"Here we are cooking," says Ferran Adrià, referring to the simple culinary videos he’s been posting online for people on lockdown across Spain and beyond. The chef is sharing recipes with people whom he believes, amid the coronavirus outbreak, finally have some spare time to improve their cooking.
The giant of Spanish cuisine, the protagonist of one of the largest revolutions in contemporary gastronomy, does not try to amuse or entertain in his videos. Using recipes from his book, The Family Meal, he posts simple and inexpensive dishes that were eaten daily by the staff at his legendary restaurant elBulli. “We do it with the intention of helping, but also taking advantage of the fact that people finally have time to train in basic culinary aspects," says the chef, hyper-aware that the world of gastronomy as we know it, seems to be falling apart.
He feels there’s a strong public service required right now, it’s why his first move when Spain went into lockdown was to post social videos, a reply to the immediate needs of people. However, perhaps with a view to the long-term, he is also focusing his energy on what he says is the very important matter of business management.
Even though he is seen as the flag-bearer of avant-garde cuisine, the issue of managing gastronomic restaurants became one of his biggest obsessions after closing elBulli in 2011 and dedicating himself to the elBulliFundation.
"I am good at numbers, what I struggle with is the kitchen,” he laughs, highlighting initiatives like his business management book, Mise en Place. The book looks at many aspects of the restaurant business and was part of a partnership between the chef and Caixa Bank. It included scholarships for entrepreneurs with small and medium-sized enterprises who received specialised training on all the key aspects of business management.
"Opening a restaurant makes us entrepreneurs, which means that our greatest capacity and responsibility is to be good entrepreneurs. This emergency shows this," he says.
In Spain, as in many countries around the world, the government decreed a ‘state of emergency’ to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Hundreds of bars, restaurants and bakeries had to close their doors until further notice, losing their source of regular income. We’re talking about a sector responsible for 4.7% of Spain's GDP, which employs 1.3 million people and feeds a long chain of producers, farmers, transporters and workers. For the vast majority of these people, telecommuting is not an option. As everyone juggles to survive financially, the scary feeling is that the worst is yet to come.
For now, the Government has approved the largest economic package in its democratic history, dedicating 20% of Spanish GDP to respond to citizens and companies impacted by coronavirus. With the activation of measures such as the Temporary Employment Regulation Files (ERTE), companies affected by force majeure can request support from the State to cover a percentage of workers’ salaries. Without aid like this and many other stimulus packages to come, it is difficult to imagine a revival in the country.
“The vulnerability or fragility of restaurants seems somewhat endemic,” says Adrià. “We always lived in the moment. Why? Because nobody thought that a situation of this level would occur. Most were living day by day: remember that 50% of the restaurants in Spain do not last more than five years and that 22% do not last more than two years.”
He says every time he hears, “Ferran, I want to open a restaurant because I love cooking and I want to create." He gives the same reply: “Don't set up a restaurant for that. If you want to start a restaurant, the first thing you have to do is focus on management.”
It is true that, at a time when the word ‘sustainability’ is so trendy, there has been little debate in the industry about the sustainability of business models. “Although no magic answers can be expected nor should anyone take the opportunity to be smart, we can all be left with the idea that not being prepared, not having what I call a security fund, is dangerous. To continue like this, without a cushion or a clear strategy, will only take us down dangerous paths.”