Ferran Adrià on His Telefonica Deal, False Morals, and Working with a Corporation


This is the second half of the Eaterrogation  we ran yesterday, a somewhat frustrating and very enlightening hour spent with chef Ferran Adrià, his translator Lucy Garcia, a couple other ladies, and Colman Andrews, author of the book Ferran. We pick up where we left off. Our young heroes were discussing how though the face of avant-garde cuisine might change, the throughline is that it is fueled by creativity, no matter what the manifestation. Italics is Ferran speaking directly to me and in English. The rest of his answers were translated by Garcia.

In other words, though the manifestations may change, the spark — a pursuit of creativity — remains the same.
Exactly. Talking about organic which is very popular. The difference between eating an organic lettuce and one that is not, doesn't change the actual fact as far as cuisine goes. Maybe what changes are the consequences. When you eat organic, you are thinking about sustainability. But the cuisine of that project doesn't change. So you know there are other current trends — like zero kilometer, the use of herbs and plants. This is a philosophy that belongs to Michel Bras from the 1980s and Jean and Pierre Troisgros in the 1970s, who had all these different local suppliers near his restaurant in Lyon. It isn't new.

Technology and food have always been combined, you're right, but it seems at elBulli you've created new technologies?.
That's not true. It's a complete lie.

It's not the most important aspect of his cuisine. He didn't invent the siphon. It's been around for over 100 years. If you analyze the cuisine there are actually very few things that are new. For example, liquid nitrogen is not a new technology.

Colman Andrews: Ice cream was made with liquid nitrogen by an English woman one hundred years ago.

With regards to science — and you know Ferran was giving a course at Harvard — it is important that people realize that for cuisine to evolve, people need to learn. It's about culture. It's about art. It's about science. This is another current revolution.

When Ferran started cooking, he was just a cook. He didn't create or establish a dialogue with anybody. What chefs can't do is become scientists. Chefs are chefs. If he wants to know a bit about this water, he's going to go to a water expert. But this cross-pollination already existed. For example in patisserie making: organic pure bread. That's pure science. You need scientists to find the best flour.

He spoke of the moral consequences of the organic movement, what would he characterize as some of the moral consequences or larger implications of avant garde cuisine?
You have to be careful. You can't get into an argument about false morals.

Implications is a better word.
For example, there are about 1,000 million people who are dying of hunger. This is a much bigger issue than discussing if lettuce is organic or not. It's true that chefs can actively become involved and collaborate to try to eradicate world hunger. But if the governments in the world don't do something, there's not much chefs can do. But maybe by helping small local suppliers, whether organic or not — for example a fisherman is not going to be organic — but we have to help these smaller fishing industries who support traditional fishing methods. This is where we have to make a commitment because we can actively help them.

Right, but my question what are the implications of avant garde cuisine? If you eat organically, you think about the suppliers and sustainability but when you eat spherified olive oil, what do you think about?
An organic sphere?

No. This is a follow-up to your example about the organic lettuce. The spherified olive is the same set up, but substituting avant garde cuisine for organic.
On the 2nd of November, Ferran is publishing a book with a famous American cardiologist in New York, Valentin Fuster. He works in New York at Mt. Sinai Heart. One of the best. They are doing a book about nutrition and health called La Cocina de la Salud. It's got a very pragmatic approach. People confuse the notion of healthy and good. They need to realize that an organic product isn't always good for your health. If you eat enough organic salt, it can be poisonous. People don't understand this.

With regards to what you are asking, if you ask 99% of people about liquid nitrogen, they think of chemistry or something being poisonous. But they're not aware that liquid nitrogen is around us. For example, Ferran could buy organic carrots and make a juice, and if he adds some xanthan gum and emulsifies it, he would be able to create the absolutely amazing carrot cream. There would be no actual cream. He thinks this is completely possible. Understanding science and chemistry as it pertains to health is incredibly important.

A very simple example is that the higher the level you're exploring, you also can have ethical barriers which are much more complex, with which you have to be very pragmatic about. Like the zero kilometer concept. The zero kilometer concept is a very good concept. Ferran is completely for it. But, for example, in Switzerland, they wouldn't have fish unless it was fresh water. That would mean 80% of Americans wouldn't be able to eat fish. It would mean 99% of the world would never be able to eat chocolate.

