that precise moment.
Speaking of luxury, how do you think the current economic crisis will have an impact on people’s appetite for extravagant cuisine?
I’m a cook, to sit here and try to foresee the world economy, to come and give you a speech, if all the politicians in the world don’t seem to be capable of resolving the issue, and they all seem incredibly lost, imagine a humble chef.
I think we all just need to sit and wait and see what happens…I’ve been predicting that the future of cuisine is in the new emerging countries, such as China and Brazil.
PASSION FRUIT TREE
Freeze-dried passion fruit powder
25 g freeze-dried passion fruit crisp
Grind the passion fruit crisp into a fine powder. Store in airtight container in a cool, dry place.
1 kg (5 cups) Demerara sugar
3 attractive branches without leaves
Fill the flowerpots with sugar and stick a branch in each one so that they look like little trees without leaves.
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
Finishing and presentation
Put 8 g (1½ tsp) sugar into the candy floss (cotton candy) machine and carefully remove the resulting floss. Sprinkle the candy floss with the powdered freeze-dried passion fruit crisp.
Carefully shape into 6 cm balls. Put the balls onto the branches of all three trees, taking care not to crush them. This morphing cannot be served if the atmospheric humidity is over 60 per cent.
How to eat
Pick the floss with your fingers without crushing it and eat in several mouthfuls.