Ferran Adrià spoke to John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, August 21, 2013
Ferran Adrià is without question one of the world’s most influential chefs. In 1983 he arrived at the Catalonian restaurant elBulli to undertake a work placement, rapidly rising up the ranks to become co-owner of the establishment in 1990. Taking responsibility for the restaurant’s development, he introduced the mantra ‘creativity means not copying’ and set about introducing provocative new cooking techniques and challenging new dishes.
Under his leadership, elBulli was voted the world’s best restaurant five times by Restaurant magazine and it received over 2million reservation enquiries for each summer season that it was open. Confirming just how unorthodox his work has been, he is now the subject of the world’s first exhibition dedicated to a chef and his restaurant. On show at London’s Somerset House until September 29, elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food examines ‘the art of cuisine and cuisine as art’, taking a behind-the-scenes look at elBulli’s cooking laboratory and examining the enduring influence Adrià’s innovations and techniques have following the restaurant’s 2011 closure.
In a restaurant, my opinion as a diner is no more important than the opinion of any other diner – just because I’m a chef doesn’t change that - but I suppose what I can do is consider places as a professional and perhaps I notice things that others wouldn’t. There are lots of variables that affect a restaurant experience and how it should be interpreted. It’s important to consider how many people you go with. If I want to have a gastronomic experience I never go in a group larger than four – it’s impossible. If you do, you end up talking about things that have nothing to do with the food and sometimes you don’t even know whey you’ve gone to that particular restaurant. When I dine somewhere for professional reasons I’m looking for the vanguard. I’m looking for somewhere that provides something new and if I go to a restaurant that says it is one of the most creative in the world then I’m very demanding. A venue can only claim to be at the forefront when it’s breaking new ground.
Astrid y Gastón, Lima
Latin America is a very interesting culinary destination with thousands of good restaurants at the moment, but a country there that’s particularly good for cuisine is Peru . In Lima, Astrid y Gastón is constantly providing something new. As I said, when I go to somewhere for professional reasons that’s what I look for – if I was relaxing I could just go to a little café or bar on the beach somewhere and keep it simple and enjoy it like everyone else. I’m friend’s with Astrid y Gastón’s proprietor Gastón Acurio and his restaurant serves inventive Peruvian-Mediterranean cuisine.
Mibu seats just eight and you can’t make a reservation so it can be hard to get in here. It’s not cheap either but that’s not to say it’s elitist. It offers a unique dining experience, one of the most incredible in the whole world. I’ve been about seven or eight times and have become good friends with the owner – I’ve been there when it was closed and they actually opened for us. The restaurant serves Japanese food but it’s got nothing to do with what people think of when they think of Japanese food – it’s another world beyond that. If you want to go on a trip that’s focused on food then Japan is a great destination and a visit to Mibu is always a performance, it’s incredible.
I should begin by saying I’m not being at all objective when I recommend 41° : it is a project operated by my brother Alberta. But even so it provides one of the most interesting dining experiences I’ve had in recent years and, as Alberta and I worked at elBulli together, you can still smell traces of that restaurant here. 41° is a small place with 16 covers and it presents a dialogue between the cocktail-bar world and gastronomy. The cocktails here aren’t just for easy drinking, they’re here to accompany the food and are very sophisticated and very interesting. In the western world we tend to have wine with a meal and we’ve opened that to include beer and, from that, the question arose as to whether there’s something else that could accompany food. The restaurant serves 41 different dishes that are combined with cocktails. The menu tells you which cocktails go with which dishes and the whole experience looks at the debate about what you should drink with your food.
Pujol, Mexico City
Mexican cuisine is one of the best in the world – without any doubt. Some people may find that surprising because if you try Mexican food outside of Mexico it loses the detail. Pujol is led by head chef Enrique Olvera and it is an excellent showcase for Mexican gastronomy.
Spices for sale in Marrakech. Image: Fotolia
I think it’s very interesting to look at what’s happening in Morocco now. It seems chefs there are taking advantage of the region’s culinary history and producing really interesting things. I wouldn’t want to recommend a specific restaurant as I think you really have to go and see what’s happening for yourself and the concepts that are being considered there are being applied quite broadly.
For hundreds of years, Arabic cuisine was the most cultured and progressive and if you look back at this heritage and return to the origins of its development, you’ll see how many of the techniques that began there are now taken for granted. Like the use of sugar, for example. When you’re trying to create a kind of identity-based cooking the Arab world has a lot to draw from, to discover and rediscover. I think chefs in Morocco are starting to become more aware of that heritage and things are happening there now.