STAR WAR IN THE FOOD LAB
It is very difficult to be innovative at the highest level in any discipline. For some chefs, it’s simply a matter of combining ingredients, but that’s something you can do with your eyes closed.
In 1980, he decides to give up his studies, preferring to make some money so that he can go on holiday to Ibiza. With this aim, by chance he begins his culinary career modestly, going to work as a dishwasher at the Playafels Hotel in Castelldefels, near L’Hospitalet.
When innovative chef Ferran Adrià closed his groundbreaking El Bulli restaurant in July 2011 and said that he would turn the space into the amorphous El Bulli Foundation, the food world, to be frank, freaked out—especially those who were never able to experience a meal there. Adrià loves to surprise and recently, while on a five-city tour promoting his extraordinary seven-volume elBulli 2005-2011 (Phaidon, $625), he finally revealed his grand plans for the upcoming training and research center.
Located on the grounds of his former restaurant in Roses, Spain, El Bulli Foundation will be composed of three parts: an exhibition space called El Bulli 1846, a lab called El Bulli DNA that will be the workshop for 40 people from around the world, including cooks, architects, and journalists; and the Bullipedia, an ambitious encyclopedia of gastronomy.
As our past interviews with the chef have shown, Adrià's intensely driven to push the boundaries of what food can be, but for all his innovations he thinks of himself as an ordinary guy.
"People think I'm extravagant, but I'm really a normal person," he says. "I'm married without any children. My wife is wonderful, marvelous. I don't separate my job from my life. It's all one. But there are aspects of my personal life that are not public. I've never taken a photo in my house for a publication. I go to the movies, to the theater, I read the paper: I'm normal. We always say that the people who worked at El Bulli were ordinary people who did extraordinary things."
We spoke to the iconoclastic chef at New York City's the Modern—located in the Museum of Modern Art—about his obsession with ice cream, love for Las Vegas, predictions for the next food destinations, and the keys to happiness.
To break the ice with the chef, we asked him to draw his favorite breakfast.
Ferran Adrià: This is a very creative way to start an interview and I do a lot of interviews. It sets you up to do an interview in another frame of mind. I draw very badly...
Epicurious: Which talent would you most like to have that you don't possess?
FA: To speak English. [He laughs.] But I have a philosophy in life that what you can't change, don't worry about. I can either dedicate myself to cooking and everything that I'm doing or I can dedicate myself to learn English, and it's better for society that I focus on the cooking.
Epi: Was there anything that you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
FA: Like all the kids in Spain, I wanted to be a soccer player. One of the things that has sort of marked my career is that I never wanted to be a chef. I didn't like eating or cooking and that's something that's followed me my whole career. Many of the high-level young chefs today wanted to be chefs when they were little. I never had that desire. Cooking was a way of questioning and asking myself why things were the way they were.
Epi: What foods are you craving the most right now?
FA: In general, I'd love to go to Japan because it's been a while since I've been there. But I want to eat something that doesn't exist. For me, my biggest goal in the kitchen is to like a dish at a creative and emotional level. As you can imagine, surprising me is very difficult so when someone does surprise me with his or her food, that's when I'm moved. A dish that would help me sort of change the way that I understand cooking—that's what I would love.
Epi: What personal quirks does your team tease you about?
FA: It's not my team. I'm part of the team. They don't tease me too much because I'm very serious when I'm working. There's no time for joking around, but we have a team where everyone has his own particular personality and brings something to the table. When you're with a creative team—my brother Albert, Oriel Castro,—we're three very, very different people, but when we get together it's marvelous. I could not have done what we did at El Bulli on my own. It would have been impossible.
Epi: Does your brother tease you from childhood?
FA: We have a very serious relationship. We love each other very much but professionally we're not joking around. The dynamic has changed a bit because he's the one with the restaurant responsibilities for Tickets, Patka, 41º Experience, and Bodega 1900 in Barcelona. I go to one of his restaurants at least once a week, which puts him under a great deal of pressure, and give my critique. It's a magical relationship. We're brothers. For him I represent pressure. No one's going to put more pressure on him than I do. Experiencing the restaurants before and after is sort of an interesting process for me to see. He knows when I'm going to show up and this is important because the team is under very high pressure two days before. Then they're relieved the day after.
