Ferran Adria, head chef at the world’s best restaurant, talks about women, words and how bloggers are changing gastronomy.
It’s not the first time I’ve sipped beer beneath the Spanish sun. It is, however, the first time I’ve combined it with tomato and basil canapés from the world’s best restaurant.
Ferran Adria leads us from the kitchens at El Bulli to a semi-sheltered patio with white-washed walls and a sofa that wouldn’t look out of place in the home of Salvador Dali. To a view of the Med, a soundtrack of crashing waves and the taste of citrus and cream, we get chatting.
“Passion,” he says. “You must have passion for your work, whatever you are doing.”
With his reputation for molecular gastronomy and a twinkle or two in his eye, Ferran Adria has plenty to talk about. We start with the history of El Bulli, chiming in at the point where he joins the kitchen in the early 1980s.
He begins with a word that’s going to become something of a theme: change.
“At the end of the dictatorship,” he says, referring to Spain’s stormy, overlooked past, “people were ready for change.
“They wanted new things. They were ready to take risks – and in that space…” his gaze drifts past us to where the waiters, er, wait in civilian clothes with attentive smiles.
“Catalunya, and Spain as a whole, have an incredible gastronomic culture,” says Adria, even though they “don’t explain the Arabic taste to their food. Each region – Galicia, Catalunya, Andalucia – each has their own personality and they are proud of it.”
Spain’s a country with several different languages, but Adria wants to move beyond that. “We looked for our own language. We learned characters and words in Chinese, we created an alphabet of our own and we introduced the concept of a sense of humour.
“Until then, food didn’t have a sense of humour.”
He’s clearly never seen my attempt at banana à la marmite, is all I can say to that.
“We lost our culinary culture when women left the home to work,” he says, perhaps reading my mind. “Before, when women stayed at home, they would spend three hours making a meal, in between washing and sweeping.
“Now things are better, women aren’t forced to stay at home.
“But the reality is, that now women do not give their daughters a culinary education –and we are all losing our skills.”
His book, Cocinar en Casa, aims to cure us of our marmite-banana-wielding ways, yet that’s not the project he wants to talk about today.
Having built El Bulli to the point where it’s regularly described as the world’s best restaurant, his next move is…to close it down.
“It’s time for a change,” he tells us. “To keep creating at the same rate as we have for the last 25 years – we need a change of scenery. We need pressure for creativity.”
What else does he think is required for success?
“Three things. There are three things for success: sharing, passion and risk.”
Passion and risk sound like well-trodden ground – but this mention of sharing has all the flavour of social media with a vinaigrette of travel blogging. As it happens, Adria has a thing or two to say about the press.
“Because I would never have reached this level of success without the press,” he replies. “Everything you see here was built together – by the chefs, the waiters, the press. I am thankful to all of you and it is only fair to show justice and to help you in return.
“Besides,” he continues, unprompted. “Bloggers are changing the face of gastronomy.”
“Bloggers and the way you communicate are changing the relationship between creativity and society. Already your photographs, your experiences, your thoughts about this place have travelled across the globe – and I’ve only just left my kitchen.”
All of which reminds me that we haven’t really talked about food yet.
Perhaps sometimes words are wasted.
I reach for the “world’s lightest baguette” and take a crunchy bite. Then a crumbly appetiser with another citrus twist. My synapses sing with delight.
Passion for your work, you say Adria?
On days like this, it’s easy.
Disclosure – and thank you. I was introduced to Ferran Adria at El Bulli Restaurant by the Costa Brava Tourist Board, led by Jaume, who translated and went out of their way to make my job easier. To everyone in the team – thank you.