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Building Bullipedia<br>with Chef Mateu Casañas

Building Bullipedia
with Chef Mateu Casañas

A chat with Mateu Casañas, one of the chef's helping to build Ferran Adrià's culinary website Bullipedia.

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'Something is Boiling on The Web' - the simple words you will read if you search for At the moment a basic home-page with the claim of 'more coming soon', in the future something that promises to house the most extensive and open resource of culinary knowledge on the web.

A mammoth project conceived by the Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. An idea to build an online culinary encyclopedia, free to access for all and the first creation of its kind. An online resource of modern cooking that will make the techniques and cooking styles of the past 50-60 years of gastronomy available on the web.

Back in March 2012, the idea was just that, an idea. Since then the chef has garnered the help of Harvard and Barcelona Business School's brightest minds, a number of high profile chefs and some of his most trusted kitchen confidants.

Adrià decsribes Bullipedia as a Wikipedia style website for food. A database of ingredients, products, producers and equipment - pictures, texts, videos - and all that before you begin to look at the recipes, techniques, prep notes and historical context a site like this needs to provide, it's a seriously large undertaking. The English section of Wikipedia is edited 125,000 to 150,000 times a day, while Bullipedia is currently being built by just a handful of the chef's most trusted associates, people trying to bring his binary beast to life.

When the idea was first announced, Adrià promised a launch date of 2014. More recently, in a video asking programmers, designers and web developers to come on board and help build this endless stream of culinary code, the chef explained it would not be complete until 2016. However, FDL can reveal that this monster project may be as far as 4-5 years from opening, with a potential launch date of 2018.

Speaking with Mateu Casañas, one of three founding chefs behind the recently opened Compatir restaurant in Cadaqués, and someone who has worked closely with Adrià for 15-years inside the elBulli kitchen and now on Bullipedia, you quickly begin to realize just how big the project is, and just what it's like to work with a chef like Ferran Adrià.

As Casañas explains: "We always have pressure working with Ferran, the most difficult part is to try and understand the limits of this project - every day we find new ways to work but someone like Ferran Adrià does not have limits."

"We start to think 'finally, it's a little bit less, we are starting to understand' and then everyday in the morning we have a call from Ferran and he says, "Ok, today we can open this section" and you say, 'Oh no, we can not finish this, ever'."

It was Steve Jobs who said that the ones who see things differently are the ones who change things and Adria is certainly a chef who tries to fit round pegs in square holes.

Bent over his computer screen in a small room at Campatir, surrounded by notes, scribbles and spreadsheets, while a busy lunch service buzzes around him, Casañas continues: "Right now I'm working on all the words that relate to Spanish gastronomy, checking them in dictionaries, the internet, books, comparing all the different definitions, and trying to to take the most clever and clean things that we find and compile them all together."

"One place for words, one place for pictures, the places to buy a certain product or specific knife to cut like this, we also plan to have videos. You understand it's a lot of information and a lot of work, now we are just opening all the ways to work and when all these are ready we can slowly begin to understand how to bring it all together. We think it will work as a self editing process like Wikipedia but we are not sure. At the moment this is just in Ferran's mind."

Exhausting work, but something that Adrià and his disciples seem happy to to pursue. "I sleep about 6 hours a night but we are happy. Ferran will arrive tonight in Barcelona from New York and tomorrow for sure he will call with new ideas, we can never stop to work with him. Ferran can open your mind and you have these new things to understand and ways to work. Technique is important but anyone can learn technique from a book, the important thing is to have his philosophy, the feeling inside that you must 'work, work, work and work."

I ask if there's a risk that creating such a resource could lead to a generation of culinary copycats, people who replicate rather than create, but to an elBulli alumni this question only garners a quizzical look: "When I use Google to find something, it's not to cook it the same way, I use it to get the information. We will produce one place to go and understand what has already been created. If I can go to Bullipedia and check the history of cuisine, see everything that has been done before - when I know all this information - I start to see what we need to do in the future."

"If we do this, in the end, it will be crazy. It's a great way to democratize all our knowledge and information. I think it's important to explain to the next generation that they can change things, that they can change the kitchen and the rest of the profession. That they should not just take all the things that people have been doing in the past and be creative. They must find another way to cook."

And when, if ever, will Bullipedia be complete? "Maybe 4-5 years from now - I think so because it's much more important and bigger than we ever thought in the beginning. We need to feed this monster every day - it's really difficult but I think it's the best way to understand and lead to new ways of working.

"Nothing worth doing is ever easy, when you want something you need to work very hard, in the morning, at night, you need to be transparent and you must remain sincere."

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