Ferran Adrià: “We closed elBulli to open elBulli”

It is the neon sign that summarizes the exhibition “Auditing the creative process”, which the Espacio Fundación Telefónica in Madrid will house from October 29 to March 1, 2015. Last Sunday, we visited the exhibition with Ferran Adrià, while he reviewed his projects, in an interview with Gastroeconomy. «The exhibit explains the creative process that serves to create a language as universal as possible and to understand all we’ve done so far,» he summarizes. Will elBulli return as a restaurant? Not, as such, but we will offer once a year and for one month, 20 “experiences ‘A day in Cala Montjoi’ represented through the dishes” for 25 persons a day, which will start on September 2, 2016. As for his current standing in regard to the elBullifoundation? BulliLab is the headquarters in Barcelona, where work on the Bullipedia is undertaken, and as a new feature, will also be available in print. On November 17, the works on Cala Montjoi will begin to create elBulli 1846 in a smaller space than initially planned, and 6W Food will be a grand exhibition center, still without a defined location. In regard to the Spanish gastronomic sector, the chef believes that “In Spain, the quality of the gastronomy is double that three years ago”. But he warns that “There is a quality restaurant bubble”. Spanish version of this article to read here / Versión en español de este artículo aquí.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF47 FERRAN

“We closed elBulli to open elBulli”. It is announced by a neon sign, which, from October 29 until March 1, will illuminate the third floor hall of the Fundación Telefónica, in the center of Madrid. The awaited exhibition on Ferran Adrià, on elBulli, on a historical exploit, which justifies almost everything (everything?) that is occurring today in gastronomy (including something so simple as reading this text), has arrived.

Ferran Adriá remains faithful to speaking fervently and intensely with new ideas emerging midsentence and to his habit of launching big headlines that mental and dialectic hyperactivity leave unfinished almost systematically. He expresses himself with energy, strength, forcefulness, enthusiasm and positivity, without giving up his eternal nonconformity, the indisputable ally of his talent. He has spent three years and three months listening to critics say that his project is not understood and that it doesn’t make much sense; that he is now a philosopher instead of a chef; and that elBullifoundation is a crazy idea, that some want to surround with controversy, while a few seem to want to bury the chef who managed to change the rules of the game in the world of gastronomy. «There are people who still doubt what we are doing. If, at elBulli, it took more than twenty-five years to be creative and for them to believe in what we were doing, I say that they’ll allow us eight or ten years to do what we want and that they’ll understand us», said Ferran Adrià (L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, 1962).

His day to day? Travel and, at times, stay in Barcelona. “I’m doing what I did in elBulli in another way. There, I spent a part of the year focused in the kitchen and the other, dedicated to business and conferences. Now, it has changed a bit, but I also have to allocate my time”. He adds: “I am as I was in elBulli in 1995. That is to say, as head of the kitchen, but teaming up”.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF5053The other ‘prêt-à-porter’ effect

If in recent years you have been served a recipe propped on a plate of slate (support that was used for the first time in elBulli in 2001); if you have tried meat, fish or vegetables accompanied by a creamy and lightened sauce (froth) or almost ethereal (air); if you’ve been served an appetizer on a spoon; if you’ve been told about contemporary tapas in the form of snacks; if you have eaten with tweezers; if you find, in a few years, the oriental (cookbooks, products, supplements) mixed with spanish cuisine or, even, as part of the menu of the day; if you’ve been encouraged to interact at the table with the purpose of constructing a dish, with the objective of having fun; if a small dish or a cocktail included a small plastic pipette (more suitable to a laboratory than to a kitchen) so that you can serve yourself sauce; if you have tried yuzu (a type of citrus) in Spain or Europe. If you have experienced any of the above, it is to the merit of Ferran Adriá and his team. This is just a small note for the most skeptical.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF5056The chef says that his brother “Albert [Adrià] has achieved what I was not able to and that is to make a ‘prêt-à-porter’ profitable”. But, perhaps he forgets that there is another ‘prêt-à-porter’ ‘made in Ferran Adrià’ and it is the collection of legacies for all the publics that the average hospitality business in its day to day assumes possibly, without knowing (nor the hospitality businesses nor the clients) that its origin or part of it is in Cala Montjoi.