What makes a restaurant good is when it feels pressure. Here, at The Modern today, they're under pressure and that's what makes a restaurant good. More or less, they want to please me and everyone else here. If there's no pressure, then you might sit back and relax too much, you know?
Epi: Is there one food that you're secretly obsessed with having at home?
FA: Sweets. Ice creams. Jelly candies—every flavor. If I had the memory of it and I concentrate on it, I might have a sorbet of mango, which is wonderful because the texture is very unique as a sorbet. As an ice cream, a chocolate ice cream might be amazing but a bitter pistachio might be incredible, too. There's an Italian brand called Amorino that I think makes the best commercial ice cream in the world. It's right down the block from our El Bulli Foundation workshop called El Taller in Barcelona so I'm always going there and getting a different flavor—I don't ask for the same one ever. I always vary it. And if there's a new one, I'll ask for it. Sometimes I mix the flavors, but ice cream is not so good when it's mixed because then you're not so sure what you're eating.
I'm not an absolutist with anything. I vary what I consume. For example, it's been four months since I've had this drink [he holds up his glass]: It's Cava with Campari—it's like a Kir Royale but a different version of it. I say, "Oh, it's fantastic," but I'll only have it three times a year.
Epi: You have the workshop in Barcelona and there are wonderful photos of you in your office at El Bulli. Is there one secret room that you're most excited about at El Bullifoundation?
FA: The El Bulli Foundation is located in a natural park and I've always loved walking on the grounds—that's priceless. It's a beautiful physical location and the location is really important. The story starts there. Someone else otherwise thought to turn the land into a mini-golf course.
What's very interesting with the El Bulli 1846 project is that we're going to donate it. Conceptually, I already understand that it doesn't belong to me anymore, that it's going to belong to everybody. It's fantastic. We're doing it because we want to, but at the same time it's like changing my computer chip. It's a metaphor because I'm thinking about how I'm going to leave it behind as a place for other people, so I'm not thinking of it as mine anymore.
Epi: Is there a food that you hate?
FA: Since I was a little boy, I've hated green and red bell peppers. I like the spicy peppers—chiles, pimento, and paprika—but not those. My father loved them.
Epi: Is there a childhood comfort food that you think about?
FA: No, there isn't. I'm very cold and clinical because I'm dedicated to creativity and I don't think of it that way. To please people, I could tell a story, but in one day at the workshop I could eat and taste all of the dishes that my mother made in her whole life. In my case, I think I need to be more pragmatic than the idea of my grandmother or mother's cooking.
Epi: What kinds of ethnic food do you think are underrated right now?
FA: The success of national cuisines are linked to the success of contemporary cooking today. Before, no one knew what Nordic cuisine was until it became contemporary cooking by René Redzepi. René does Nordic food, but it's very contemporary. Enrique Olvera in Mexico, same thing. People respect Mexican cooking because this gentleman is doing it really well. Also Gastón Acurio in Lima. Alex Atala in Brazil. The next countries that are coming up are Vietnam, Thailand, India, and the Arab countries. They have very important cultures. It's better to travel there, but you can still get to know the food from afar. You can't be everywhere.
Epi: We saw you in Las Vegas—what do you think of that city?
FA: It's fantastic. I would go every weekend—well, not every week—but I would go often. It's a place to have fun, like an amusement park for adults. I liked doing everything there and it's a great place for inspiration. You go from hotel to hotel and they're like small cities. [He laughs.]
Epi: If you could read anyone's diary, whose would it be?
FA: Picasso. It would be very interesting because he's serious, one of the great creative giants of history.
Epi: Has there ever been an ingredient that you weren't able to master and have given up on, like blood or lamb brains?
FA: No. It's actually the opposite. The "simple" products are the ones that are very difficult to do something creative with. Like steak—it's very hard to do something creative with a steak because we have that memory of seeing it as a steak. When you're eating carpaccio, you don't think about it being a steak, yet it is still a part of what goes into a steak.
Epi: What is your idea of happiness?
