SMALL TALK

Albert Adrià on making cutting-edge food more accessible and his love of pastry

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Albert Adrià on making cutting-edge food more accessible and his love of pastry

Related tags: El bulli, Chef, Eating

The pre-eminent chef behind Tickets and four other restaurants in Barcelona on making cutting-edge food more accessible, his love of pastry, finding success from mistakes and stepping out from the shadow of his big brother. 

You have quite a name to live up to: 

Yes. It’s daunting, but equally it’s given me my drive. As an Adrià I had to succeed. I worked at El Bulli [in Roses, near Barcelona] for 16 years but now I’m doing my own thing, although Ferran is still involved behind the scenes.

You started at El Bulli very young. What was it like at first?:

It was tough. I’d dropped out of school and came into the kitchen at 15 with no skills so I was given lots of menial jobs. That was a different era though. Today, kitchens tend to be more nurturing. At our places [Adrià runs five restaurants in Barcelona], we make sure all the chefs create something whatever their position within the kitchen hierarchy. It’s a bad thing to have a kitchen donkey that does not get to contribute anything.

You were the pastry chef at El Bulli for many years. What attracted you to desserts?:

I was allergic to shellfish, which limited what I could do on the savoury side. But I loved the creativity. With meat and fish there are restrictions because they will be the focus of the dish, but pastry is a completely blank canvas. I devised many of my own pastry techniques at El Bulli and published two books but later I ran our research kitchen in Barcelona [El Bulli Taller] where I developed many savoury techniques and dishes.

Why did you decide to make Tickets so casual in feel?:

We opened in 2013 as El Bulli was closing. Tickets [which makes its debut on the World’s 50 Best list this month] had to be completely different to what we had done before. We wanted to serve more people [the restaurant feeds as many as 230 people on a Saturday] and be more democratic. Tickets is about freedom. There is no tasting menu. People can go à la carte or allow us to surprise them with a succession of dishes. People don’t know what’s coming next and they can stop at any point.

What part of the world interests you most at the moment?:

I’m crazy about Mexico and have been going there for a long time – 17 times, in fact. The cuisine is sophisticated, but real Mexican food is still in the shadows, it’s not widely known outside the country. Last year, I opened a Mexican fine-dining restaurant [Hoja Santa] and a more casual restaurant next door modelled on taquería [Niño VIejo]. I also run a Nikkei [Peruvian-Japanese] restaurant called Pakta and a simple Spanish restaurant across the road from Tickets called Bodega 1900. It frustrates me a little that people only want to talk about Tickets, it’s like being a good band but people only listening to your most popular song.

How do you ensure your restaurants remain cutting edge?:

It’s very important that the restaurants are close to each other. I visit all of them every day. Every three months, I do a tasting at each of the restaurants. I sit down like a customer and eat. This is key because the chefs working in the kitchen day to day often fail to consider important details. Is the dish easy to eat? How should front of house present the dish? What instructions should they give the guest? Are the portions the right size? Does each dish complement the next?

How do you give feedback?:

I am hyper critical of everything but I do it in a way that does not make people scared to make mistakes. Errors are often where original ideas come from. For example, the pancake made with a caramelised wafer and yogurt foam we do at Tickets was a mistake, but it’s now one of our most popular dishes.

And what about your next restaurant project, Enigma?:

Well the simple answer is that it is an Enigma. It will be the restaurant that defines me and my approach to cuisine. It will also be my last restaurant project. The past five years have been a whirlwind. 

When will it open?:

We expect to open in mid-2016. We’ve taken a very large location close to the other restaurants in Paralelo. It will have some of the DNA of 41 Degrees [the restaurant and cocktail bar Adrià launched in 2011 and closed in 2014] but it’s going to be much bigger and more involved. The space is very important. We built the interior out of cardboard first to give us a feel for how it will work. When people arrive they will move through several stations before sitting down in the main dining room. There will be a wine cellar, a cocktail bar and a Japanese-style bar.

What will the food be like?:

We want to explore the eating experience and take it to the next level. Like El Bulli, there will be a lot of courses. We’re not afraid any more. We have a huge amount of space at the back of the restaurant for development but, most importantly, we have a very strong team. The people that visit our restaurants have eaten all over the world and we don’t want to copy or repeat. I want to create new things and make
people say “wow”.

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Small Talk

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