«When I travel, when I give talks or am asked about my career, I always talk about the honorary doctorate from the UB.»
«Fifty years ago the problem was managing to eat at all, whereas now the problem is that we eat too much.»
Ferran Adrià (Hospitalet de Llobregat, 1962) is one of the most prestigious restaurateurs in the world today. In addition to running El Bulli, which held three Michelin stars before its doors were closed earlier this year, he is also president of the Advisory Council of the Alicia Foundation, a research centre devoted to technological innovation in the field of gastronomy. He is also one of the founders of the El Bulli laboratory kitchen, located in the centre of Barcelona. In 2007, Adrià was awarded an honorary doctorate by the UB at a ceremony presided by Dr. Claudi Mans, and has given his name to the UB-Ferran Adrià Prize, awarded in association with Gallina Blanca, since 2010.
During his career Ferran Adrià has received numerous awards, including the City of Hospitalet Prize for Humanity (2001), the Cross of St. George of the Generalitat de Catalunya, and the Gold Medal for Services to Tourism (2002). In 2003, the daily newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya named him “Catalan of the Year” and the Barcelona City Council awarded him its City of Barcelona Prize. In 2005, the Camilo José Cela University created the Ferran Adrià Chair. In 2006, Adrià received the Lucky Strike Designer Award, and in 2007 he was invited to take part in the Documenta exhibition in Kassel. In 2010 Adrià was voted chef of the decade by The Restaurant Magazine, which had rated El Bulli as the best restaurant in the world every year since 2006.
In 2007 you were presented with an honorary doctorate by the UB. What did the award mean to you?
When I travel, when I give talks or am asked about my career, I always talk about the honorary doctorate from the UB. It was the first academic award I received, and from my home city... That made it very moving, because this is my city, it is where I am from, and what they say about never being a prophet in your own land is not true. It was the first ever honorary doctorate to be awarded to a chef, so it is an historic achievement for the UB – more the university’s merit than mine, of course.
After that, the UB-Ferran Adrià Prize, in association with Gallina Blanca, was created. What do you make of it?
When they mentioned the idea of creating a prize with my name, I thought it sounded fantastic. Also, since Dr. Claudi Mans and the University of Barcelona were involved, I said yes immediately. It is an honour to have a prize named after you, and I will help and contribute in any way I can.
What do you think about subjects like food and gastronomy being brought into educational curricula?
One of the subjects of the future, without a doubt, is everything related to food, health and education. Problems like obesity and its links to diabetes and other diseases need to be tackled through the education system. This is extremely important. That this has not been done until now simply reflects the fact that it was not as necessary. We must bear in mind that fifty years ago the problem was managing to eat at all, whereas now the problem is that we eat too much: that is the difference. We were not really up to speed with the issue, but we have been getting there little by little.
I am very positive about this issue. I think that the education system is well attuned to the problem and that chefs are generally happy to collaborate: if we are asked to do something, we respond pretty well. Chefs, universities, doctors… We make a good team.
Much has been said about the relationship between science and gastronomy, and you have worked extensively in this area. Do you think that science and cooking is a marriage with a rosy future?
If you study architecture, you need to know about science, engineering and other disciplines. If you study medicine, the same is true. And if you study cooking, experts are needed too. It is not so much about chefs working as scientists – this is impossible, as cooking is such a broad discipline – but more about discussing things with experts from other disciplines to fill in the gaps when there is something we don’t know enough about. Bit by bit you acquire the knowledge you need: you talk, you listen, you ask why… It is a dialogue between science and cooking, and we will have to wait and see how far it goes. But there can be no doubt that it is already a reality and is here to stay.
What has scientific knowledge given you in terms of developing your cooking?
The creative processes are very similar. Sometimes as chefs we produce more immediate results because we have to be faster and scientific research is slower. But it is a good marriage because we chefs need to learn to do things more slowly. The communication is very good. Perhaps the dialogue works because scientists love to eat [laughs].
Your cuisine has influenced contemporary gastronomy. Do you think that some aspects of your cooking style will make it into the way we cook at home?
The spirit of it already has. By spirit I mean what I call the gastronomic attitude; for example, let us imagine that there is a segment of the population, say one in ten, that will always try to get the best quality they can afford when they go for a coffee. This would be 700,000 people in Catalonia, and almost five million in the whole of Spain... That is a lot of people! That is the power of cooking: we eat every day and everyone knows how to cook. Around a table, anyone can talk about food, which makes it an accessible subject and something that makes people happy.
Are issues like nutrition taken into account at an avant-garde restaurant like El Bulli?
When we talk about health we must be ethical. When you go to El Bulli, to El Celler de Can Roca, to Sant Pau or any other restaurant like them, you go once a year. Or perhaps you go to this sort of restaurant fifteen times a year, but no more than that. It is a day for celebration, and then you have the rest of the year to recover. It is like when you dress for a special occasion; and what you put on might not be comfortable but it is what’s expected because you have to dress smartly.
El Bulli and yourself in particular have made a great effort to communicate and explain your work. What was behind the decision to do this?
The philosophy of El Bulli is to have passion for the things you do. Work is more than just a job. Passion, sharing and risk are the three commandments we have at El Bulli, and anyone who has worked there has that spirit, whether they are doing avant-garde cooking or not. Sharing is necessary. Since cooking is ephemeral, sharing is a fundamental value. More than that, now El Bulli is undergoing a transformation, if we did not have the books and documents no-one would know what it was like before. With all the audiovisual material, we will have another resource for explaining what all this was like before the Foundation. Now any teacher interested can get hold of ten hours of film on the history of El Bulli. In fact, I hope that the audiovisual catalogue, which is particularly intended for universities, will be available on the Internet in two or three years’ time.
You are going through a period of change: on 30 July you closed El Bulli as a working restaurant and will re-open in 2014 as a centre for gastronomic creativity. What are your plans for this new phase?
El Bulli is a non-profit foundation through which we want to share our research, via the Internet. The challenge is to post what we have created every day and for people to be able to access it. In the world of cooking, it is very difficult to create because you don´t have time (in a restaurant, people work from nine to four and from six until midnight, so under normal conditions it is very difficult to be creative). Help is needed for a restaurant to be able to create fifteen or twenty new dishes a year and to keep an archive of new ideas. We are very excited because our project is highly innovative.
Finally, what is your favourite ingredient?
I am not at all absolutist, but the most important ingredient is salt, unquestionably. The only product that changes your cooking is salt, or heat and salt. Without heat it would be impossible to make a lot of dishes, and without salt we would be talking about a different type of cooking altogether.