FA: To be happy? It's impossible to be happy at every moment. One thing that's important is to not worry about things that you can't change. It's very difficult to change things sometimes. Worry about the things that you can change. When someone has a sick relative, for example, you can't change the fact that the person is sick. What you can change is that they get taken care of properly and well. At the philosophical level: Don't look for success, look for happiness. It's very easy for me to say because I'm a privileged person, and not at all objective, because I've gotten a thousand times over what I sought. If I meet a young person, I tell him to look for happiness. The success is a consequence of that process. The person might say, "Oh, I need success to be happy." But I would say that I didn't do it that way. It's complicated. The easiest example in terms of how to be happy is that in the mornings, when you get up, the first thing you're going to do—whatever it is making coffee or breakfast, taking a walk, going to work—if you want to do it, that's the true sign that you're happy. When you wake up in the morning wanting to do what you're going to do, that's when you're happy.
Epi: What is your present state of mind?
FA: I'm well. I'm always very active and I'm always looking for equilibrium. I have problems with my family, health problems with my parents, but that's what it is. The El Bulli Foundation is going really well and that's life. When you understand that's life, it is.
Epi: What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
FA: I appreciate most that my friends don't cause me problems. When people cause problems for you, they're not friends. The reality is that you help them solve problems.
Epi: You've had so many incredible chefs cook for you. What's your most memorable meal?
FA: Many of them are iconic in what they represented for me in my career. The best meals in my life are from the people I most admire. I remember a mythical meal at Michel Bras' restaurant because he's one of the chefs who I admire the most. We were this close to the table and it was like he had uncovered a new world.
A MoMA employee approaches Adria, tells him that she is very inspired by his work, thanks him, and leaves.
FA: This is more important than anything. I nourish myself with these kinds of encounters. My career today crosses more boundaries than just cooking. It's hard to understand if you didn't live it this way. The logical thing would be for a chef to come up and say hi to me, and chefs do, but people from all walks of life come up to me who I would never expect or imagine. Someone who works at MoMA would admire me? If you analyze it, you think it doesn't make any sense, and it's incredible that my life is that way.
‘WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T MIX SARDINES WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE?’
Ferran Adrià, world-famous chef, points his finger at the sky and holds it at shoulder height for a moment to emphasise his point. "Who says you can't mix sardines and white chocolate?" he asks. His eyes are opened wide, his black eyebrows are raised high and his face is set in a look that demands to know: "Are you following me?"
He is standing in front of a white polystyrene board a couple of metres high, which has 12 pieces of paper covered in data pinned to it. Around him there are half a dozen web developers and user-interface designers who have gathered in his taller, or workshop, to discuss the construction of La Bullipedia, Adrià's vision for an online database that will contain every piece of gastronomic knowledge ever gathered.
Separated from the bustle of Barcelona by a cool, dark courtyard, the taller is in an elegant 18th-century building. There are three major rooms: a large kitchen with a double-height ceiling, an administrative area and an ornate conference room. Adrià, his brother Albert and the core creative team from Adrià's celebrated restaurant, elBulli, have based themselves here, on carrer Portaferrissa, for six months every year since 2000.
Boards are propped against every available wall. Pieces of paper are pinned to each, detailing La Bullipedia and a larger, characteristically ambitious, project that Adrià is exploring. Organisational charts, hand-drawn clusters of information and diagrams explaining the function of working groups are laid out. A coffee table supports cityscapes of books of photography and architecture. There is a sideboard loaded with documents with titles such as "The Four Stages in the Relationship Between Science and Cuisine", "The Origins of Man" and "The History of the Dialogue Between Science and Cuisine".
Gallery: After elBulli: Ferran Adrià on his desire to bring innovation to all
By GREG WILLIAMS
Adrià marches everyone outside to a terrace where the meeting started 20 minutes earlier; the team return to their seats on benches along a refectory table. Adrià has led them in and out of the taller three times since they arrived in order to show them something -- an object, a book, a photograph, a document -- that he deems important to their work: the transformation of the world's most lauded restaurant into a centre for innovation.
The taller is full of mementoes from elBulli -- cutlery manufactured especially for particular dishes, plates made for a specific course, magazine covers and newspaper front pages featuring Adrià, a sketch of the chef by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. The kitchen is simple, featuring a counter with a sink, and a large workstation with a built-in electric hob beneath a huge steel extractor hood. One part of the wall is dedicated to ingredients.
