Ferran Adria once said to me that the hardest thing for his brother Albert is being his brother. The sibling of the great Ferran, a shadow that’s hard to avoid. However, when elBulli closed in 2011 and Ferran quickly stepped into the world of academic research with Bullipedia and the elBulli Foundation, Albert stepped out of those shadows and did so in style.
In quick succession he opened restaurant after restaurant in Barcelona. A cocktail bar with 41-stage tasting menu, a circus style tapas bar, a Bodega, a Nikkei restaurant and two Mexican places - seemingly making the job of what thousands of people fail at every day look like child’s play. He even dubbed his collection a “culinary amusement park”.
Here he is speaking honestly at the most recent MAD Symposium on the topic of being afraid, about using fear as a ‘creative engine’ and stepping out of the shadow of his brother.
He admits that facing fears is what has driven him and this year he has gone head on into one of his biggest projects yet, one he himself describes as a “monster” and one that seems to, for perhaps the first time ever, be testing the man who has made opening new restaurants look easy. That project is Heart in Ibiza, a three stage venue of terrace, restaurant and club that combines art, music, magic, gastronomy and the performances of Cirque Du Soleil into one fun-fuelled evening. Multi-sensory dining at its best.
The place is a living breathing performance that evolves throughout the evening explains Adria, as he goes into detail about how it works. “We have a screen where we project things live - they film live, project live and they manipulate the image. It’s crazy, the same place transforms. When you arrive it’s total silence and, at 10.30 silence, at 11.00 starts the noise, at 12 more noise, at 1am the party starts and it’s more progressive. Some tables arrive at 11.30 and at 2am they’re still eating.”
“It’s not a restaurant, a restaurant is waiters, cooks and customers. The staff and the people are different, they’re coming not only for dinner but also to party - Ibiza is different. I listened for one year to that, but it’s real, Ibiza is different. Not better or worse, just different.”
He’s says he’s had to develop quickly to a new style of play on the island, a place where the party starts and ends late. He’s also learned to respect new elements he’s overlooked in past projects, “Normally you don’t think about the sound but in Heart, if the sound doesn’t work, you are lost, you might as well close”.
There are 280 staff - 70 waiters, 80 cooks, 50 for the Circus, the rest for security, promotions, DJs, dancers, lighting specialists and everything in between. They do two big club nights a week, it would be impossible to do one every night. “Ibiza is different”, he says again, “I already changed 40 dishes to find the balance and the way to cook”.
He explains that he and his team had to “grow up” a lot before they could take on Heart and if facing fear is what he needs to stimulate creativity then the “monster” he still seems to be taming in Ibiza is something that’s only going to propel him further. “Heart contaminated us a lot, for good or for bad we are contaminated. Tickets is now too serious, one-star Michelin / 50-Best, we are too serious so now we are working with magicians, but it’s not magicians at the table. The magicians teach tricks to the waiters or the cooks - we make a plate and it’s magical. The waiter makes a napkin float and fly - it’s contamination from Heart”.
The biggest talk of this contamination comes when he speaks about Enigma - the restaurant he hopes will open in Barcelona in February 2016. A 28-seat venue that he says will be the last - at least in Barcelona. A place where he, only half jokingly, says he will start again, “I need to break with my past”.
The huge space his has planned for Enigma is impressive and the appointment of the award winning RCR architect firm shows just how much care is going into the aesthetics. Lights alone will cost around 120,000 Euros, “there are 10,000 lights, so you can have environments…areas that can be changed. The colours change also so you don’t always think you’re in the same restaurant. When you have a architectural structure that is powerful on an aesthetic level it eats the space and I don’t want to have a cathedral because the third time you see it you already know what’s coming. I want a place that can be something really small or something really big…You can change a place thanks to the light - we have learned that in Ibiza thanks to Cirque”.
Rendering of Enigma.
“For Enigma the first thing will be no Olives”, he laughs, referring to the famous spherified olives that have stuck with him throughout his career - but there’s some truth in what he says. It seems that each restaurant opened since the closing of elBulli, from 41-degrees to Heart, has been Albert stepping further and further out of those shadows. Each concept another step away from his comfort zone, one step closer to his fears and one step closer to the opening of Enigma, the final serving of those delicious olives and the final revealing of the great Albert Adria.