“When people go to elBulli,” says Adrià, “they’re not going to a restaurant. They’re going to a place where they are going to find the boundaries of cooking.”
What is your objective in the kitchen? What do you want diners to say about the experience of eating in your restaurant?
I think that in order to cook well, you have to like to eat, and I like to eat very much. What I want for the people who come to my restaurant is the same thing I want when I go to a fine restaurant: the happiness that comes from experiencing something new.
Some people who have dined at elBulli say they loved a third of the dishes, a third were strange but intriguing, and a third they didn’t like at all. Are you satisfied with that reaction?
Everyone sees an avant-garde film in a different way. And there are a thousand different opinions about what elBulli is. Let me clarify: I cook for the people who like what I do. Those who do not like what I do should not come. This is the first thing that needs to be said. There is now plenty of information about what elBulli is and what we do, so those who come and say it is too new—well, there was no point in them coming.
Does it bother you to be so widely imitated, or do you enjoy that?
It is natural for cooks who create new techniques or concepts to have some influence. That has happened throughout history. Today, for example, there are siphons in every kitchen. But that’s understandable. It’s a fantastic technique, with which you can make good and bad things. The main difference between today’s Spanish cooking and nouvelle cuisine is that we are searching for new concepts and techniques to make new dishes. With a new technique, you can make a thousand dishes.
In the past, you could only make a mousse in certain ways. Now, you can also make it with a siphon. Before, there was only cold jelly. Now, there is cold and hot jelly. So this gives you enormous possibilities. Ninety-five percent of the techniques that have been developed in the last 15 years came from Spain.
Can you describe your creative process?
The level of complexity required today to create new things is not easy. You need an entire team of crazy people. In the past, to make a salad with different ingredients was to make something new. Today, this is laughable. Mixing products is not creative.
To understand elBulli, you have to read the 7,000 pages of our General Catalog. It explains, step by step, the creative process. What cannot be explained is where the ideas come from. And that’s the most important part, because without an idea, there is no process. But the creative effort required today is 20 times more than 15 years ago, if we are talking about creativity that leaves a mark..
What is the difference between creativity that influences and creativity that doesn’t? Mixing products has no influence on other chefs, but creating new techniques and concepts does. A long time ago, someone created puff pastry. Thanks to that, we can still create new dishes with puff pastry. But the greatest value was in creating the puff pastry.
Another example: In 1994, we realized that we could make savory ice creams, a world of savory ice creams. In the beginning, everyone said we were mad. Parmesan ice cream? We did not invent savory ice cream, but we built a way of cooking around it and revolutionized the world of cold entrees.
In the past, it was unthinkable to laugh in a fine restaurant. But why? Why can’t there be provocation or humor?
elBulli is not a business. Why? Because we don’t want to make money. Thousands and thousands of people want to go to elBulli, but there are only 8,000 seats per year. We could charge $1,000 with no problem. But we don’t cook for money.
So what motivates you?
It is not my ego, because I have everything you could want professionally. I don’t own a Ferrari or a yacht. I lead a normal life, but I no longer work for money. I work because every morning I wake up and wonder whether it is possible to go further in the kitchen.
Next Friday [November 2007] I am going to Berlin to receive an award, the most important award in Europe in the world of design. In June , we have been invited to Documenta, the most important art fair in the world. It’s the first time that they have included haute cuisine in this event—maybe the first time in history that the art world is accepting haute cuisine as an art. If they accept that, haute cuisine will become something completely different from eating well, like it or not.
Do you consider your food Spanish?
One cooks with one’s emotions, and emotions reflect where you are from. I think more like a Spaniard than a Norwegian. But I am open. I don’t think haute cuisine has a nationality. The French used to have a monopoly on it. Everyone thought haute cuisine was French, but that’s not true.
Would you agree that cooking should reflect the place where it is from?
This is an incredible lie, and very selfish, and I can give you 50 examples. Then a poor country cannot cook, because it has no products? So in the middle of the United States, they should not eat fish? When you are talking about food, you must be pragmatic and explain things as they are. If an area doesn’t grow grapes, the locals should’t drink wine? If they don’t grow flour, they shouldn’t eat bread? What’s important is the emotion. Picasso lived most of his life in France, but his emotions were Spanish and he painted like a Spaniard.
Ninety percent of the products I work with are from my region. But if I want to work with passion fruit, why shouldn’t I?
If you stopped cooking tomorrow, what would you want your legacy to be?
The most important thing that we have done is to provide hope to the many young people in the field, people looking for their own path. Perhaps nouvelle cuisine broke the molds somewhat, but with our generation comes the cuisine of freedom, where everyone can cook as he likes.