Back-lit, the 720 glass jars with cork stoppers look as if they contain powerful pharmaceuticals rather than spices and flavourings.
Adrià, 50, is dressed in black slip-on shoes, black trousers and a black T-shirt. There is a film of sweat on his brow, evidence on this June morning that he has not sat down since his visitors arrived. He is more often than not in motion and is usually talking, his voice rising and falling for emphasis, ending sentences abruptly in the manner of a chef in a working kitchen who is having the final word. <span class="s3">"What kind of stimulus have we created in order for people to leave ideas?" he asks the group, making reference to a section of the site -- which will contain 15,000 pages when it launches next year -- where users will leave suggestions for dishes, concepts and combinations of flavours, for which they will get credit if Adrià's team develops them. As the designers and engineers settle down, the chef fetches from his desk the business card of the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, whom he met recently. Sagmeister is famous for taking a year out every seven in order to reboot his creative thinking. Adrià beckons the team to follow him back inside. "I want to be able to go through to asparagus in four clicks," he says, standing in front of a board and emphasising that the way that professional chefs experience La Bullipedia will affect their creativity. He points to a page that leads to others on the subject of infusions -- including the kinds of containers in which to store them, their textures, combinations and basic tastes.
Examining a sheet of paper, Adrià alights on the subject of working with white asparagus. "It's a scientific process," he says. "Where does the creativity go? What can you do with asparagus? What techniques can you use? You can inject it with truffle oil. You can spend an hour and a half in the world of asparagus. You can cut it up into little pieces so that you can't even identify it. Then you can go backwards and forwards
[within the website] and you will suddenly think of rhubarb and wonder if anyone has used the technique of injecting it! You don't only start the creative process just with products [ingredients].
You can start it from a technique, or a concept."
This insight -- that cuisine can be driven not by ingredients (or "products", as Adrià calls them), but by chemistry, biology, physics, psychology and, crucially, mechanics and technique -- underpinned the astounding success of elBulli, which was voted by industry authority Restaurant magazine as the best in the world in 2002, then for four years in a row from 2006 to 2009. In 2011 Adrià had two
million people request a table. There were 6,000 applications for every stage -- or internship -- in his kitchen. He has been awarded three Michelin stars and has received a benediction -- to the horror of the French gastronomic community -- from Joël Robuchon, the chef with a world-record 26 Michelin stars to his name, who described Adrià as "undoubtedly the most brilliant creator in the world".
The next move, for many chefs, would be to retain their Michelin stars, roll out the elBulli concept worldwide, and live off endorsements and public appearances. An elBulli at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas beckoned. But Adrià did something quite different -- and unprecedented -- in the world of gastronomy: on 26 January 2010, he announced that elBulli would close. The news made headlines worldwide, including the front page of the Financial Times. The world of haute cuisine was baffled that such a superstar would quit at the peak of his success. Rumours abounded: Adrià was broke; he had fallen out with his business partner Juli Soler and his brother; the new wave of Spanish molecular gastronomy -- la cocina de vanguardia -- was finished.
The theories proved incorrect: after more than two decades of applying a set of principles and methods to gastronomy, Adrià had stopped not because he was broke or fighting with his collaborators, but because he could no longer innovate to the level he wished. "We had reached a limit," he says with a shrug. Notably, he had realised that the work being done in the taller -- where his team had created 1,846 dishes over 24 years -- was more important than what was happening at elBulli. "Throughout the history of elBulli many of the drastic decisions were taken to be able to continue creating, to be able to continue with the creative process," he says.
Less than two weeks later, there was another announcement. Adrià declared his intention to set up the elBulli Foundation, a centre of innovation allied with digital technology that would rethink haute cuisine in a way that would offer other creative endeavours a road map for innovation. As Adrià's long-time business manager Ernest Laporte puts it: "At the restaurant they played the music, but in the taller they wrote it."
The music, all 8,000 pages of it, is contained in elBulli's General Catalogue, a vast and exhaustive compendium that details the conception of Adrià's repertoire, which he describes as the "genome of cuisine". "We had to move on from the concept of a restaurant," he says, pointing out that, to really innovate, procedures and ways of thinking and collaborating need to be formalised.