It's a very privileged philosophy.
Ferran understands that sometimes these radical approaches to these philosophies sometime help to normalize them. In Spain, the Spanish people have a different kind of approach. They say ecological. Not organic. And Ferran is always for the "logical." Logic says that if he can get really good ecological products, that's what he's going to get.

But that philosophy also means no Americans would be able to go to elBulli because it's within one kilometer.
We have to be logical. So from 2002 to 2007, Ferran started thinking about taking some time off. Something he thinks anyone would love to do. He wanted to take time off to think about creating a new scenario. Ferran announces this at Madrid Fusion and it caused chaos. People started speculating. People say they were closing because they were broke because there were some former partners who were suing. There's so much speculation going on, and they realized it would be very dangerous, so they had to decide what they were going to do. They had three or four options, and the one they liked most was the foundation, as a concept for a center of creativity. And as with everything they've done in their life, they just threw themselves into it. At the end of February, he announced that elBulli was going to become a foundation.

What does that actually change? Will there be people who still go there to eat?If you ask yourself that, you probably don't understand the philosophy of elBulli.

The mission of elBulli is to be creative. But he'll answer your question: They began to conceive the new elBulli foundation. They wanted to have a year and a half to develop some ideas. They started to work and they realized the internet is the current revolution in the world. They started to think what would happen if they could, in real time, share with the world what they were doing at elBulli. So they gave these ideas some shape and this year at Madrid Fusion, they will present the new name, the concept, and the project.

Give me a hint. What's the name?
The name elBulli will be in it. They had another name without elBulli in it, but they realized elBulli isn't closing, it's transforming. They want to establish a participation. For example, when you asked whether people will actually eat there, Ferran can serve 7,000 meals in a year and everybody who comes is very happy with the experiences. But he has about three million requests, those are not happy people. With a new format there will be even less people eating there, but it will be a foundation so people won't get that angry.

Wanna bet?
Because it's a foundation. There's no economical interest in it.

Yes, but there's barely been an economic interest from your end in elBulli as it is now.
But it was a restaurant. The revolution behind the format is that it is not a restaurant. If you want to push things a bit further, you need to create a new kind of scenario. Without reservations. Without tables. Complete and absolute freedom because they're not subjugated with the aspect of being a conventional restaurant. Think about timetables. Ferran thinks the best time would be at 5 in the afternoon. It's not lunch. It's not dinner. Questions like this there are thousands. And they would like to try to answer these questions with the new project.

I think I have time for one of those thousand questions. Working with a corporation you are free from certain constraints as it pertains to working with a restaurant?
No no no. Not working for.

I know. Working with.
Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No. No. It is very important.
It's an agreement.

I know. I didn't say for. I said with.
It's very important!

The question still is you have another entity with its own agenda and reputation. That seems complicated. Does he see a danger working with a corporation?
In life there are continually challenges and there need to be challenges. But the professionals Ferran is dealing with are at the highest level. With this agreement, Ferran becomes an ambassador for the brand, like Michael Jordan. They look after him really well.

It also means he's vulnerable in a way that he is not when he is no one's ambassador but his own.
If you are honest you won't have problems.

[I look at him dubiously.]

If you read the book and Colman explains it very well, there is always when you do something that is avant garde, there will always be the counterpart. For example, they use some of the vilest notions like people's health to try to attack Ferran. To accuse him of poisoning them. And this is very serious. More than this, they can't attack Ferran in a worse way. The headlines were Ferran is Accused of Poisoning People. If you are honest, the truth will prevail. And people will realize that these people are crazy. You have to be honest. This, for them, is sacred. They can make mistakes but nobody can accuse them of not being honest.

Right, but say you're an ambassador for a corporation, you are responsible in some way for the actions of the country you represent.
He's also a Spanish tourism brand ambassador. This isn't a corporation this is a country. If he were stupid and not nice to you, he would be selling a very bad image of Spain.

So if he wasn't representing Spain would you be mean to me?
No. No. No.
Life is too wonderful, he said, not to try to enjoy it.