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Nobody In the World Makes Restaurants Like Albert Adrià

The acclaimed chef reveals details about his Cirque de Soleil collaboration.

Courtesy Groupo BCN 5.0

There's no doubt that Albert Adrià loves a challenge. After he and brother Ferran Adrià announced two Barcelona projects in 2010 — the tapas bar Tickets and the cocktail-focused 41° Experience — the younger Adrià quickly branched out, turning one section of the city into what he called a "culinary amusement park." In the following years, the ambitious project, which the Adriàs have dubbed the 5.0 Project, added additional restaurant concepts in the form of Pakta, Hoja Santa, Niño Viejo, and Bodega 1900. Still to come is a revamp of the original 41° Experience: Enigma, an immersive, dreamlike maze that Albert Adrià promises will "reinvent the way we go to restaurants."

Enigma's debut has been pushed back a full year, with a new tentative opening date of January 2016: Adrià says he postponed its opening after realizing he didn't have enough time to make Enigma the "apple of his eye" as he had conceptualized. But in the meantime, Adrià has been able to make another dream come true: Collaborating with Cirque du Soleil to create Heart, a new three-concept restaurant in Ibiza that will showcase a "collision" among food, music, and art. Heart, which will open later this year, will see Adrià traveling to Ibiza three-and-a-half days days per week with his family in tow. Here now, Albert Adrià explains it all:

A rendering of the planned Enigma interior. Courtesy RCR ARQUITECTES / P.LLIMONA

Why did you postpone the opening for Enigma?
There were several factors. First, the timing: Since I closed the deal with Cirque du Soleil for Heart in Ibiza, I knew I had to open Enigma before May 2015 in order to be able to accomplish everything. I realized I was not able to make it on time; I couldn't put in danger the level [of quality] we are trying to provide in the rest of my restaurants, so I decided to postpone Enigma's opening.

In addition, I realized the Enigma concept that I had in mind was not profitable enough: 700 square meters to host a cocktail bar and an exclusive restaurant. I needed 70 people on staff and I had to make a double effort in terms of salaries, schedules, resources... So I realized I had to choose between either the cocktail bar or the restaurant. The restaurant was the chosen one, I always wanted to open a restaurant like Enigma: We will have just 24 clients per day and we want to reinvent the way we go to restaurants, the way we eat — mostly with the hands — and the way we serve the menu. Enigma will be like a hotel where starting from the lobby, anything can happen. The guest will be enjoying the experience from the entrance. Construction will start in May or June this year, and we will be opening in January 2016: With a 500-square-meter restaurant, 50 compositions to be eaten in two-and-a-half hours, 250 euros as the average ticket, including drinks.

"Give me four hours a day in the workshop for R&D... and I will be the happiest man in the world." — Albert Adrià

With the 200 square meters left from the initial project, will be hosting an R&D workshop for product testing and creating new dishes for all my restaurants. My other restaurants in Barcelona will be paying an R&D fee to the workshop to also make this space profitable. Chef Oliver Peña from my team will be leading this project as the head of the kitchen. In my case, I just want to enjoy cooking haute cuisine: That's what I love doing, and is what I have been doing most of my life. I will be focusing on creativity. Just give me four hours a day in the workshop for R&D, creating new menus for all the restaurants, and I will be the happiest man in the world.

A whimsical dish from Hoja Santa. Photo: Courtesy Grupo BCN 5.0

What about the new Heart, which is opening later this year? How is the experience working with Le Cirque du Soleil?
We will have 270 staff and we will feed an average of 3,000 people per day: The Heart experience is like playing in the Premier League. Heart is one of those lifetime projects, something we always dreamed about, and this dream is coming true... We are big fans for Cirque du Soleil and what happens in Ibiza has an international impact. Heart is a collision between food, music, and live performances. There will be three different spaces: The terrace, called Baraka, is like a market for street food experiences. You will pay a very low cover, and then be able to buy coins in order to buy the different international casual food: Portobello hamburgers, Belgian waffles, Chinese dumplings, Mexican tacos, and American hot dogs... all of them with a modern touch. We are expecting 400 people daily an average ticket of 40 to 60 Euros per person.

Heart, a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, will feature three concepts: Baraka, Workshop, and Boite.

Secondly, we will have the Workshop, a dining room where guests will be able to choose two or three different international cuisines from a broad selection. If you choose Japanese and Spanish, you will have five to six dishes from Japan, followed by five or six Spanish dishes. The next day you visit us, you could choose Peruvian, or Mexican, etc.

The third space is like a disco, called Boîte — "nightclub" in French. In this space, we are expecting 600 to 700 people enjoying the art performances and the louder music. Guests will be mostly drinking, but they will also be able to eat salty and sweet snacks.

Photo: Grupo BCN 5.0

You opened Hoja Santa in November 2014: How is it going with this Mexican concept?
I should confess this opening has been a very difficult one. I usually open my restaurants in spring, the good season for international guests. However, I had to postpone the Niño Viejo ["Old Boy," serving Mexican tacos] opening until August, and Hoja Santa ["Sacred leaf," a Mexican haute cuisine restaurant] until November... I am still working to make this restaurant more profitable, and I've decided I will just open for dinner in October, starting at 6pm. I think now we are on the right path. In addition, we have improved a lot in Niño Viejo: The menu was too long and expensive in the first stage; now we're just serving tacos. Now we are doing more than fine. It was difficult, but I'm happy with the result.

So many projects, so many challenges... Are you scared?
I confess I am a little scared about opening Heart, this is very different than anything I have done before. However, I was more scared when I opened Tickets: It was right after elBulli, it was my first restaurant, I was worried about the critics and the expectations... Now I feel freer, I'm not worried and obsessed about what people say about me. We're working 14 hours a day to make it better every day, and I think we're doing a good job. I've realized that most of the time, you're working mostly for 20 percent of my clients: those foodies who travel around the world just to be able to eat in one my restaurants. For them, I am preparing some new projects.

"Now I feel freer, I'm not worried and obsessed about what people say about me."

In two months' time, I hope I will be able to offer an "amusement park" package to eat in more than one of my restaurants in Barcelona. The service will provide transfer from the airport to the hotel, transfer to the restaurants, the menu, and the transfer back to the hotel and airport.

Is Albert Adrià stopping for a while?
If I have some energy left, I will be opening, someday, the cocktail bar that I am not including in Enigma. Nowadays, we have around 6,000 people visiting our restaurants in Barcelona and they should have some place to have some drinks, right?

Rendering of the Enigma exterior. Courtesy RCR ARQUITECTES / P.LLIMONA

I visited the venue for the new Enigma with Joan Gener González [the architectonical project manager inside Albert Adrià's team]. We asked him about Enigma....
Enigma is the culmination of the 5.0 Project. It's a restaurant that could be in New York or London, but it's in Barcelona. The space will be full of light contrasts, transparence, sensuality, elements that you can just intuit, elements that can be glimpsed, but that you cannot see clearly. Enigma will be like an oneiric maze with different stops: According to the guest profile and taking into account if [they are] a new or returning customer, the tour will be different. It will have a couple of fixed stops, such as the Lobby. From there, we can either pass by the Cellar or go straight to the kitchen.

After the kitchen, the guest will be able to sit down at the table. Some of the tables will be in private rooms and the other ones will be in the main dining room, surrounded by translucent glass. The oneiric ambiance will surround you and will not let you go.

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