Principally he wrestled with the notion that there can be no process in cuisine -- or business, or art -- without an idea. The foundation is Adrià's attempt to understand the nature of creativity and to address a powerful question: where do ideas come from, and how do we best foster them?
Radical innovation and constant change have been the basis of Adrià's work and helped to mark him out from his contemporaries -- but they have been a rare commodity in restaurant kitchens. Ever since Marie-Antoine Carême and Auguste Escoffier codified and classified haute cuisine in the 19th century, gastronomy has largely been about perfecting dishes that have been unaltered for years. There have been variations and regional typologies, but most kitchens operate along the lines of the brigade de cuisine -- a hierarchical system of specialisation in which the kitchen is broken down into sections, overseen by the chef de cuisine.
Spain became the centre of the gastronomic world during the 90s due largely to the fearlessness of Adrià and other Spanish chefs such as Joan and Jordi Roca, Santi Santamaría and Juan Mari Arzak. Much like a startup, the group looked at the incumbents -- in this case the grands chefs of Paris and Lyon -- and wondered why things were being done in a certain way and how they might be done better.
In the winter of 1992 Adrià, who lives in Barcelona with his wife, Isabel, accepted an offer from one of the restaurant's customers, the sculptor Xavier Medina-Campeny, to relocate to Barcelona during the close season. The taller was born: it marked the first time that chefs had gathered not to prepare dishes, but to engage in theoretical work that would expand what it was possible to do with food. The chefs recorded every aspect of their discoveries in detail and photographed every stage of a dish's evolution. Without the pressure of daily service, Adrià and his team were free to create an entirely new set of dishes for the following season. They were, in effect, hacking cuisine. "Cooking is an attitude," Albert says. "That attitude makes you wonder every day about what you do -- don't forget that the cutting edge of today will be tomorrow's classicism."
The Adrià brothers partly perceived their mission as deconstructing what had been done before -- for instance, a chicken curry in which each ingredient was treated differently to the original version and texturised and reconfigured. They used liquid mixed with alginic acid to produce spheres of different textures and consistencies such as "caviar of melon", and sought to reveal hidden tastes, textures, abstractions, smells and visuals. The tools of their trade were candyfloss machines, soda siphons, liquid nitrogen, Pacojets, dehydrators, lyophilisers and syringes. The taller was less a kitchen than a research project into how food might be evoked as an idea.
Adrià draws a parallel with the foundation, which will put the teams' work online every day. "It's a centre for experimentation by processes, efficiency and a way of auditing creativity," he says. "We're using cuisine as a discourse in order to create a dialogue with other disciplines and communicating these findings through the internet."
Ingredients were purchased daily from the vast cast-iron market, la Boqueria, in Barcelona's
ciutat vella -- chefs were also routinely sent to hardware stores -- and the door was open to visitors, in particular young chefs passing through town. Unlike the traditional model, in which a chef would closely guard his secrets, openness was an important concept for Adrià, as was the creation of a network through which ideas could be circulated. "In 1997 we realised that it was very important to share our findings and developments so that we could continuously feed into other people's processes," he says. "At the same time it caused us to have to be continuously better, to continuously improve. It created a pressure. Now the pressure will be coming from people who are accessing the Foundation on the internet asking 'what have they done today?'" He raises his finger: "If there's no pressure, there's no creativity."
The foundation will be interdisciplinary: Adrià talks of a mash-up of science, the arts, philosophy and technology as a "creativity-generating universe" that will produce "today's most valuable raw materials -- creativity and talent". The visualisations of the foundation
resemble a Mediterranean Eden Project. Several new buildings -- a gourd-shaped brainstorming area that will double as a cinema; an archive built on top of the kitchen; an "idearium" housing reference materials and workstations; an observatory inspired by coral -- will be constructed on the elBulli property in Cala Montjoi, mostly in what is currently a rocky, sloping garden beside the restaurant. The aim is that the entire foundation is carbon neutral.
