2013 International Chef of the Year: Albert Adrià
Looking across the world's culinary landscape, one chef in Spain stands above the rest: Albert Adrià
Energetic yet easygoing, jocular yet still serious, ascendant but approachable, among his colleagues, Albert Adrià just might currently be one of the world’s most admired and well-liked chefs — one whose brother just happens to be Ferran Adrià, one of the most famous chefs in the world. Having started at elBulli at the age of 15, Albert practically grew up in the restaurant, honing his craft and eventually collaborating to devise many of the imaginative approaches to cuisine that enchanted patrons and earned the place a reputation for daring and perfection even among those who had only heard about it.
Ferran Adrià has always acknowledged Albert as his most important collaborator at elBulli and in other projects. "I’ve always said that Albert has had the great misfortune of being my brother," he told Food & Wine. "I sincerely believe he is the best cook I’ve ever known." Once overshadowed, Albert has emerged in the past few years as a key figure in his own right. With four Barcelona restaurants in vastly different idioms, all of them full of magic and all evincing Albert's fascinating visions of what food and restaurants should be.
Refusing to be limited or intimidated by his ties to elBulli, Albert volunteers that he sees some of the work at his own restaurants not as stagnation, but as a prolongation of the unique style inherited from elBulli, "but one that isn’t willing to imitate it." How’s that for impressive? And impress he has, drawing admiration from chefs like David Chang ("If Ferran is God, then Albert is Jesus"), and accolades from the likes of TIME magazine, which this year named him one of the 13 gods of food. We have a feeling that the two Michelin stars he was awarded this year (one each for the adjacent Tickets and 41º) are just the beginning.
For these reasons, we're pleased to announce that chef Albert Adrià was singled out by The Daily Meal and its past honorees as 2013's International Chef of the Year (joined this year by The Daily Meal's 2013 American Chef of the Year Dan Barber).
We reached out to the chefs to discover where they, and along with them the state of food, may be heading. In this interview with Albert Adrià, the chef discusses the changes at his restaurant 41º and whether he considers it to be a continuation of the spirit of elBulli; whether he would ever open a restaurant in America; his plans to open a Mexican restaurant; and what era he’d like to visit for its food if he could time-travel. We also asked him 12 Actor’s Studio-type questions about his first food memories, his heroes and villains, his favorite sandwich (no surprise there), and what qualities he looks for when he’s hiring a chef, among other things.
Should chefs be socially and politically active, or should they just cook good food, responsibly produced?
That’s a good question. In the end, it’s up to the chef the degree of social involvement that he wants to have. It is true that nowadays it is considered a profession with social weight, and I’d like to think that we are activists in social causes rather than political ones, but everyone is free to choose. In my case I’m not interested at all in being a person whose focus is on being socially active.
Why did you decide to change 41º from a bar to a restaurant with an extensive tasting menu?
Because we were doing 120 people at a time, but in reality we were working for 20, which were the ones that lived the experience of having cocktails and snacks. The rest were barely having a drink. The intention was to open a new 41º with more capacity in order to attend to the patrons with more resources. This idea has been delayed until the end of 2014. Soon, the new 41º will be a nice reality.
What is behind a successful tasting menu?
To propose a tasting menu is very risky, and it’s a formula that even if I apply it in Pakta and 41º, I do it with a lot of respect, all the more so because of the large number of allergies and intolerances nowadays. But I think that when you do a tasting menu, it’s because there’s something that needs to be told, because there’s a story being proposed that needs to be told, a philosophy of work, a style that needs to be born. In other words, with a tasting menu you buy the time of the customer, and because you mark the beginning and the end, therefore you must have a very serious proposal for the meal at every step of the way.
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