A few do believe that Ferran Adrià will once again make history. Among them, some are large companies such as Telefónica (and some other that will soon arrive), and those that are not so large. Others are cooks, colleagues who believe with blind faith that the second era of the ‘Adrià language’ is coming. Many others are (we are) gluttons or not, diners, journalists, writers, housewives, students, entrepreneurs, managers, artists, that is, that part of the public that is simply awaiting that new era.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF2From 2011 to today

On July 30, 2011, elBulli, as a restaurant, closed. The last service was in Cala Montjoi after a morning of emotions in which Adrià surrounded himself with some of his disciples and colleagues, who had spent a period at elBulli, to convert a farewell into a party. Dish number 1846 of the history of this space overlooking the Costa Brava: Melba peach, as a tribute to its creator, the French chef Auguste Escoffier (born in 1846; nothing happens by chance in the ‘casa Adrià), master of modern cuisine.

The result of what occurred until that July 30, 2011, together with the initial creation of elBullifoundation, was evident in the exhibition “Ferran Adrià and elBulli. Risk, freedom and creativity. 1961-2011”, held at the beginning of 2012 at the Palau Robert in Barcelona and then after, toured abroad. Later, there were exhibitions, such as “Notes on creativity”, in The Drawing Center in Cleveland (USA) or the drawings of Adrià in the latest edition of ARCO in Madrid.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF60And, now (through its official inauguration tomorrow and opening to the public on Wednesday, October 29), arrives “Auditing the creative process”, at the Espacio Fundación Telefónica (Fuencarral, 3) in Madrid, which will be open until March 1, 2015. What does it mean to audit the creative process and what does the exposition imply? “This exhibition collects what we have done in these three and a half years since the closure of elBulli, in which we have been confined to working and at the same time forecasts a vision of elBulli in the future. Through it, we are visualizing the future of the project elBullifoundation [that involves an investment of 15 million euros in ten years]”, summarizes Ferran Adrià, who assures that the preparations for this exhibition, “to which I prefer to call project, has served us to learn plenty”.

The exhibition occupies a space of about eight hundred square meters; a thousand if you include the entrance area in which a video art screen displays the responses of different people to a question: “What does creativity mean to you?”. It is from this point that Ferran Adrià begins to walk while in an interview with Gastroeconomy (carried out on the morning of Sunday, October 26).  He talks about elBullifoundation, recollects elBulli’s past, explains the exhibition and contends the meaning of this simple which strives to convert the audit of the creative process into a valid weapon for any area or sector. “The exhibition explains the creative process that serves to create a language as universal as posible,” he emphasizes.

As we speak with Adrià, Marc Cuspinera ‘Cuspi’ (instrumental in the documentation and organization of this exhibition) he places the finishing touches on an exhibition that has been “in preparation since 2012, but it should be understood as a ‘work in progress’”, he indicates.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF5057The current moment

Before entering the exhibition, a review of Adria and his team regarding elBullifoundation’s current moment. On the one hand, BulliLab (initially, BullipediaLab) is the headquarters in Barcelona, with Eugeni de Diego (ex Bulli) as director or Rita Soler (Juli Soler’s daughter) as the lab’s Human Resources Director. “People like Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas are now a little behind the scenes[the three own Compartir in Cadaqués and they will open a new restaurant in Barcelona in December]; we are giving way to new people to nourish ourselves with different points of views”, he argues.

And, yes, Bullipedia, the great encyclopedia of world cuisine, will be one of the major projects of this space. There are new developments: “Bullipedia will be available in different formats; not just online. Bullipedia will have an app, social media presence and print format”, announces Adrià. “In BulliLab there will always be an exhibition of a book that we are preparing. We hope to publish 25 or 30 books and e-books”, he predicts.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF7On the other hand, the Cala Montjoi space, which will house the baptized as elBulli 1846 and was conceived as a visitor center, will begin works on the 17 of November. “On the 20% that we have approved and we will see if it is smaller than initially projected”. Is this change due to environmental groups protests based on the location of this space in the Parque Natural Cap de Creus? “Not only; there are more reasons. Right now, we are considering the Cala Montjoi project in another manner”, affirms Adrià.

