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The Guru of Avant-Garde Cuisine

Ferran Adrià


The career of Ferran Adrià (1962, L'Hospitalet, Barcelona) is necessarily linked to that of elBulli, the restaurant he joined in 1983 when, under the management of Juli Soler, it boasted two Michelin stars. The restaurant had been named after the pet bulldog owned by the initial owners, the Schillings from Germany. They had arrived in Cala Montjoi in 1961, and in 1975 took on Jean Louis Neichel as chef. One year later, they received their first Michelin star, which Neichel took as his springboard for opening up his own establishment and continuing his career in the city of Barcelona.

In the late 1970s, a few months after Neichel left, Juli Soler paid a visit to elBulli which was to determine his, and its, future. He was keen to get away from the bustle of the city and eventually accepted the offer made him by the Schillings to manage the restaurant. Things did not go well at the start, with the restaurant losing its star in 1981. But then chef Jean Paul Vinay came on board and together they won it back. A year later, the second star was awarded. And this was the year that Ferran Adrià came into contact with the restaurant which was to radically change his life.

At the time, Ferran was doing his military service in another location on the Mediterranean coast, far from Roses. It was Cartagena, on the south-east tip of Spain, where his culinary experience led to his secondment to the Admiral's kitchen, providing daily menus for the Admiral and his family. Another young recruit soon joined him as apprentice. His name was Fermí Puig , later to make his name as chef of the Drolma restaurant in Barcelona. It was Puig who spoke to Ferran about elBulli, a fantastic establishment with two Michelin stars in a secluded spot on the Gerona coast. And he suggested Ferran went there as a trainee during his month off from the military. The experience was a decisive one. Before before going back to Cartagena, Ferran had committed himself to a position on the restaurant staff as from 1984.

Adrià and Soler, together in the lead

Another important date in the history of elBulli was 1990, when Juli Soler and Ferran Adrià decided to start up a company managing new projects originating in the restaurant. This triggered one of the most creative and expansive periods in the elBulli universe. Talks were given on the premises, leading to the first culinary and gastronomic workshops for professionals. In 1995, elBulli Catering was created, with the aim of reaching a broader public and, in 1997, the restaurant received its third Michelin star. At the time there were only two other 3-star restaurants in Spain, Arzak and El Racó de Can Fabes.

In 1998, they launched out on a new, successful adventure, offering instead of the three hours of culinary pleasure in the restaurant, a 24-hour stay in a hotel. This was the Hacienda de Benazuza, in Sanlúcar la Mayor (Seville). Then, in 2000, they opened the elBullitaller, so that they could separate their two research teams: one to innovate for the restaurant, and the other to devise business projects.

Ferran Adrià's media presence, which continues today with his participation in the world’s most important gastronomic events, took off in 1999, when the Sunday supplement of El País featured him on its front page under the headline "El mejor cocinero del mundo" (The world's best chef). The early years of the 21st century brought about an explosion of reports on the Adrià phenomenon, referring not only to his work and that of the whole elBulli team but also bringing other leaders of Spain's culinary movement into the limelight.

By this time, the chef's upward progression was unstoppable. The ground-breaking work by Ferran’s team led to the creation in 2002 of the scientific department at elBullitaller, and in 2004 the Alicia Foundation was set up at the request of public and private institutions for collaboration by Ferran in studies relating food with science and gastronomy from an experimental and social viewpoint.

Research, side-by-side with art?

Collaboration between this chef and the academic world continues today. In 2005, the Camilo José Cela University in Madrid set up the Ferran Adrià Chair in Gastronomic Culture and Food, paving the way for gastronomy in the universe of higher education.

