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Ferran Adrià on Closing elBulli, Starting a Foundation, and 'Decoding' Creativity

Screengrab: 92nd Street Y
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.

Last night as part of his whirlwind book tour, legendary Spanish chef Ferran Adrià spoke at the 92nd Street Y about closing elBulli, his work with the elBulliFoundation, and, of course, his brand new seven volume Phaidon opus. This being an Adrià lecture, there were plenty of imponderables (Is espresso a beverage? Is a coffee bean a product?), but really Adrià focused on the importance of studying cooking and studying elBulli: "People say 'elBulli: Deconstruction! Molecular cooking!" No. You have to study it."

Adrià also spoke more concretely about the three projects that have grown out of his elBulliFoundation: elBulli 1846 will be a museum-style 7,000 square-meter space in Spain that will be dedicated to the history and theory of cuisine and open to the public. elBulliDNA will be a team of 30-40 of the "most creative chefs in the world," who will come to elBulli 1846 and work for 8 months, "dialoguing" with journalists, architects, designers, and other creative types to "compare and share the creative process." "It will be like a lab within a museum," says Adrià. The team will also spend one month serving free dinners to guests who reserve via an online lottery.

Lastly, there's Adrià's massive culinary wiki/"internet tool" Bullipedia and its team, the BullipediaLab. The team will be staffed by 80 experts from various disciplines including anthropology and archeology, all working towards creating "a taxonomy" of cooking that will be shared on the internet. Their work on "decoding the culinary genome" will go online (presumably still in a beta form) on October 8th in conjunction with an exhibit in Madrid. Adrià says he's eager for feedback.

Below, the top 10 quotes from Adrià's lecture:

1) On why he closed elBulli: "It was to not close elBulli. It may seem strange, but one of the most important things in creativity is to anticipate what's going to happen ... We thought elBulli in the form it was in then could last maybe five more years and then what? How many vanguard restaurants that we've admired have died? They don't have a legacy, we don't have a memory of them. We didn't want that to happen with elBulli."

2) On the elBulliFoundation: "I'm happy people don't fully understand it. Very happy, because it means it's something new. If when I explained the project everybody understood, people would say it's very simple. When people don't understand it, it's a trick, a big bluff. Or it's something new."

3) On the 8-month elBulliDNA residencies: "It's incredible. 40 people, the best in the world, eight months, creating things they can share with the world. Why? Because this is a hard job, and people don't have time. There are few chefs that really allow themselves the luxury to create."

4) On the most important question a creative person can ask: "Why is the only question. Simple. Why am I creative? Why am I here today? Why are you here today?"

5) On the problems of defining cooking: "When you go to eat sashimi, where's the fire? What about tartare? Or salad? 99% of dictionaries say that cooking is a transformation with fire."

6) On tradition: "Tradition is a lie. It's all a lie. People say 'No don't touch this recipe.' Do you know what a vinaigrette was in 1350? It was used for stews. This is documented."

7) On defining cooking: "Cooking is a decision. For example if I do this [peels a banana, mimes taking a bite] is it cooking? ... Some people say no. If a chimpanzee does it, it's clear it's not cooking. Because he doesn't have the will; he wants to eat, basically, his intention to not to cook ... For me, it's the will or the intention ... Sometimes I sit down, I decide I'm going to enjoy the banana, because they told me it's a special banana and it's wonderful. And I take it, I start to eat it, smell it, enjoy it. I feel the textures and I appreciate it. And I'm cooking. And that's my vision."

8) On the components required to cook: "A product, hands, tools, techniques/technologies, and a result."

9) On the misunderstood elBulli: "People said for years that elBulli's cooking was very technological. All cooking is technological."

10) On his brother, chef Albert Adrià: "My brother Albert, he created elBulli with me. To me he's the most creative chef working ... He decided to change his creative aspirations. He has four projects in Barcelona, they're incredible. He's shown young people you can have a great restaurant, be happy, make money, without having three Michelin stars or being extremely creative. And he does creativity, but at a middle level. If you make the decision to play at the top level, people are relentless and you have to prepare yourself mentally."

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