Ferran Adria - a top chef on a mission

The man who ran elBulli wants to groom the next generation of master chefs and is working on a gastronomic innovation centre

Ferran Adria

PARIS • Three thousand people were still on the waiting list for a table when the restaurant closed.

That wait does not look likely to end any time soon, for Ferran Adria - "the most influential chef in the world" - is a man on a mission.

But just not one that involves him having to run a restaurant.

The Catalan - whose elBulli restaurant was named the best on the planet a record five times - is out to prove that the wildly experimental dishes he pioneered there still cut the mustard.

In the seven years since he unexpectedly shut the legendary restaurant in Spain - with 3,000 people still uncatered to - simpler, more earthy cooking has come into vogue.

But the father of molecular cuisine, who ushered in the idea of "mandarin air", eating smoke, caramelised quails, trout egg tempura and any number of foams and emulsions, said he has not stood still.

It makes no sense for me to open a restaurant. Why would I do that? Almost all the greatest chefs in the world – with a few exceptions – no longer actually cook. They taste, direct and conceive.


"I have not stopped working" nor experimenting, he added, since he shuttered elBulli, which held the maximum three Michelin stars.

Back then, he admitted that he was feeling a little jaded.

But as he explains in a new 15-part documentary series about his incredible rise from dishwasher to culinary superstar, elBulli: Story Of A Dream, which begins on Amazon Prime today, he has well and truly got his mojo back.

It is just that he does not want to go back to cooking at the stove day and night.

"It makes no sense for me to open a restaurant. Why would I do that?

"Almost all the greatest chefs in the world - with a few exceptions - no longer actually cook. They taste, direct and conceive," he noted.

Adria has, however, helped his brother Albert open six establishments in Barcelona, of which one, Enigma, he described as a "baby elBulli".

It was 95th on the latest The World's 50 Best Restaurants list.

Instead, he teaches at Harvard University, gives advice and runs the elBulli foundation, funded by €12 million (S$19 million) of private capital from Spanish giants Telefonica and CaixaBank as well as Italian coffee company Lavazza.

Adria is more concerned about bringing on the next generation of master chefs.

He had a big hand in forming the trio of talent who have replaced him at the top of the global gastronomic tree: fellow Catalan Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona; Italian Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena; and Dane Rene Redzepi of Noma fame.

"I'd say 95 per cent of the restaurants I have helped have been successful," Adria added, acknowledging that he has worked with the Spanish chef Jose Andres of Minibar in Washington, DC, which has two Michelin stars.

Adria - who is only 56 - is also working on a gastronomic innovation centre on the site of the old elBulli at Cala Montjoi, which is due to open next year - five years behind schedule.

Rather than molecular cuisine, he prefers to call his cooking "techno-emotional".

"They say that I am out of fashion, that no one makes espumas (his light-as-air mousses) anymore.

"But thousands of restaurants across the world now use siphons," said the "alchemist" The Guardian once called "the most imaginative generator of haute cuisine on the planet".

He had stated his mission at elBulli was to discover "the limits of the gastronomic experience".

In 17 years there, he created 1,846 recipes.

He said he hopes the new Amazon series - based on a previous television series about his work - will help demolish some of the myths about elBulli, which sparked controversy because of its use of chemical additives.

"Salt is a lot worse for health than any stabiliser," he hit back.

Another of his new passions is a project he calls his "Bullipedia", an enormous gastronomic encyclopaedia for which he has plunged himself into studying 400 years of French cuisine.

While the British and American press like to see Adria as a symbol of the new hegemony of Spanish haute cuisine over the French, Adria said he is a "child of French nouvelle cuisine", citing Michel Guerard, the Troisgros clan, Paul Bocuse and Alain Chapel as his main influences.

"It is one of my big sources of inspiration" at the moment, along with Chinese, Mexican, Peruvian and Japanese cooking, he added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline 'Ferran Adria - a top chef on a mission'. Subscribe