Meanwhile, there are plans to create a space of about eight thousand square meters called, 6W Food, “that will be located in Barcelona or wherever, because we are open to any place in the world that wishes to support this project”. The forecasted date is closer to 2017 and its mission is to operate as a museum.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF505920 experiences a month, 25 clients a day

But, will elBulli return as a restaurant? Will all the foodies on this planet have the option to dine at their tables? There will not be a restaurant, nor a reservation system, nor bills to pay; but yes, once a year and for a month (in principle, September or June, although it may vary). They will dedicate 20 days to 20 gastronomical ‘experiences’ dedicated to only 25 persons per day (that is, 500 persons per year). “I don’t want to call it dinner, not even experiences”, Adrià autocorrects himself, while he crosses out in my notebook (see attached image) the word ‘experiences’ to write: “A day in Cala Montjoi with elBulli. September 2, 2016”. And he details: “Some clients will arrive by car, others by boat and others by bicycle. They will arrive separately on the same day to live a day in Cala Montjoi, as a food experience, in 8 or 10 acts. There will be 7 modules for 2, 4 or 6 persons, up to 25, that will set out as an exhibitory journey as they will live a beach experience, a kitchen experience…and they will end up reuniting in a grand global party just like the one we had on the last day of elBulli as a restaurant. There will be 20 dates, 20 days a month, beginning September 2, 2016.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF5058Who will be the lucky ones to sit at these tables? “Reservations will not be taken, nor will there be a price because it will not be a restaurant. It will be for ‘angels’, companies and people who have supported us or those who we love. It will not only be an experiencial concept, but also an experimental one”. That is, “We will function eleven months like BulliLab and will dedicate elBulli 1846 for a month to these 20 experiences in one day. It is the way in which to motivate myself. To be creative, I either motivate myself with something like this or it is pointless.

And, meanwhile, an ambitious gastronomic project in Ibiza that involves Albert and Ferran Adrià which links them to Cirque du Soleil is on the radar, although the chef does not want to mention it. Yes, he admits that “Ibiza is a starting point for everything that will be of use to us for when we do 20 days a year in Cala Montjoi. Everything revolves around a reflection on this, on the food”.

A tour of the exhibition

We return to Madrid; Sunday, October 26 at 13:15. Upon entering the exhibition, a diagram shows a map of the creative process that functions “as the exhibition guide”, warns the chef. That map does not speak of cuisine, it speaks of the proper process of creating from an idea with the purpose of generating a formula applicable to any field, beyond the gastronomic arena. “Any creative process from any field is in this map and, in any case, there are many maps of the creative process. This can be valid for any creative or profesional in the world”, maintains the chef.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF24We insist: it is not obligatory to believe this character, who said that “sure, people will come to the exhibition with a negative attitude. I am not interested in such people. I am interested in those who have a positive attitude and a desire to contribute things,” he points out.

If you are a follower of Ferran Adrià, perhaps you are familiar with another previous map, presented a few months ago (for example, last January at the Madrid Fusión congress, explained here, in a guide on the Bullipedia in 10 points: the map of the culinary process, directed to decode the so-called gastronomic DNA. Something that serves to explain the creative process to give birth to Bullipedia). If that first map had cuisine as the main theme, this new map of the creative process stems from the agreement between Adrià and Telefónica, with the idea of auditing the creative process of elBulli restaurant. That is to say, how ideas have been generated in Cala Montjoi. “Upon seeing this second map, we realized that we could create a format to decodify the creative process of any field”.

