Find your cullinary voice

Interview with Albert Adria

Albert Adria shares his culinary perspective with the Institute of Culinary Education.January 2011

Albert Adria, Ferran Adria's younger brother, joined the kitchen of elBulli at 16, spending the first two years learning all the stations. He then decided to focus on pastry, and worked for other pastry chefs around Spain during elBulli's winter breaks, to hone his craft. In 1997, after 12 years, he left elBulli behind but has remained involved in elBullitaller—literally, "the workshop"—where elBulli's menu development takes place when the restaurant is closed several months each year. The chef is the author of Los Postres de elBulli ("desserts from elBulli") and Natura, a groundbreaking pastry cookbook in which he creates desserts inspired by nature that take the form of landscapes. He also collaborated on the elBulli cookbooks and on A Day at elBulli. Adria is also a budding filmmaker: he co-directed elBulli, historia de un sueño ("elBulli, story of a dream"), a documentary on the restaurant released in 2009. In 2006, Adria opened Inopia Classic Bar, a high-end tapas restaurant in Barcelona that was famous for the velvet rope behind which guests had to wait—as well as for its innovative, flavorful take on tapas, of course. Inopia closed in July 2010, but Adria opened a cocktail bar, 41º, in November and will open another restaurant in January. The Main Course met him after his presentation at the International Chefs Congress in New York in Fall 2010.

How do you describe your role at elBulli?
Now, nonexistent. Before, I made the desserts. But we have a pastry chef. My work after 1997 is in the Taller, in the lab, doing research and development. We are a team. My brother is the captain of the team. I am another player.

As a team, is your culinary philosophy distinct from his? How do you define it?
The work in the workshop makes the philosophy of elBulli. The most important philosophy is from Ferran, but it is a mix of Ferran, me, Oriol [Castro], [Eduard] Xatruch, [Albert] Raurich, Mateu [Casañas]—all the people who work at elBulli are free to give ideas.

Do you have a specific contribution that you are making? Something else that no one else is giving?
It's creative team work; I don't like to distinguish myself from that.

What motivated you to open your own restaurant after elBulli?
Because I'm silly [laughs]. Having placed Spanish gastronomy along other types of cuisines, we really want to put traditional Spanish gastronomy to the forefront globally. For example, it's very interesting to see how Peru is now conquering the world thanks to its cuisine. Before, it was Japan. Now it's time for Spain, I think.

What are the biggest differences you see between Spain and the US?
Every time I come we are more similar. We have the same problems: not enough time to cook, too much time spent eating in the afternoon. But there are many differences. One big difference is the cultural importance given to the meal, to sitting together to eat a meal, to the social aspect of eating. Here, Thanksgiving is very important, for example, and so is Christmas. At those meals the family is together. In Spain, we need to sit together for a meal at least once a week.

But in Spain, families might be closer together, whereas here they might be spread out around the country, no?
Yes. And that's a problem if we say "I'd like to open a restaurant in Moscow." Nobody wants to go there to live. To work yes, but people want to live in Spain. But that is changing too. A lot of people from Spain are in the US, in Kuwait. I created my concept with the idea to repeat this restaurant in other cities. For me, New York is a priority. The first is in Barcelona, opening this coming January.

What is your concept for that restaurant?
It changes every two weeks. The first idea was to do Inopia 2.0—a little bit more. Now it's elBulli-a-little-bit-less. ElBulli prêt-à-porter.

What is your expansion plan? How quickly do you want to open in other cities?
I need a minimum of six months to make sure that the concept functions from start to finish in Barcelona. The second one would normally be in Madrid; that's the idea. One minute I'd like to open more Inopia, but I think it's better to just have one. It's not like here. I fear over-expansion, to open many restaurants.

How do you stay creative day after day, year after year?
It's the same than if you have the biggest song in your head, but you never finish working on it, you always find a way, but then there's another way, and another way, and another way, and you are back to the highway. It's not the same as making a book, where you finish the book, you're happy, and you're done. No. The research is really a nightmare, for me—that's research when you're talking really high level, like elBulli.

Do you feel a pressure to innovate?
Of course, yes. Because otherwise I don't work. I did this for 15 years and that was it. I like to create, but in a smaller, more relaxing environment. The new place is creative, but in fact it's a copy of the work I made before. When you talk about elBulli, we always need to make a new restaurant. Two-thousand ten is history; in 2011 we make a new restaurant—every day, every day, every day. I'm done. Maybe one day I'll be back, I don't know. We'll see.

— Anne E. McBride