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Has Ferran Adrià Had a 'Catastrophic Effect on the Younger Generation of Chefs'?

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Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Following a visit to the opening of the elBulli exhibit in London, British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop wrote on her blog that "a well-known British chef" told her: "This isn't food. It's got nothing to do with food, with the earth, with Spain, with what his grandmothers cooked. Ferran Adrià has fucked it all up. Because now young people don't want to learn how to cook, they want to learn to be like him. And he may do what he does brilliantly, but few others can." And in this as-yet anonymous chef's view and others, Adrià's style of cooking is negatively affecting the next generation of chefs.

Dunlop has also "heard from friends in Barcelona that El Bulli has had a castastrophic effect on the younger generation of chefs." They tell her "everyone" is now looking to become "a gastro-magician, a celebrity, a superstar." Dunlop's friends also worry that this young crop of chefs "want to invent and play – but they no longer want to learn the basic skills of Catalan cuisine." In the view of Dunlop's friends, Adrià's influence has corrupted the cooking ethic of younger chefs.

Dunlop disagreed with those friends, but here's a look at the various points of view of Adrià's influence (pro and con) as he prepares to further invade your world with the elBulli Foundation:

Back in 2008, the late Spanish chef Santi Santamaria made waves when he accused Adrià's cuisine of being pretentious and claimed that certain chemicals he used were "poisonous." According to Reuters, Santamaria went so far as to say "Adrià's dishes were designed to impress rather than satisfy." Santamaria suggested that what Adrià was doing at elBulli was apart from the fundamentals of Catalan cuisine, and the goals cooking itself saying: "Cooks should not be preoccupied with creating sculptures or painting pictures with their work. A table is not an art gallery." This concern for the nature and quality of the Adrià-style of cooking has persisted.

Shouty Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay has worried that Adrià imitators lack the skill to use the innovative techniques Adrià championed. Ramsay told the Chicago Tribune back in 2007: "I've been to El Bulli on 4 occasions now, and that man is the standardbearer. There's been so many rip offs, it's been embarrassing. I recently had a salad in New York from a chef who was air-spraying an aerosol can across the table, spraying the customer with an odor of basil and chocolate, and it was hideous. ... Understand it properly, put in a minimum of five to eight years, and don't dare try it unless you understand it fully."

Ramsay's point speaks to a broader concern many have with molecular gastronomy: That some chefs aren't taking the time to learn how to properly cook, let alone how to cook using these techniques. Food nerd Alton Brown has been an outspoken critic of molecular gastronomy whose doubts stem from this very issue: "[M]any young cooks are attempting to jump over the basics and go straight to methylcellulose, sodium alginate, various polysaccharides, gums, and even transglutaminase."

Acclaimed British chef Heston Blumenthal speaks to the consequences of having imitators working with the modernist culinary techniques both he and Adrià are known for. In an interview with Jay Rayner, the chef explains: "There are people out there who are completely missing the point ... I'm really worried someone's going to do something really stupid and then everyone will point at me and say it's all your fault." Perhaps Blumenthal has a point, considering people are calling out Adrià for the chefs he's inspired.

Of course, elBulli's influence has had plenty of positive impacts on subsequent generations of chefs, too. Culinary historian and École de Cuisine La Varenne founder Anne Willan explains Adrià's legacy in Saveur:

"Adrià's impact can be seen in all the experimental cooking going on in restaurants today. There are other luminaries driving this movement: Juan Mari Arzak, an early pioneer at Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain; Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck in Bray, near London; Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago; Wylie Dufresne at wd–50 in New York; José Andrés with Minibar in Washington, D.C., and The Bazaar in Los Angeles. But Adrià is the ringleader." And Adrià's influence can be seen in more than just menus.

Adrià's practice of closing elBulli for half the year to have his chefs work in the Barcelona workshop (the taller) on new techniques and menus inspired impressive test kitchens across the world. Here in the USA, chefs like David Chang, and José Andrés share Adrià's inquisitive spirit, applying scientific rigor to and dedicating space in their organizations for creative culinary explorations.

There are also tremendously successful elBulli alums. Lauded Noma chef René Redzepi worked at elBulli for a year shortly after Adrià assumed control of the kitchen. Mugaritz chef Andoni Luis Aduriz also worked at elBulli, including time doing research & development there. Three elBulli sous chefs opened Compartir in Spain last year. Award-winning Alinea chef Grant Achatz worked briefly at elBulli more than 10 years ago, and explains in his New York Times story about the closure of elBulli: "Protégés of great chefs eventually forge their own paths to help create a new style." With an exhibition of elBulli history on display in London, the extensive culinary archive La Bullipedia, and the upcoming elBulliFoundation underway, Adrià will continue influencing the next generation of chefs despite the closure of elBulli.

· El Bulli: Ferran Adria and The Art of Food [Fuchsia Dunlop]
· All Ferran Adrià Coverage on Eater [-E-]