All that has happened these last three years since the closing of the restaurant has a physical headquarters as of a few months ago: the aforementioned BulliLab in Barcelona. Although it began as BullipediaLab with the idea of hosting the development of this ‘gastroencyclopedia’, the space “has mutated” immediately. It is now BulliLab, the work ‘office’ of Adrià (when he is in Barcelona), his trusted men and a multidisciplinary team, which will grow to about 70 people when, on March 2, 2015 (incidentally, the day after the closure of the exhibition in Madrid) it is presented to society (coinciding with the visit from the Talentum people, the scholarship program with which Telefónica supports young talent with new technologies). “BulliLab fulfills its mission of making a creative laboratory, that is, the former elBullitaller multiplied by ten and, in knowledge, by one hundred”, regards Ferran Adrià.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF61In the map of the creative process, there are several large ‘spaces’ that will structure the exhibition in Madrid. The first is the context, everything that surrounds the process of creating (with a starting point: “What is it that made the creative process of elBulli so effective?”), including operating, human and economic resources. They are materialized in the exhibition through objects, publications, books and people, including chefs such as Bixente Arrieta, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Alex Montiel and Sergi Arola, among many others. “We wanted to be fair in remembering the entire team”, says Adrià. Of course, Juli Soler, the 50% of elBulli and the chef’s right-hand man in the Cala Montjoi, is more than present (today, he is retired from the foundation’s project because of a neurological disease). There is also data: a 20% of elBulli’s annual turnover was devoted to I+D. And, above all, there is a report containing 28 points of the creative audit performed on the Cala Montjoi space.

Also, elBulli’s relationships with companies emerge (the Cala Montjoi team worked with more than thirty) which “in its day, we didn’t show due to modesty and to avoid mixing them with the work in the restaurant. However, that link with the business world was also instrumental in the creative process. We learned of creativity with them, but also the good and the bad of companies”.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF19In that context of the creative process, science is also present with the existing relationships between Adrià and Harvard University (via the Fundación Alicia). The important thing is not so much learning physics and chemistry, but the scientific rigor,” he says.

As for the team, there is a factor reflected in the exhibition: “The creative personality or the type of people who were a part of elBulli”, an area in which features such as “respect to the past”(“That was something abnormal; the logical thing in a revolution is to break with the past, but we respect it”) “the chaos arranged to create”, the immediacy, the “willingness to share” or the reflection such as “basic attitude” have been detected. “Elbulli’s revolution was a kind revolution”, is affirmed from a panel.

Of course, the diner is present in the exhibition with the testimony of a dinner from photographer Bob Noto and his wife. It is the only meal photographed in a comprehensive manner in the history of elBulli.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF5055And, in the exhibition, from the context itself, we move into the creative process. How do the ideas emerge? Consciously or Unconsciously? Is it the same to create a dish for a menu as for a degustation menu? From another panel, one can read: “It is posible that you don’t know it, but, when you consciously seek ideas, you use creative techniques. Some of these techniques are conceptualized and receive a name”. Moreover, in elBulli, there were ideas that never succeeded: “It was a way of starting the year and deceiving ourselves”, remembers the chef.

From the context to the process and, like last step of the exhibition, to the final result. And, on the way, there are objects, crockery, mementos (some very touching), photographs, notebooks and booklets with noted ideas, reproductions of dishes that look real, video art(“It serves to excite”, says Adrià), books (some almost incunabular, like “Los Secretos de elBulli”, published in 1999 and which sold 80,000 copies), 14,000 pages in the volumes that elBulli periodically published; techniques to document creativity or the drawings of Adrià made in 2012 by Adrià, in early morning, in order to try to understand the evolution of the history of the kitchen. There are a thousand curious details, like the relation between the fried egg and the spherical egg; the x-ray of the dish ‘Ravioli that goes away’; the three identified periods in elBulli, each with their own creative techniques, and the definitions of basic concepts like the dish or the degustation menu.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF49 FERRANHis view on the gastrosector

