The world is full of excellent restaurants and excellent chefs, while a few rise above the rest to create consistently extraordinary experiences for their guests and produce food that fully transcends its basic nutritive purpose. It is an extraordinarily difficult endeavor to be successful at running just one restaurant, let alone a number of them. When a group of restaurants is totally distinct in concept one from another, yet all under the guidance of a single chef, it has to be even more difficult, if not impossible, especially when each of those restaurants is absolutely world class/ best of class level in its genre. Albert Adrià has been hailed as a creative genius over the years initially for his contributions both as the Pastry Chef and as one of the main creative forces behind the cuisine of elBulli. He left elBulli in 2006 to open Inopia, a casual restaurant in Barcelona. Though never fully divorced from elBulli, which closed its hallowed doors in 2011, Albert eventually closed Inopia and opened a series of restaurants in Barcelona and most recently in Ibiza, while also having just finished a pop-up in London. The 41º Experience, a cocktail bar extending the spirit of creativity of elBulli, was the first to open. It arrived in 2011 followed shortly thereafter by Tickets, a creative tapas bar, as the mothership began its historic wind down. With elBulli relegated to history, 41º evolved into a replacement of sorts before it evolved further into an even more involved concept, the soon to open Enigma. In the meantime, Albert opened Pakta, a Nikkei Peruvian-Japanese restaurant, Bodega 1900, a classic turn of the 20th Century Spanish vermuteria, whose cooking is both classic and not in the inimitable Albert Adrià fashion, and a combination of Mexican restaurants, the taqueria Niño Viejo and the fine dining Hoja Santa.¹ Each restaurant is absolutely extraordinary, producing delicious, beautiful and unique food that absolutely adheres to the spirit of its inspiration, yet all stamped with Adrià’s unrivaled creative touch. Each is amongst the best of its genre that I have ever experienced and each is amongst my very favorite restaurants anywhere. He has proven himself to be not just a genius pastry chef, but a genius chef period and perhaps, the world’s finest restaurateur. Below is the transcript of a brief interview that I recently had the honor and pleasure of conducting with him.
- You currently have six wonderfully successful and different restaurants (Tickets, Bodega 1900, Pakta, Hoja Santa, Niño Viejo, all in Barcelona and the multi-concept Heart on Ibiza done in conjunction with the Cirque du Soleil) and the forthcoming Enigma in Barcelona, which will take the place of the fabulous 41º. Where did you draw your inspiration for each of these distinct projects? I guess that some of them were in my mind already and others are a consequence of a lack of offer of that kind of cuisines (that’s the case of Pakta and Hoja Santa) as per Heart, it was obvious that we couldn’t let go an opportunity like that… Enigma is the last big project of fine dining and where we have all the excitement and trust placed.
- Most of your restaurants are set within a single neighborhood of Barcelona, the Parallel. How did you decide on that area and what kind of impact has your projects had there? Without a doubt we have revitalized the neighborhood. We talk about 400 clients that everyday come to have dinner in our restaurants. Maybe the best idea that I’ve ever had has been the one of opening everything on the same neighborhood. That makes us win synergies, resources, efficiency and, why not, competitively within each other.
- Are there new projects that you have on the drawing board or that you hope to do? There are some conversations about a beach club in Dominican Republic, it’s called La Playita but at the moment is just conversations.
- At one point in the past there were stories of you and Ferran studying pizza making in Naples. Based upon the “pizza” at Tickets, I would say that you learned your lessons very, very well and have created something original that has surpassed its inspiration, being as close to perfection as a pizza can be. The same holds true for me with the elBulli spherical olives. Can you describe the process that you use to make something entirely your own, yet perfect it at the same time? I am afraid there are some stories that are not true… we’ve never been to Naples to learn about the pizza making there, but we have eaten it. In that sense, the air waffle is another example. It’s not easy to find new techniques like these two… I can’t summarize in few words the creative system. It’s a lot of intuition.
- What do you see for Vanguardism in the future? It’s difficult to say, I always think about good cuisine and this is the future beyond the fact that if it’s Vanguardism or it isn’t.
- Are there any new culinary trends that have grabbed your attention? I’m very interested on Chinese cuisine and some of its techniques, both ancient and modern at the same time… Many times it’s good to look at the past in order to see the future.
- You just finished a pop-up restaurant in London. Do you have any thoughts or plans to do that elsewhere or to open a “permanent” restaurant or restaurants outside of Spain? At the moment we don’t have the capacity to open a permanent restaurant. First we have to open Enigma and Heart, for 2017 we will see. We might repeat the 50 days venture, as the experience has been very positive.
¹The hot links are to reports previously posted on this blog. More recent visits to each of the restaurants were even more spectacular. While I have not posted full reports of those specific meals, below are links to Flick’r photosets of those meals. Click on the photos to visit each Flick’r Album.