At an event a few months ago, I made the mistake of telling Ferran Adrià I was feeling a bit tired when he asked me how I was doing. The words had barely left my mouth when the chef raised his eyebrow and rasped out: "Come spend a few days with me and you'll know what tired is." Point taken. Adrià is probably one of the busiest humans alive, and 2011 was an especially dizzying year for the Catalonian force. Here are thirteen of the highlights:
The Shift To Barcelona
Last January, just as elBulli was about to debut its final season, Ferran and his brother — but mostly his brother — opened Tickets and 41 Degrees on a sleepy corner of Barcelona's theater district. Tickets is a whimsical, extremely casual space in which you can sample traditional and progressive tapas. 41 Degrees started out as a cocktail bar but has recently been turned into an intimate tasting restaurant serving 41-course dinners emphasizing mixology. These are the hottest tables in town.
The Sorcerer's Apprentices
The first Adrià-related book of 2011 was Lisa Abend's very well-received The Sorcerer's Apprentices, which tells the story of elBulli's stagiaires during the 2009 season and provides insight into the creative process of the restaurant. At one of the New York stops of the book tour, Adrià took some time to meditate over a glass of water.
Adrià Goes Hollywood
Well, not exactly, but the chef was involved in various film and television productions this year. In addition to the No Reservations episode (more on that below), there was Gastón Acurio's documentary on the transformative power of food, the documentary elBulli: Cooking In Progress, a documentary on Catalan TV on the last service at elBulli, and new developments on the film adaptation of Abend's book.
The Pepsi Thing
Over the summer it was announced that Adrià, no stranger to corporate sponsorship, would extend his involvement with PepsiCo to include all worldwide brands. According to the company, Adrià will draw from his "observations from around the world" to inspire the brand as it creates "new snackable foods, breakfast options, and convenience alternatives." Six months later and still no spherified Fritos. Yet.
A Junket To End All Arguments
Two months before elBulli's closure, Dom Pérignon took over the restaurant for a day to host a star-studded, 50-course junket. Heather Graham arrived by helicopter. The event sparked a new trend in journalism, namely the "Let Me Tell You About That Swanky Junket Dom Pérignon Threw There on May 6, 2011 With Heather Graham" article (LMTYATSJDPTTO5611WHG). There were recaps in Bon Appétit, New York Magazine, The Observer, T Magazine, and several other publications.
On the evening of July 30th, after months and months of anticipation and countless, repetitive IAAEB pieces, it finally happened: elBulli had its final service. And it wasn't a quiet affair, either. Adrià surprised most onlookers by turning the evening — dubbed elBulliLastWaltz — into one hell of a final service in which former stagiaires like René Redzepi, Grant Achatz, Massimo Bottura, and Joan Roca all worked the kitchen. After dinner, they took the party outside, where friends drank and danced late into the night. To cap it off, Adrià stripped down to his boxers and took a dip in the ocean.
No Reservations: The elBulli Episode
Just after elBulli shut its doors, Anthony Bourdain and the folks at Zero Point Zero gave the world something they were openly very proud of: a program documenting the raconteur's final meal at elBulli. In addition to hanging with José Andrés and spending a day working in the kitchen, Bourdain used the episode to draw a clear line between traditional Catalan cooking and the progressive creations at Adrià's oft misunderstood restaurant. Bourdain said of his last meal there: "It felt like the symphony he's been writing his whole life."
Ferran: The Ambassador
Soon after the shuttering of his fabled restaurant, Adrià took trips to China and Japan as both inquisitive chef and ambassador of the Spanish brand. On China: "It is the peak, the apex of the world, as far as gastronomy is concerned. There are 80,000 recipes. They are just starting to use the word "chef" as we might understand it and they are starting to evaluate and think about the state of their cuisine."
The Lima Letter
The visits to China and Japan were minor compared to the controversy sparked by "The Open Letter to the Chefs of Tomorrow" that Adrià signed and helped draft, along with Gastón Acurio, Alex Atala, René Redzepi, Michel Bras, and several other major international chefs; together they became known as "The G9." The letter — or "declaration," depending on whom you ask — became the focal point in a discussion about the changing role of the chef in society: should they try and better the world, or should they shut their traps and stay in the kitchen?
The Family Meal
The second Adrià book release of the year was Phaidon's The Family Meal, an approachable text focusing on the three-course staff meals served at elBulli. Of course, the release included a tour that spanned the entire globe, as well as hundreds of articles on the cookbook. Here's one of the more interesting ones: "Can an ordinary family survive off Ferran Adrià's recipes for a week?"
elBulli Comes to Chicago
2011 saw the announcement that Grant Achatz's Next will shift to an elBulli menu for the first three months of 2012. The dinner will feature twenty courses representing twenty years of elBulli, and Adrià will be flying "his chef de cuisines and dining room managers from Spain to Chicago to collaborate on the homage."
A Killer Cover, A Killer Ad
From all the media surrounding Adrià this year, two episodes stand out: Esquire Spain making a scratch n sniff cover that smells like the area around elBulli, and Isabel Coixet directing a totally inaccurate but completely delightful commercial for Estrella Damm centered on a fling between two elBulli stagiaires.
The Future: elBulli Foundation
Throughout the year, more and more information surfaced on elBulli Foundation, the culinary think tank that will replace the restaurant. Adrià explained the plans in an Eater interview (here's part one and here's part two) and months later during his lecture at Harvard. A key tidbit: the foundation will serve dinner, but by invitation only.
· All Ferran Adrià Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Year in Eater Coverage on Eater [-E-]