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Albert Adrià Explains It All

The acclaimed Barcelona chef on his plans for an NYC food hall and his ever-growing restaurant empire

e Courtesy Groupo BCN 5.0

If there were one sentence to describe the current situation of Albert Adrià’s culinary amusement park and Barcelona restaurant empire, it would be “The show must go on.” He recently announced his participation in the opening of a 35,000-square-foot food hall in New York City with his famous brother, Ferran, led by his longtime friend and former colleague at El Bulli José Andrés. The project is highly ambitious and may just be the beginning of something bigger.

But that’s not all. In just a few days, Adrià is launching the third season of Heart, his “collision” of food, music, and art of in Ibiza. Adrià describes it as “the most exciting project that anybody can run.”

Adrià’s agenda is packed until October, and he says he has not yet recovered from the opening of Enigma, the multifaceted Barcelona restaurant he calls the “apple of my eye.” But nothing can stop him: “I am feeling calmer than ever,” as he puts it. And he is not afraid of thinking about going even further. After the whirlwind past few years — and with more than seven openings to his name (including the 50 Days pop-up in London) as part of his El Barri restaurant group — Adrià now knows more than ever what he wants.

Let’s start with the U.S. project. This was not the first time you received proposals from the Big Apple why did you say yes this time?

Albert Adrià: The key factor in our decision has been our blind trust in José Andrés. JR [as they call him in the El Bulli circle] is like family for us; we can say it is a very sentimental project and also a very special one. I think about my parents, who recently passed away, and I am trying to imagine how happy they would have been to see us working on something like this in New York City. It is like a dream.

The fact is that we have been thinking about the idea of opening something together for the last 15 years. Now that I have learned about the complexity and great effort involved in traveling and leaving your own restaurants to open a new one, as I did with the 50 Days project in London, I realized I actually don’t like the idea of opening restaurants abroad.

I also understand that if I have all my energy devoted to El Barri projects, I can only join projects in which the main responsibility for the daily management is not on me. José Andrés and his team are active partners for us, and [these are] the only kind of partners I want to have from now on.

I have already realized how difficult it is to be successful away from home. But if we count with the warranty of our experience plus the “savoir faire” and management in place from José Andrés and his team, it is like a win-win deal, isn’t it?

Can you give us some details about this project?

Nowadays everything is up in the air. We have no details finalized. Can you imagine that we decided to go ahead through a Skype meeting just one day before the public announcement? [Laughs] We have not discussed details about money and we don’t even know the name!

But we know that the project will be developed in Barcelona starting in September 2017, with the idea of opening [in New York City] around October 2018. This way we can conceptualize it together and I don’t have to go away from my business.

After my experience with Heart, with such a big multi-concept space, I have realized how important it is not to fail in the development stage for any project. In the case of Hudson Yards, we also have a huge space which will include, preliminarily, three different spaces:

  1. Market space, similar to the Spanish gastronomic markets, like San Miguel Market in Madrid, in which you can eat great product in different stands;
  2. Counter space, in which you will be able to eat in a gastronomic bar [on the counter], such as the Pinocho bar in La Boqueria Market in Barcelona;
  3. Restaurant space. We will probably have more than one restaurant, because our aim is cultural. Our guests will be able to taste Spain in just one space, so we are thinking about a rice-specialized restaurant, a Basque-style grill house [asador, a Spanish-style fried food restaurant, a space for the Spanish omelet], maybe even a traditional Catalan “granja,” in which you can have a hot chocolate with the classic old-style cakes [bizcochos de soletilla or melindros].

Another great challenge in this project is that there will be a lot of Spanish brands involved. We want to open the project to many of them in order to have their support and at the same time offer a wide idea about what we have in Spain in terms of product. This will be something quite big to manage.

Are you planning to open something else in the United States someday, by yourself or with your brother?

If the Hudson Yards Project is successful, the investment group has already declared their intention to expand and open more restaurants, so… you never know.

Heart Ibiza/Facebook

What are your expectations for the May 25 opening of the third season for Heart?

I have to admit that when we first opened Heart the expectations were set too high and we were not able to fulfill them. We did not have enough time to react, and when we wanted to change something the season was already over. Actually, the real season in Eivissa [Ibiza] is about 40 days, so you have to be very well prepared in advance.

We think that after the experience from 2015 and 2016, we will beat all our expectations in 2017. We have doubled the number of reservations compared to the same dates in 2016, and we are ready to grow even more.

I think Heart is the most exciting project that anybody can run; it is much more than a restaurant. It’s something unique. In this case, like in El Barri restaurants, I am the owner (with some other partners). That is why I take it so personally to improve it year after year.

Can you reveal some secrets for this new season?

It is quite difficult to explain — you really have to experience it yourself. [Laughs] Okay, okay, I can tell you something.

This year we will continue with the double experience we started in 2016. Dinner runs from 9 to 10:45 p.m. in the terrace space. In this terrace you will eat around 10 bites and you will interact with all the artists in the show. There will be a surprising bathtub, an enigmatic tunnel, and if you dare to go to the toilet, you may find some surprises on the way.

The total experience is 15 bites and 12 desserts, and prices run from €210 to €250 per person [$236 to $281 USD], depending on the location of the table.

Once the show is over, the guest can stay for the DJ party (the price depends on the guest DJ), or they can have some drinks back in the terrace — or leave.

What about Enigma? Are you where you want to be five months in?

Enigma is a model in continuous evolution that is aimed at exploring all the possible ways to understand gastronomy.

I was initially frightened about the possibility that people did not show enough interest in Enigma, especially after postponing the opening for a year. I feared the “bluff” effect: Many people were already joking about the “enigmatic Enigma.” I was also worried about the team waiting for so long, about the investment, about the delay for the restaurant construction, everything!

Hopefully, I think that the worst period is over. The business model is working, the public is showing interest, and we are fully booked on a daily basis. We have 28 guests per day, paying €220 [before drinks].

Even after five months there are still many details that we are changing. It’s not a closed model. We are testing and trying to improve every day. We are especially working in the transitions from one space to another in the restaurant in order to let the guest feel it as just one experience.

Why do you forbid your guests from sharing photos of the dishes at Enigma on social media?

I can tell you it has nothing to do with the name of the restaurant. Enigma was a name I had in mind since I was [at] El Bulli. It was a good name and it was also very international.

About the photos, I was not really interested in the photos of the dishes circulating through [social media] from the very beginning, as I am still working on the aesthetics for many of the dishes. But it was also about not revealing what will be happening in the restaurant — I wanted to keep the surprise as much as possible. People have been really respectful and understanding about this issue.

How will Enigma evolve?

We still don’t know. It took us more than 10 years to revolutionize culinary history at El Bulli. But [at] Enigma we don’t want to revolutionize anything anymore: I am not the right age, nor do I have energy or the team for another revolution.

I just want to enjoy Enigma as the roller coaster for my culinary amusement park, which is El Barri.

So does this mean that you will not continue opening restaurants from now on?

Personally, I don’t want to open any other restaurant, but we feel there are still many good concepts that deserve to see the light. I may try to use some of them in our new project in the United States…

After my experience with the Mexican restaurant [Niño Viejo] and the belated opening for Enigma, I have realized that you cannot just hope everything will be fine. You have to do it yourself, because you are not only representing a restaurant, but also a brand name.

I am open to listening to more project ideas as long as my partners are active partners. I don’t want to manage other companies; I just want to manage my own company, build it, improve, and lead it to success. For the rest of the projects that hypothetically may arrive, I will work on the conceptualization, but not the daily management.