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One of the most influential chefs of our time became also one of the most sought-after minds to think about innovation – especially regarding food. Since his legendary restaurant El Bulli closed in 2011, Ferran Adrià has dedicated himself to studies at his El Bulli Foundation and has been working on a number of ambitious projects, like Bullipedia, which he calls as the “largest encyclopedia in the world” and had its first volume, Bebidas, devoted to drinks, launched in November 2017. Now, there will be 35 academic books of 500 pages each to be released in the next 4 years, starting in April 2018.
Back in 2014, Ferran Adrià announced his desire to transform the former El Bulli area into a new space dedicated to cooking and research, El Bulli 1846. This ambitious project faced opposition from locals and environmentalists and stopped for three years, until July 2017 when the local planning commission gave the approval to reopen the El Bulli building in 2018.
In a recent visit to Brazil to talk about innovation and his projects, the Spanish chef said that he believes that there is much more talk about innovation than quality in the gastronomy today. “It should be the other way around” he says, stating that high innovation is very difficult to achieve. “We had a great leap of innovation with El Bulli, which has influenced a lot of chefs and the whole gastronomic scene. Masterchef would not exist without ElBulli”, he says. “The real innovation”, he continues, “is to make what you want the way you want”.
We talked to Adrià about new plans, Spanish cuisine and innovation "The future of restaurants tends to be more informal, seeking a more democratic and popular cuisine, but with a focus on creativity and innovation, as it happens here or at Tickets [one of the most famous restaurants of his brother, Albert]", he concludes.
On food innovation
“We haven’t seen a disruptive innovation in gastronomy for a long time. Because disruptive innovations are indeed very difficult to achieve. What has really changed in this iPhone you are using to record this interview, for example, over the last two years? Bigger screen, faster software? Only that. We had a great leap of innovation with El Bulli, and today innovation happens more in small things. And the chefs are aware of that, of course, and they are looking for this innovation all the time... but they can’t find it”, he says. “It's very difficult to get to what we did with Spanish food at El Bulli. And it will take a long time for a meaningful change to happen again”, he believes.
"Today it is difficult also to find time for deep investigations inside the restaurants - chefs have to create dishes", he says. At El Bulli 1846 - how it will be called the facilities that the chef is building in Cala Montjoi, the picturesque site of his famous restaurant - he says he wants to bring together the best chefs in the world together with scholars and specialists from diverse areas to pursue innovation.
On restaurant as a business
According to the chef, technology has dramatically changed the restaurant industry. Softwares have changed the way a restaurant owner manages his business. “These are tools that did not exist before, and that could have helped a lot of entrepreneurs and restaurant owners in the past. It's something that allows a new business organization, and that's fantastic”, he says. “We will see many things in that direction, like big data, that will change the way we eat and go out to eat. And this encompasses the whole market, from casual to fine dining, because technology allows this democratization”.
Adrià says the concept of fine dining, by the way, is strange because high gastronomy can be made anywhere. "As in here [referring to A Casa do Porco, a casual restaurant run by Brazilian chef Jefferson Rueda in São Paulo, where we met Adrià], which is much more casual than a luxury restaurant, but it may serve better food than a starred one, for example”.
On Having a Spanish Cuisine Food Hall in New York
Ferran Andrià has been travelling around the world for lectures – more than cooking, which he has been avoiding – and, when he has some free time, he advises his younger brother, Albert Adrià, on the recipes and creations that will be served at Hudson Yards Food Hall to be opened in New York City in October, by the Adrià brothers and DC chef José Andrés. “I’m acting more as a ‘consultant’”, Ferran says.
The project is dedicated to showing New Yorkers Spanish cuisine, including restaurants and a market space. Ferran Adrià anticipates that “it will be big”. Even if many iconic Spanish dishes and ingredients, such as tapas, jamón and tortilla will be served, people can expect some surprises, according to him.
“It's a project ran by my brother, Albert, and my great friend José Andrés, and I am a little aside to that, acting more like a consultant, giving them some feedback, which is not bad coming from me”, he says. “I think they are very mature on that project, so I let them take care of it by themselves, getting in the way as little as possible. But I can say that everything is very advanced, and it will be great. From the beginning, I've been telling them it had to be something big, and it will be big”, he points out.
According to Adrià, his concern was how Spanish cuisine would be represented in New York. “Because more than a culinary project, it is a cultural project, which shows our gastronomy as a culture. It's hard to get the Spanish cuisine to travel, on account of some products. Italian pasta-based cooking is easier to take to other places, as proved by how it has spread around the world. There is a whole Spanish cuisine based on seafood that is almost impossible to reproduce outside Spain. Without our prawns, our cigalas (crayfish), one misses an important part of what the Spanish food is”, he warns.
But on the other hand, he says, Spanish chefs have managed to make some recipes to have a greater acceptance in the world, which even explains the opening of such project in a city as cosmopolitan as New York. “Before, people didn’t like gazpacho at all. Today, they consume it a lot more – and as a drink, ironically, not as something to eat. I bet gazpacho will be one of the most consumed recipes in the world in five years”, he predicts.
On the future of fine dining
Regarding the future of restaurants, he says it is difficult to predict what will happen in a few years because today the gastronomic business has a much shorter average life, closing in less time than it did a few decades ago. “But I think we will have many changes in the very concept of restaurants, and what will prevail is quality, more than the form itself. Quality will be the future, and will get clearer and clearer”.
According to him, a restaurant is the most affordable luxury in the world. What one spends on buying a new car, for example, he can go to a good restaurant every day in an entire year. “This is what keeps the restaurants’ industry going”.