Thanks to Pau Arenos, the author of this important interview for permission to reproduce it in its entirety. The interview is available in Spain in a print only format. So far as I know, the original article is not otherwise available on the internet.
Below is a translation based on one done by Pedro Espinosa.
Are you retiring?
Am I? It’s a change of register. I’ve been 23 years cooking haute-cuisine.
In a sentence, are you leaving haute-cuisine?
Yes, I’m quitting haute-cuisine. It’s time to do something else and I want to devote myself to my family.
It’s not normal that someone in your situation leaves.
I guess not, but then am I not ‘normal’. (laughs)
People leave much older or when success starts declining…
I hope to start other projects though, right now, I don’t know what they are. What I do know is that I’m leaving haute-cuisine. And that means leaving working 15 hours a day. The self-demand… no one could know what it’s like.
Some people think that a top chef is a posh millionaire.
The suffering is not news. It’s a very hard job. And if on top of that they tell you that you’re number one, you only can go downhill. Now no one will ask me “what new thing are you going to present next year?”
Is it a definitive withdrawal?
Definitive? You can’t withdraw from elBulli since it’s almost a way of understanding life.
Are you a partner of elBulli?
No, I’m not. When they offered that to me I declined. That was the first decision that motivated my leaving. The second was when I installed a mini workshop / office to work at home. The third was the birth of my son, Alex.
You haven’t worked this season as Creative Director for elBulli?
I left in October.
Do you know anything about the new plates?
I have not been to the Workshop very often. I was bound to my book, Natura. I am detoxing a bit from all this. At times they give me something to taste…
What was the detonator to start a new life, Alex’s birth or the constant pressure?
Haute cuisine has 50.000 good things, but having fun cooking… three months a year, yes, when you have everything in place. Nine months, it’s not fun.
Do you only have three months of having a good time at elBulli?
Yes. The research of dishes, of techniques, takes six months. Then, you have two or three months of putting the staff in place, of training, of nerves and preparing the new menu and rolling it out.
What do you think the future of fine dining will be? Where does it have to go?
It will go through a natural selection of restaurants. I don’t know if it has to do with the recession, but there can’t be so many restaurants playing the fine dining game, which has always been elitist. It’ll come down to a few restaurants with the required resources and capabilities… The rest will have to look for other ways. Product based cooking is also disappearing.
What are the strategies for survival?
One way is to create an intelligent cuisine. Don’t do more than one can. If one can do seven things, do seven. If one then tries to do nine, then only five are likely to come through. Be practical; be blunt, honest and sincere. Fine dining is another thing: a bank of proofs for restaurants where one can explore the limits of cuisine.
Your brother says that excesses have been committed.
Yes, it could be that we’ve committed them.
When you find the limit, you think “I don’t want to go there”. All the performance side… I was very critical about it, but it was good for our cooking. The balloon with scents, the giant bread, they were things that challenged you a bit. They taught us a great deal. Now the style is much more restrained and mature. What happens is that we’re still very young!
You left and Ferrán says the he will in three years…
I refer to what he said.
What would you do?
I don’t know. A thousand things can be made. We’ve done many already. For the time being, Ferrán is slowly getting away from the rest of business to focus exclusively on elBulli.
Is Juli Soler also getting away?
He has the age. (laughs). He says so.
In three years, the landscape will brutally change. The end of an era…
You have to kill elBulli. It wouldn’t make sense to agonize. When I’m asked “Wouldn’t you like to open another restaurant?” I’ve already made this one!
Does your retiring imply that elBulli would no longer exist in three years time?
Probably it won’t. Who does have the guts to take it over? I don’t know. Personally, I’m not interested.
The hard core chefs have signed a deal to stay until 2012. Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Mateu Casañas…
They deserve to. We’ll see in 2012.
Do you really not know what you’re going to do?
I’m travelling around the world presenting Natura, I’m launching a bravas sauce under the brand “Travol,” and I am spending more time at Inopia. At home I am working more on popular cooking because I believe that I can make some contributions. I’m working on a book from the professional perspective: noodles with ribs, rice and rabbit, salads. I’ll devote a year to it. There’s also the Alicia Foundation, where I’ll do what they ask me to do.
“Retrocooking” is making a strong comeback. You, the greatest exponent of radical avant-garde, are talking of rice and rabbit. What does it mean?
Nothing. When cooks open such a place, they relax and enjoy themselves, they have fun. They feel customer happiness more quickly because they perfectly understand what they’re eating. It’s a trend that is going to gain momentum.
Could this be interpreted as renouncing fine dining?
You can’t renounce what you are. My job was to create techniques and concepts for fine dining. I recently attended a congress where half the techniques presented were mine. I’ll never renounce what I am.
You’ve filmed a movie.
Now I can get rebukes from restaurant critics and movie critics. (laughs). It’s a nonfiction movie, A Day in ElBulli. I’ve filmed like I would make a dish, with the same criteria. People will be surprised. It’s moving. It shows how tough it is. You can see Ferrán testing from noon till nin
e without a break. You can see Oriol Castro working all night.
You also made some attempt to leave in 1997.
That was different. In 1997 I had an existential crisis. Not now. I think I am leaving at the top.
Ferrán doesn’t believe you’re leaving.
Let him stay like that. I’ll be there for whatever they want. But right now I have fear of putting myself in front of a dish. When I finished the last dish of the book, I asked myself “Now what?” Natura was an excuse to show my maturity, with products, techniques, recipes…
Are you blocked?
A little. It could be the case. But Ferran, with elBulli’s team, will demonstrate that there are new things to be made.
Will you go to elBulli?
Do you have a reservation?
They’ll get a table for me. It better be like this. (laughs)
Has it been difficult to be under Ferrán’s shadow?
Not at all. I can only thank him. I was a boy coming from a suburb who had no future. I’ve seen the world, I’ve learned a job, and I’ve known many people. Ferrán is Guardiola, who has a soccer team and I was a piece of that team. You have to think of it like that.
When did you realize that you were a fundamental piece? Doing what?
When he gave me the responsibility of creating new techniques and concepts. My first assignment was hot jelly and ice-cream. It was winter of 1997.
Does creating exhaust? Is creating being alert of everything?
Very awakening. I haven’t had the luxury of wasting time because I had to think of what next year’s techniques would be. 80% of time concentrated… If you eat papas arrugás (wrinkled potatoes) you have to focus on the sauce (mojo), analyzing it, how were they boiled, the pepper, and whether it has potential to be applied to something else. Now I’m learning how not to be obsessive. I’m not interested anymore.