“The objective of the exhibition is for people who do not know elBulli understand what it was as a restaurant and what we are doing now”, clarifies Adrià, who adds another ‘actor’ to whom the exhibit is directed to: “In Spain, there are 300,000 SMEs in the restaurant business. ElBulli was a 2.5 or 3 million euro annual turnover SME. We think that the issue of the creative process is magnified; this is why the challenge is to explain it with language that works in front of a bar or a ‘start-up’, be it from whichever sector because they often live in chaos. If there is something I have learned, it is that I do not know anyone who is brilliant and has been successful working in chaos, if he did not have a team nearby who organized that chaos”.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF17In passing, the chef analyzes the gastronomic sector. “In Spain, the quality of the gastronomy is double that three years ago. The work room and teamwork have also improved. Anyone who says otherwise and, on top of that, and deems himself a foodie has no idea”, he dictates. He delivers a word of advice: “No one can relax because new places open up constantly, and this is an incentive to keep improving. There is a brutal generation of chefs from 20 to 30 years and there are models for them to succeed, with concepts of bills per person from 25 to 50 euros. But a business of 50 spots at a price of 25 euros each, can not function and a venue that does not turn over 600,000 or 800,000 euros a year, will suffer”. There are also risks: “There is a quality restaurant bubble; too many have opened and there is not a sufficient audience for so many restaurants of haute cuisine. In big cities like Madrid or Barcelona, there is not enough tourism for so many quality restaurants”.

And he refers to his brother Albert Adrià, the creator of concepts such as Tickets, Pakta, Bodega 1900, Hoja Santa, Niño Viejo and the future Enigma. “He has achieved what I was not able to and that is to make a ‘prêt-à-porter’ profitable. I was not capable of doing what Alberto has done. The creative demand is much more pleasant in a ‘prêt-à-porter’, than in a haute cuisine concept.

Gastroeconomy_FerranAdria_ElBullifoundation2014_ExpoTEF43 FERRANMore plans

The chef doesn’t stop. He announces further plans: a book about the creative process that will be published in October 2015; the beginning of construction in a couple of weeks in Cala Montjoi to give birth to elBulli 1846; plans with 6W Food and the movie about elBulli that “Is now taken up again. Hollywood set it aside in search of a director, whom they have and will be Spanish”, smiles Adrià, while he reveals: “There is a project with a large company that we can talk about in a few months”. And also one “with a food company, regarding the snack format to create the ‘SSnackSS”, he discloses.

We arrive at the end of the exhibition, which is at the beginning, we read again: “We closed elBulli to open elBulli”. Adrià poses next to the neon sign; he points to it and smiles. “The exhibition serves to see everything we have done; investigating the past, we believe in the future in BulliLab”, he resumes. “For us, it was necessary to understand what we had done to return”.

Gastroeconomy_Ferran Adria_Auditando el proceso creativoAnd Adrià continues to dream. “An audit report could be done on the creative process of the ten most creative chefs in the world. Each one is based on a different process, depending on their way of work, on having a workshop or not, on the type of team, on working with a menu or degustation menu”… He continues to think aloud: “And a permanent space about the creative processes of ten chefs during ten years could be made in Madrid”.

One could… For Adrià, it is equivalent to think, devise and dream, with the serious intention to achieve. If you are in Madrid or if you travel to this city, go to number 3 Calle Fuencarral (corner of Gran Via) and visit this exhibition. It is well worth the visit. If you are a chef, you will discover and/or will corroborate that many of your exisiting codes have a recent origin in Cala Montjoi. Regardless of what you dedicate yourself to, you will see that being creative also has much use and, above all, requires a lot of effort and discipline.

P.S.: And the day arrived in which audit met with gastronomy.

More information about Ferran Adrià in Gastroeconomy

Photos: MFG-Gastroeconomy.

More information

Spanish version of this article to read here

Versión en español de este artículo aquí

More articles in English here

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Acerca del autor

“Economista de formación y periodista de profesión, me encanta escribir y, además, comer. GASTROECONOMY nació el 30 de julio de 2011 como un pequeño proyecto personal, a los 4 meses de decidir convertirme voluntariamente en periodista ‘freelance’. Aquí escribo de lo que ocurre en el sector: cambios, novedades, estrategias, tendencias… Se trata de observar para contarlo de la forma más amena y detallada posible. La hostelería, sea un sencillo bar, una casa de comidas o un espacio de alta cocina, equivale a un relevante sector económico que se puede analizar con el mismo rigor y seriedad que cualquier otra actividad, eliminando la frivolidad que, por desgracia, sobra en los últimos tiempos en la gastronomía. A escribir aprendí y aprendo con la práctica y porque me enseñaron a hacerlo en mi casa y en el diario económico Expansión (www.expansion.com)”.

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