This might sound a little woolly, indulgent even. Adrià's record suggests that it will be anything but: his approach to cuisine has always been driven by the accumulation of data, which he has used rigorously and strategically in order to build a culinary database that underpins his work. This theoretical framework is broken into five areas that are described in an evolutionary map Adrià has created to chart elBulli's culinary discoveries: organisation and philosophy, products, technology, elaborations, and styles and characteristics. The taxonomy, which began in 1983, sounds like it could be a catalogue from MoMA or an MIT project list, and includes highlights such as "Products with soul" (1987), "New way of opening molluscs" (1988), "What is a sauce? What is a soup?" (1990), "Impossible combinations" (1992), "Parmesan serum" (1993), "Deconstruction" (1995), "Provocation, play, irony, decontextualisation" (1996), "Honesty as a creative principle" (1998), "Frozen dust" (1999), "Smell: an overlooked sense" (2000), "CO2 drink" (2001), "Systemisation of the search for new products" (2003), "Basic spherification" (2003), "Candyfloss in haute cuisine" (2003), "Science helps to learn about products" (2004), "Lyophilisation" (2005), "Inverse spherification B" (2006), "Nitro-balloons" (2008), and "Sequences as micro-menus" (2009).
In Modern Gastronomy A to Z: A Scientific and Gastronomic Lexicon, which was produced by the elBulli taller and Adrià's Alicia Foundation of Catalonian food (Alicia, from the Catalan for food, alimentacio, and science, ciencia), Adrià and his brother attempted to produce a cookbook that reduced ingredients to their chemical level. The volume has a periodic table at its centre and focuses on how food reacts under certain conditions and the uses to which it might be put.
For instance, instead of a recipe for mayonnaise there is an entry on emulsion that describes the condiment made from egg yolk, oil and vinegar as "a colloidal dispersion of two immiscible liquids". Each entry has the title of the ingredient, its chemical code, a definition, its uses and practical information for cooks, such as: "It is thermoreversible but it acts differently from other gels, jellied when hot (more than 50C) and liquid when cold." "It's often framed as the struggle for the soul of gastronomy, or a conflict between the old and the new, or an abandonment of the French tradition," says Julia Moskin, a food writer for The New York Times who visited elBulli twice. "But it's not the case that these things can't coexist, and that's a point that Adrià has tried to make. It's not like he cooks his breakfast egg in an immersion circulator. He uses a saucepan like the rest of us."
In the late 90s, Adrià began to experiment with the way in which dishes are served and consumed: upstairs in the
taller there are rows of display cases containing dishes of metal, glass, paper, slate and wood. In other cases there are colourful Plasticine maquettes designed to represent the portion size and position on the plate of elements in elBulli dishes -- a visual reference for the stagiaires composing the dishes. At an Adrià restaurant, diners rarely touch a knife nor a fork -- many courses are eaten with the hands.
Adrià has worked with Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, who has conducted tests seeking to determine whether it's possible to enhance the taste or flavour of a dish by scientifically matching how, and on what, food is presented.
Spence's research has shown, for instance, that a strawberry mousse is judged to be ten per cent sweeter when served on a white plate than on a black one. Similarly, serving food on spoons made of different materials affects the way that it is perceived. "Lots of young chefs now are really switched on to neuroscience and neurogastronomy and are saying, 'OK, this is going to be part of our future,'" says Spence, who has also worked with British chef Heston Blumenthal to create sounds that are semantically congruent with food, "not only the perfect preparation, but also an understanding of the brain science and what it can deliver."
Adrià views the relationship between cuisine and science as mutually beneficial. "In the end, everything is science, everything," he says. "People see molecular gastronomy as something almost like magic. But frying an egg is a chemical process that is probably much more complex than trying to do spherification [a technique used by Adrià to create spheres from liquids]. And what is cuisine? You have got companies, institutions, a home kitchen, education, health, hospitality, industry, restaurant businesses, hospitals, airports, agriculture, fashion, new technologies. It's the most transversal discipline you can find."
Cala Montjoi in the Costa Brava, where elBulli is located, is a national park of jaw-dropping beauty. The sun is high in the sky and there's a strong smell of cypress trees and eucalyptus when Adrià arrives here one Tuesday lunchtime in June.
There is no food being prepared: he is here to offer a guided tour of the site to the three teams from business schools that he has selected as finalists in a competition named Ideas for Transformation, which seeks to conceptualise the way that the foundation will operate. (The following day two teams from Harvard were selected as joint winners.)
