Ferran Adria: Foundation and 'Family Meal'

October 4, 2011

Ferran Adrià, the chef widely but arguably considered the best in the world, is in the middle of a book tour he kicked off in Chicago last week. WBEZ’s Chicago Amplified recorded the program so you can hear it online here.

The funny thing is you won’t hear him talk much about his new book, The Family Meal, a big, beautiful Phaidon cookbook of El Bulli staff meals. So it’s good thing I sat down with him before the event. We’ll post that video soon.

Ferran actually did eat staff meals, together with the staff, before he closed El Bulli this past July. When I was there in 2004, it was the year of cabrito, so we ate a lot of goat stew. But in the last three years he changed the meals. I’ve heard from first-hand reports that the new family meals were as good as a Michelin one-star’s.

Grant Achatz—chef/owner of Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and himself a best-chef-in-the-world—made an unannounced appearance to introduce Ferran on the Harold Washington Library’s Pritzker Auditorium stage. Grant said when he first arrived at El Bulli for his stage, he thought he knew all about cooking, coming from The French Laundry; instead it was like Mars.

Ferran speaks in meaty, melodic Catalan, translated by Lucy Garcia. You may recognize Lucy from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, where you’ve also heard her butterscotch-rich, British-inflected English.

We expected a cookbook talk. Instead, Ferran gave us a preview of the upcoming elBullifoundation. Unexpected and captivating. Scheduled to open in 2014 on the site of the restaurant, you can see from the recently released renderings that the foundation will be a futuristic think tank, with food as one element, but also its core. (Please note that the official website for the foundation, www.elbullifoundation.org,is not active yet; there are unofficial sites with similar URL’s.)

During our interview, Ferran said he’d be having dinner at Next, where Grant had told Francis Lam previously, “Another menu we're planning is El Bulli. One course from each year from 1983 to 2003. I'd work with Ferran to choose the dishes that he feels are his most significant; I'd need to get him on board with that.”

In Washington, D.C. Ferran met up with his protégé and best buddy, José Andrés. They even even stopped by the White House Farmers Market food drive.

Ferran’s in New York City now, and wraps up his U.S. tour of talks, booksignings, Q & A’s, interviews, meals, and secret meetings, next Monday in San Francisco.

I’ve heard Ferran speak many, many times. Publicly, privately, loudly, but perhaps most eloquently when he says no words at all.

Maybe it’s just me, but this time, it felt different. Before, it felt like he was riding the crest of a huge wave, skillfully maneuvering, but all wildly fluid. This time, it feels more like he’s at the top of a mountain—about re-shape the summit, down to its very foundation.

Back in Chicago, Ferran took only four audience questions. The last question was asked by a young man, who must have been a cook, who asked, when Ferran was a young cook, if he ever dreamed all this could happen?

Ferran’s answer was real and ominous; not at all what they tell you on reality TV.

He said, with his success, all young chefs now have a reference—and that’s not so good. He said, this is not normal; it’s not part of the script.

“Work hard. Be happy,” said Ferran, “If the prize comes, there will be consequences.”