Ferran Adrià is a genius.
Jason Atherton says the word is used too often – “Wayne Rooney kicking a football will never be genius” – but in Adrià’s case it’s different. He is a genius. Of that there is no doubt. Gee-nee-us.
Adrià stands up and takes the stage following Atherton’s introduction. He starts speaking in Spanish.
“It’s clear I’m no genius at all,” says Adrià’s translator, “because I don’t even speak English.”
The audience laughs. So, he’s a genius and he’s funny. Crikey, he’d be a real hit with the ladies if he could cook asw… oh, right, yeah.
We’re sitting in the main lecture theatre at IET London’s Savoy Place residence to hear from the man behind elBulli, the best restaurant in the world before it closed its doors in 2011. He is speaking ahead of the opening of his Somerset House exhibition, elBulli: Ferran Adrià and the Art of Cooking, in part to give us a flavour of what to expect from the show but mainly to talk about what he has got planned for the future: namely, the elBulli Foundation.
There are three projects that his team are working on: elBulli DNA, elBulli 1846, and La Bullipedia.
And it is the latter, La Bullipedia, that is perhaps the most intriguing. It will be an online database of gastronomic knowledge and will connect chefs all over the world to the ideas and techniques that are at the heart of the elBulli philosophy. But it will go beyond just chefs, La Bullipedia will involve and encourage all manner of cooks, from the professional to the most humble home kitchen.
Although Adrià didn’t say a great deal about La Bullipedia – we were shown a video that went some way to explain the concept – he promised to come back to London in September to discuss it in greater detail. As ever, Ferran Adrià kept his audience wanting more; just like when he closed elBulli at the peak of its popularity, he closed it with his audience wanting more.
The most touching part of the evening came with a video taken on the restaurant’s last night, just after the last service at elBulli. The head chef and all his staff were jubilant. This came as a surprise to him as he imagined it would be a solemn occasion.
“But we knew it was the beginning of something else,” he said. “We were happy because we knew elBulli would continue – the spirit of elBulli had to continue.”
And through the three projects, it will. The Foundation will allow 30 chefs every year to discover the most original, innovative and inspiring gastronomic delights. It’s an R&D lab for chefs, essentially.
While the elBulli exhibition at Somerset House is breaking the mould – it’s the first art exhibition based on a restaurant – and even though Adrià has always been pushing the boundaries of the now and setting new standards for the future, he is only too aware of the importance of history. elBulli created and served 1,864 distinct dishes during its lifetime. Auguste Escoffier – “the Van Gogh of cuisine” – was born in 1864. Hence the name: elBulli 1864. This project was created as a respectful nod to the past as much as it was a welcoming appeal to the future.
You must understand the past to fully appreciate the possibilities of the future.
Adrià didn’t say that last line but it feels like something he would believe. He is frustrated that so little has been done at universities on cuisine – “where is the knowledge on cooking? Who’s done a thesis on Escoffier? Why have academics been so slow to look at cooking?” – so with the elBulli Foundation he is hoping to spark a new movement. From recipe book to text book. From the kitchen to the classroom. “Our lack of knowledge is the most irritating thing, the next generation must know more than us.”
Ferran Adrià is a visionary. He is a genius. Because of that I have little worry in being candid with you at this point: I barely understand elBulli DNA, elBulli 1846 and La Bullipedia. I understand their underlying concepts and I get what they are hoping to achieve, generally speaking. But I’m not sure I fully appreciate them for what they are yet. I know they will be revolutionary; I know they will play a part in changing how we look at and interact with food. I just don’t quite know how.
Perhaps I’ll have to wait until September to find out more.
You often lose something when hearing people speak through a translator. It was clear the Spanish-speaking members of the audience laughed more than the rest of us – we laughed at the translators’ comic timing as much as we did at Adrià’s material. But does language matter? Atherton went on a pilgrimage to work at elBulli during the summer as a 28-year old without knowing a word of Spanish, let alone Catalan. And he did ok for himself didn’t he? elBulli’s grand project will bring people together from all over the globe who speak in thousands of different dialects, but Adrià isn’t concerned.
“Our language will become cuisine itself,” the genius said.