Inside the restaurant the tables are covered, but the cutlery, flatware and glasses are all stacked on shelves in the kitchen, which contains more boards pinned with ideas. The floor is tiled, the walls whitewashed and there are thick, black beams. It's rustic, with a modest hint of Euro glamour.
The kitchen where hot dishes were produced is more in keeping with the popular notion of molecular gastronomy: long stainless-steel benches with inbuilt electric hobs and dark marble could pass as the domain of a forensic pathologist.
There is another kitchen alongside for cold dishes. The stagiaires worked in these rooms for 15 hours a day, ten days at a time over a seven-month period. Most were not paid. One Brazilian chef was so keen to work with Adrià that he missed the birth of his child, watching it on Skype instead. Yet, despite the passion and invention, elBulli lost money: in 2010 Adrià told the Wall Street Journal that, between the taller and the restaurant, the figure amounted to half a million euros per year. "In some ways it was no longer a restaurant: it was a performance," Moskin says. "It was a sort of technological marvel, but it wasn't what many people consider a restaurant. I certainly understand Adrià's decision to free himself up from having to be accountable to a paying audience."
The foundation will be designed by Catalan architect Enric Ruiz-Geli and has an advisory board including the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
Construction at the site will start in January and will take a year to complete. A fellowship programme will bring 15 to 20 young cooks to work in the kitchen, and around the same number of people drawn from other disciplines will come to offer ideas and feedback for several months at a time. Food will not be served, although Adrià is planning to invite groups of diners to test the foundation's work after it opens in 2014.
Adrià has applied many of his principles to the planning of the centre, insisting, for instance, that the brainstorming space has only 25 seats as he believes that any more than this has a negative effect on creativity. "You need to be able to remember the names of everyone in the room," he says, a calendar for 2014 stuck on the wall behind him. The schedule is also under scrutiny: "It is logical to work in the late afternoon here," he says. "I have worked with hundreds of creative teams and the biggest problem is efficiency because bureaucracy kills efficiency."
Then there are the ways in which the foundation is to be financed. In the first year he doesn't want any sponsors other than Telefónica, the giant Spanish telco overseeing the technology. "The project has to have organic growth," Adrià says. "We want freedom, not pressure. A sponsor will want results -- for him!" One of the MBAs asks him how he will decide who studies here. "You don't come here to study," he replies quickly. "You come here to work."
A breeze buffets the soaring modern buildings of 22@,
a district of former industrial buildings known as the "Catalan Manchester" that has been redeveloped as a business district.
Next to Herzog & de Meuron's blue triangular Forum building, the elegant headquarters of Telefónica glints in the July sunshine.
Adrià's relationship with Telefónica began in 2010 when he was hired as a company ambassador. "Soon we started thinking the relationship should go beyond marketing," says Pablo Rodríguez, the affable leader of the I+D research group, Telefónica's version of an R&D lab. Adrià was invited to see the lab's projects in November 2010 and, during the presentation, it became clear to the chef that, just as he had been using chemistry and physics to innovate in gastronomy, so he might integrate technology into the core of the foundation.
Rodríguez, who has worked at Microsoft Research in Cambridge and Bell Labs in New Jersey, teaches at Columbia University and is a veteran of several Silicon Valley startups, told Adrià that he had "the soul of a scientist" after noticing that Adrià's insistence on publishing his research was similar to the academic process of peer review. "He needed to publish in order for people to understand what he's up to," Rodríguez says. As the plans for the foundation took shape, it became clear that technology could be used to further enhance Adrià's vision. "The hardest part was to find a common language," Rodríguez says, meaning that the worlds of science and gastronomy may share similar processes and methodologies, but they rarely intersect. The I+D lab initiated the Gastronomy and Technology conference in October 2011 to address this, and a number of speakers discussed topics such as food hacking, the food genome, open-source recipes, food and computer science and the development of a programming language based on cuisine.
