The Caterer Interview – Ferran Adrià

10 November 2010
The Caterer Interview – Ferran Adrià

Ferran Adrià is one of the world's best known chefs and owner of El Bulli, his three-Michelin-starred restaurant on the north Catalan coast near Barcelona, Spain. Earlier this year he announced that the restaurant would be shut from July 2011 until 2014, while his official biography, Reinventing Food: Ferran Adrià, The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat, was recently released. Joe Warwick caught up with him

Shouldn't you be dead - or at the very least much older and closer to retirement - before you approve an official biography? That's what I told Colman Andrews when he first approached me but I realised that having a book that communicated the truth about El Bulli was very important. More than a biography it talks about the legacy of the restaurant.

How did Colman Andrews convince you to work with him on the book? It wasn't that I needed convincing but I thought that maybe we should have waited longer. But it's great because from now on when I do interviews I can just ask journalists to read the book.

When I get silly questions from journalists I often think "Haven't they done their research?" But to be fair, before this book there wasn't anything that put everything about El Bulli in order in a form that you could read in a couple of days.

It was an authorised biography - does that mean that you had copy approval? No one seems to believe that I'm a very normal person. There was a comment in one of the reviews that Colman had not been to my home - as if things had been kept from him. My parents haven't ever been to my home.

I don't really have a home as such. I have a studio apartment where I sleep but my life takes places at the Taller (his workshop kitchen in Barcelona). People may say that I have not explained everything but this wasn't about doing an explosive memoir.

I know a lot of things about the world of gastronomy and if I were to explain everything I know there would be some scandals. But I never thought that would be a good idea. I've never criticised anyone and I've never tried to be polemical. Why would I change that for the book?

Did the near hysterical reaction to the announcement in January at Madrid Fusion that you were "closing" El Bulli surprise you? It's amazing because I thought I had explained everything very well at the time. I decided to make the announcement two years early to avoid silly speculation but what happened was completely the opposite. It's irrational.

Ten years ago there never would have been so much fuss about the "closing" of a restaurant. The thing is that I never said we were closing, I said we would be back in 2014.

You also said you didn't know what El Bulli was going to be when it reopened… I wanted to take four years to decide what we are going to do. It's completely irrational to expect us to come up with a new formula for what we're going do before we know ourselves.

For the record, when is El Bulli, as it is now, doing its very last service? 30 July next year.

When will it reopen? On 31 July on the El Bulli website the new product will be operating but we need time to develop and build it up. The first thing we need to do is take some time off.

On 1 September next year we start construction on a new building. We had already thought about that and it was always part of the plan. We've decided to take a sabbatical but that doesn't mean we're going to go on a permanent holiday.

What will the El Bulli staff do during their sabbatical? We're still discussing. Some will stay on and work in the new project and some will act as collaborators in other projects. If anyone wants to start something new of their own they will get our help.

When El Bulli reopens will there be a restaurant element to it? The restaurant building will stay exactly as it is so people can see how it was when they visit the new exhibition space we're building. There will a dialogue between past and present.

So the dining room will remain as it is? The building will stay exactly as it is. I will make a full announcement at Madrid Fusion next January but it's too complicated to simplify it all now. What I do know is that we're building a swimming pool where the car park is. It's for the staff, it's not for visitors or diners. That symbolises how much is going to change.

There comes a time when working in a restaurant too much resembles being in the army. That's normal but I'm tired of that. I was tired of feeling like I was going back to my military service. I'm trying to build a space where there will be freedom and everyone will have a good time.

I have three sources of inspiration at the moment: the restaurant, Google and Harvard. That's the cocktail that I would like to bring together.

Who will eat there? It's like asking a researcher how Ferraris are made and then asking them who will be driving the car. The researcher doesn't care. We'll worry about that later on.

Will people eat there? Firstly the team will. The problem with most restaurants is that the people that work there don't experience the same food as the customers. And that's antagonistic, that's not fair. I'm not sure in 2014 that people from outside will eat there. Not in the first year. I don't want that pressure again. Maybe there will be eight tables, friends, to start getting some kind of feedback. But what we'll be doing will be online every day.

Do you think the criticism that you've received in recent years has made you defensive? No. I understand that this is democracy. I've been heavily criticised but I've been lauded much more. If someone says I'm poisoning people obviously journalists will report that. It doesn't matter if it is true or false because that's the news. I've never called a journalist and asked to be interviewed in 25 years.

Tell me about the new place you're opening in Barcelona with your brother Albert? There's actually two different projects: 41°, which is a small laid-back cocktail bar that seats only 34 and will also serve El Bulli-style snacks, that opens this November; then there's Ticket, which will be a tapas bar and that will open in January.

It's the evolution of all the years we have been working with the tapas concept. Both are on the Paral.lel, the two building are connected but have separate entrances.

But 41° and Ticket are Albert's projects. At El Bulli I was "Ping" and Albert was "Pong". With Ticket, Albert is "Ping" and I'm "Pong".

Reinventing Food: Ferran AdriÁ , The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat by Colman Andrews is published by Phaidon Press and priced £19.95.

Ferran Adria and El Bulli
â- 1983: Arrives at El Bulli in the summer to do a month's stage in the kitchen during his military leave
â- March 1984: Joins the staff as chef de partie
â- October 1984: Becomes joint head chef with Christian Lutaud
â- 1987: Becomes sole head chef
â- 1990: Regains the second Michelin star the restaurant held in the 1980s
â- 1997: Gains third Michelin Star
â- January 2010: announces he's closing El Bulli for two years from 30 July 2011 and will reopen sometime in 2014 as a foundation - the exact form of which is yet to be decided

five famous adria ideas
1 Deconstructing dishes Taking a classic preparation apart and reassembling it in a different way
2 Playing with commercial foods Dishes packaged like well-known products such as Oreo Cookies and Fisherman's Friends
3 Finding new ways to serve food From using pipettes to creating bespoke spoons and inventing "slurps" (wide straws filled with jelly) and using frozen slates and stones
4 Altering menu structure AdriÁ evolved El Bulli's menu into a multi-coursed, multi-sensory experience in four "Acts"
5 Blurring the lines between sweet and savoury Applying sweet techniques such as sorbets and ice-creams to savoury flavours

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