Visionary Ferran Adria sets the table for the next generation
The ‘philosopher-Einstein of the culinary world,’ brings cooking out of the kitchen and into the research lab.
BY MIA STAINSBY, VANCOUVER SUN MARCH 11, 2014
When the culinary colossus, Ferran Adria closed his groundbreaking restaurant, elBulli, near Barcelona, in 2011, he left admirers wondering ‘Why? What now?’
Adria was in Vancouver Saturday promoting his seven-volume elBulli 2005 to 2011, a massive $625 collection, chronicling elBulli food, with recipes from those years. He explained the why and the what, which hadn’t been clearly answered previously.
The “why” was easy enough to answer. He was pretty much burning out. He and his staff had invented (more appropriate than “created”) 1,846 new dishes.
“For 25 years, we tried to be the vanguard of cuisine. We succeeded for a long time. We could have held on for five more years but eventually, all vanguards must come to an end,” he said, speaking through a translator at the Vancouver Club. “For 25 years, I have been working, working, working, creating, creating, creating, but have had little time to reflect. We live in a society where we work very hard and there is too much information.
“So what was the path forward? We wanted a transformation that would last for a long time. We wanted to leave a legacy for the next generation,” he said. And that is the elBullifoundation, a training and research facility, and exhibition centred on the site of the old restaurant, extending into some park land. (It was granted permission because it would be an educational facility.) He collaborated with smart minds from universities around the world (Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia, MIT) for an interdisciplinary approach and announced that the foundation will have three components: elBulli 1846, elBulli DNA and Bullipedia.
“Some 31 teams worked around the idea of creativity,” he said.
ElBulli 1846 (the number of dishes created at the restaurant and the birth year of Escoffier, another culinary visionary) is an exhibition on the history of cooking; elBulli DNA is an inter-disciplinary cooking lab, hosting 40 people for eight months each year.
“They will be the best in the world,” he said, “chefs, architects, designers, working and studying the creative process, in particular, the cooking process. Cooking will be the medium.” Ideas will be shared on the Internet.
Bullipedia will become the ultimate culinary information tool.
“In May, there will be 80 people working on it,” he said.
They will decode, organize, classify and codify the world of food, creating a map of culinary genomes and taxonomies. It will address concepts taken for granted, like, what is cooking? What is a chef? What is technique? What is the difference between technology and technique? Did cooking start with fire? What about raw food or fermented? he asked.
“Does technique require tools? What about your hands? Is beer a beverage? What if it is used in a stew or ice cream? I spent 33 years as a chef and never asked myself these questions. For me, cooking was cooking. That was it and now everything I believe I have put into question.”
It would be easy to think black truffle ice cream or saffron ice cream were created by a modern chef but, he said, not true.
“They made saffron ice cream in 1768. There’s a cookbook on ice cream in which they were making both,” he said, underlining the importance of culinary history. “You need a dialogue between different voices.”
And interdisciplinary input is crucial for questions like: “Why do we talk about fish in the masculine or feminine in Spanish? Why not in English? They are totally different products. When a female is producing eggs, the quality lowers and the texture changes and we have to understand that.”
And: “It’s important that a tomato be prepared properly but it’s more important to know that it comes from a vine and that we ask why we don’t eat the leaves, roots, stem or flowers and why we do with other plants.
“Maybe you are saying ‘Leave me alone’ and that’s perfectly valid,” he said. The total reboot of how we think about food is really for the next generation.
“When I go to culinary schools, it’s super-easy for (students) to understand. For them, this is easy because they don’t have preconceptions. The whole elBullifoundation is based on this. It’s a level of information and knowledge that will challenge the new generation.”
But, he advises, get the priorities straight.
“The new generation and all generations have to understand, you should not look for success. You have to look for happiness in what you do.”
Organizer Barbara-jo McIntosh, of Books to Cooks, said the star-studded list of Vancouver chefs who heard the lecture were enthralled.
“So many chefs came to me saying how much they learned, how much they wanted to rethink things and how they needed to digest what he’d said. And, of course, they thought he was so generous.
“For me, the lecture was amazing and I love his desire to have us all truly understand food, to learn, to teach and evolve. What a smart philosopher-Einstein for the culinary world.”
*This article was originally published in the March 11, 2014 issue of the Vancouver Sun. The original link to the online version of the article may be found here.