Adrià continues to be much in demand at international culinary events, such as those held in New York and California in 2006 (Spain's Ten, and Spain and the World Table, respectively). One of his latest achievements was the invitation received to participate, as an artist, at the Documenta in Kassel 2007. This sparked a controversy as soon as the invitation by the exhibition's director, Roger Buergel, was announced. Speculation was rife for months as to how the disciplines of art and cuisine could be brought to visitors at the Kassel exhibition. In the end, on the advice of Marta Arzak, the daughter of chef Arzak and manager of teaching activities at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum the following decision was taken. The pavilion which was to house the display in Germany would be transferred to elBulli. Every day, during three months, two guests from the Documenta would be able to eat at the Roses restaurant, thus gaining first-hand experience of Adrià's cuisine.

Show must go on

At the close of 2008, Harvard University proposed that an agreement for collaboration be set up with Ferran Adrià and his team at elBulli, to be named Dialogues between Science and Cuisine. The chef was delighted to accept and involved his Alicia Foundation in the project. Yet again, the academic and culinary worlds come together in association with Adrià.

April of 2009 year saw the presentation of a book featuring Ferran Adrià and his work. The British artist Richard Hamilton and the Spanish expert on contemporary art Vicente Todolí were behind Food for Thought: Thought for Food (Actar, 2009), a reflection on the cuisine and the art that stemmed from the presence of elBulli at Documenta 2007.

A leap into the unknown

Madridfusión 2010 will always be remembered as the year in which Ferran officially confirmed a change of focus for elBulli. At a packed press conference he announced that the restaurant would close during 2012 and 2013, and that a number of changes would be made before it was re-opened. Over these two years the team will be analyzing all the elBulli know-how related to cooking, techniques and styles gained over its 30-year creative career, work that will be reflected in a thorough and detailed encyclopedia. The exercise will also set the tone for elBulli's activities over the coming years.

At the 2011 Madridfusión event, Ferran Adrià was once again the star of the first day's activities. He wanted this gastronomy conference, which has contributed so much to spreading Spanish cutting-edge cuisine abroad, to be the setting for giving a detailed description of his next project after elBulli restaurant: "We opted for the foundation format for a very special reason: we've been lucky enough to spend our lives doing what we love, cooking and creating. Now we want to give something back to society, and a good way of doing this is to set up a non-profit making foundation focused on promoting cutting-edge cuisine and supplying society with professionals capable of working at the forefront", how the Catalan chef summed things up passionately.

Everything that comes out of the foundation will be published daily on the web site, with the intention of providing help and inspiration to individuals and companies with an interest in innovation, development and research. For this side of things, the foundation already has two sponsors, two Spanish companies with which it is working closely: Tecnalia and Telefónica, who will be providing all the technical and technological support they need for carrying out elBullifoundation projects.

Bye elBulli, Hello Foundation

There is always room in Ferran and Albert Adrià's heads for more than one project. At the same time as they presented their future foundation, they decided to open a hotel in Barcelona called Tickets, consisting of two well-defined areas: a cocktail bar called 41º and a tavern serving only tapas, ranging from the most traditional to the most ingenious or cutting-edge, under the name of La Vida Tapa. This idea was the brainchild of Albert Adrià, who wanted his brother Ferran to work alongside him and have a role in the project.

30 July 2011. That date will be always remembered by everyone who had the chance to know elBulli. Ferran Adrià and his team of fifty or so young chefs closed the doors of elBulli forever, leaving behind a formidable legacy that changed the world of cooking and cuisine forever.
Dreaming of NYC with José Andrés

In 2017 Spanish-born US-based chef José Andrés announced that he had has sealed the deal on a massive, 35,000 square foot space at 10 Hudson Yards, located just under the High Line (at 30th Street and 10th Avenue), to be opened late 2018. The food hall will be modeled after Eataly, but it will offer more and will feature Spanish food, running the gamut from formal options to tapas to wine bars. It will be loosely based on La Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous market.  The chef is collaborating with Ferran and Albert Adrià to create a groundbreaking venue that will be a Spanish food-lover’s dream. This is the Adria brothers’ first project in the US, and Andrés’s 27th.


More info:

ElBulli: See You Soon!

5 Keys to Understanding Bullipedia

The Inner Workings of ElBulli