Adrià was now convinced that technology should be integrated throughout the physical space. The I+D lab is working on fitting cooks' hardware with sensors to understand how they are used and move around the building. A gestural interface has been developed by hacking Kinect-enabled devices -- chefs will be able to search an online database when they're in the middle of preparing dishes and have dirty hands. "The user interface is really important," Rodríguez says. Within the foundation, sensors will be used to track people within the building so that the provenance of a dish can be traced by seeing how and where the collaborators interacted: users will be able to watch videos that demonstrate the evolution of a dish and analyse the process of serendipity to see if it can be replicated.
Rodríguez is also immersed in La Bullipedia. "What exists is important," Rodríguez says, "but more important is what doesn't exist." The idea is that, along with data from elBulli, the platform will use open data and visualisation techniques to examine where innovation should occur next. Part of this will be to create a distribution network for the video content that will be generated daily at the foundation and to allow users to post food pairing ideas and suggestions for apps.
The elBulli archive -- some of which is handwritten in notebooks or on old versions of Word -- will be available online and a network of food blogs will be catalogued within the site. "Now you can find out what's happening in gastronomy because of the internet," Adrià says. "This is never-ending -- our success will depend on our limitations." The teams at the foundation will curate recipes while the tech team constructs a searchable archive using semantic technology so that users will discover relationships that they might not have found otherwise. "The core of this is the semantics," Rodríguez says. "We are bringing food to algorithms and data so that metaphors and connections that would take chefs years to discover are available."
Eventually data-sets will be opened up using an API so that developers can build applications on top.
The aim is to have both parts of the platform in use by the end of 2013. The foundation's aim isn't only to act as a gastronomical laboratory for other cooks but to connect with other sources of information in other creative industries. "It can be applied to practically any discipline," Adrià says.
As time passed, the specialists in computer networking, multimedia data analysis, human computer interaction, mobile computing, distributed systems, user modelling and data-mining noticed a change: they had begun to think like Adrià himself. "Creativity is important," he says. "Innovation is also important. But the capacity to transform yourself is even more important."
Today it's possible to eat dishes from elBulli, although they're cooked elsewhere. In January 2011 Albert opened Tickets, a circus-themed tapas bar, and 41 Degrees, a cocktail bar. While serving a new and changing menu, Tickets offers classic elBulli dishes such as spherical olives, liquid ravioli and watermelon infused with sangria. One night in June, Adrià is talking to his brother among the restaurant's ice-cream carts and candyfloss machines. Diners request photographs with Adrià. Tickets is playful, but the food is serious. The work at the foundation has not distracted the brothers: they have confirmed the opening of a Mexican restaurant in Barcelona. There is talk of a Nikkei-influenced venture.
For all the innovation and the conceptualisation, the periodic tables, the embracing of technology, the lecturing at Harvard, the proposed opening of a culinary museum, the
elBulli: Cooking in Progress movie showing worldwide and an elBulli exhibition in New York and London in the coming year, the Adriàs remain primarily interested in a single phenomenon: human emotion.
Back at Telefónica, a 3D printer sits in the corner of the lab. One of the aims of the foundation is to connect the digital realm to the physical world: users of Bullipedia will be able to download CAD files so that they can 3D print their own maquettes. Rodríguez presents a mould -- a brown shell the size of a walnut that's been filled with chocolate -- to Adrià. Adrià carefully examines the item for a moment before breaking into a smile. He's pleased. There, before him, food and technology in a small, computer-aided chocolate hemisphere.
Five Adrià gastronomic innovations
White bean espuma with sea urchins (1994)
Adrià's name has become synonymous with the gastronomic use of foam. Its first appearance came when an iteration using white beans was paired with sea urchins.
Textured vegetable panaché (1994)
Created the year after elBulli's new kitchen was built, this dish was considered by Adrià to symbolise the move from Mediterranean cuisine to one based on techniques and concepts.
Two ways of presenting chicken curry (1995)
Chefs at elBulli systematically deconstructed classic dishes, such as chicken curry, which was reimagined as curry ice-cream with chicken sauce, apple gelatin and coconut soup.
Smoke espuma (1997)
Adrià talks of the "sixth sense" in cooking, meaning the emotional reaction produced by cuisine. This dish -- water infused with smoke with oil, salt and croutons -- was designed to do just that.
Spherical caviar of melon (2003)
Spherification -- using alginate solution and calcium carbonate to create spheres of liquid -- became a signature elBulli technique that was employed in ingredients from melon to olives.