Ferran Adrià: 'elBulli Isn't Closed'
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Ferran Adrià opens the door to the Taller, his famous culinary "workshop" on the Carrer de la Portaferrissa, off the Ramblas in Barcelona. He looks trim and a little tired. There's no one else in the place, but every wall and every flat surface in the place is covered with big sheets of cardboard covered with notes or corkboards pinned full of documents, lists, and sketches. As usual here in what the world perceives as some kind of high-tech laboratory, pen and paper rule.
Ushering me over to the aluminum table at one end of the kitchen, where I have sat so often, observing the creative bustle of the Taller in full swing, Ferran offers me an espresso. This turns out to be a mistake. The Lavazza capsule coffee machine on the counter won't take a capsule. Ah, the bin is full of spent capsules. He empties it, then pushes the button. Nothing. Ah, no water. He fills it, and pushes the button again. Nothing. He turns it off and back on. Nothing. He shrugs, leaves it, and comes over to the table.
OK. We sit down, coffee-less, and start to talk. Ferran wants to update me on what he's been doing and where plans stand for the elBulli Foundation that will open in two years in Cala Montjoi, on the site of what was once the world's most celebrated (and impossible-to-get-into) restaurant.
"I'm busier than ever," he begins. For starters, his schedule this year includes a worldwide tour for Telefonica, the Spanish-based telecommunications giant for which he is official spokesman, and a tour around Europe to help promote editions of his book of more-or-less homey recipes, The Family Meal, that are being published in various languages. Then he plans trips to China and Peru. Then a tour of business schools in Europe and the U.S., and another of his "Science & Cooking" sessions at Harvard. "Travel, travel, travel," he says.
Ferran decides to have one more go at the coffee machine. He stands up, gestures at it from across the room like a sorcerer doing an abracadabra, then turns it on one more time. Nada. I could use a jolt of caffeine, but at the same time I can't help thinking that there's something charming about the fact that this putative master of culinary technology can't get the Lavazza to perform.
He motions me to follow him into the small Taller conference room, which used to be a chapel and still looks like one but for the long table that takes up most of it. On the table are volumes of the elBulli General Catalogue, the dish-by-dish record of everything that was served at the restaurant between 1983 and 2005. "This is another big project," he says, "completing the books, going up until the day we closed. The finished catalogues will be 4,500 pages. Incredible!"
There's more: Ferran is still making appearances with the German documentary elBulli: Cooking in Progress that came out last year, and elBulli, Last Waltz, about the restaurant's final day and night last July, has appeared in Spain, in Spanish, and is being dubbed into other languages. Over at elBulli Carmen, the business office across the Ramblas from the Taller, former elBulli chef Marc Cuspinera is organizing documents and press clippings related to the restaurant — 35,000 of them, Ferran estimates. "elBulli isn't closed," he says. "I started a lot of projects about it before the finish. I hadn't realized how many there were or how long they would take. All year I've been doing things about it. By June 30, all the old projects should be finished and elBulli will finally be closed." Of course, there'll still be the exhibition "Ferran Adrià and elBulli: Risk, Freedom and Creativity," which runs through February of next year at the Palau Robert in Barcelona and will then travel to London, New York City, and possibly Beijing.
"Our most important work now," he says, "is La Bullipedia." This is his proposed online gastronomic encyclopedia (not to be confused with Bullypedia.com, a site devoted to bull terriers), a resource of "thousands and thousands of pages" aimed at professionals and food lovers alike. Ferran walks me over to a shelf on which sits a DVD about the origins of humankind. "Bullipedia will tell the story of cuisine from this," he says, gesturing to the cover illustration of cavemen hunched over a fire, "to elBulli, but the most important part will be from 1965 [the approximate birthdate of the nouvelle cuisine in France and a milestone for Ferran] until now. The plan is to make nothing less than a complete record of modern cooking. Of course, we won't have every recipe. We don't need to do a terrine de foie gras with mango and a terrine de foie gras with peach — just the basic recipe for the foie gras with fruit."
A work table back in the kitchen, which I had last seen covered with vegetables destined for a Taller version of the "family meal," back before elBulli had closed, was now chockablock with printouts of sample Bullipedia pages, showing the entry for Espárragos Blancos — white asparagus. There were entries on its botany, history, appearance, and flavor characteristics, and instructions for its basic preparation. "Then we will add all the elBulli recipes that have ever used white asparagus, then all the other Spanish and French recipes from 1965 onwards. We will do this with everything. Earlier recipes, Escoffier and so on, will come later. In the future, we will include other cuisines, Mexican, Italian, Chinese… Bullipedia is the fruit of the Foundation, the work of the Foundation."
And the Foundation itself? Construction on new buildings that will surround the old elBulli at Cala Montjoi, designed by avant-garde Catalan architect Enric Ruiz-Geli, will begin either this September or in March of 2013, says Ferran. "We are awaiting permits from the city of Roses," he explains, adding, "A lot of the work is being done beforehand, so it will go fast." He and his crew will start working at the site in March of 2014, and the first season will run from November through June of the following year. "The idea is to have eight-month sessions," he says, "and then have four months off to clean out our heads." And, no, he still hasn't crystallized his ideas for serving food at Cala Montjoi, though he repeats, as he has always said, that there will certainly be food served, at least part of the time, at least to somebody.
Ferran has always said that he has to keep making food, because "I am a cook." Now he tells me, "People say, 'Ferran, it's a shame, you never cook anymore.' It's true that I have done very little cooking in public since the restaurant closed. But…" — he taps his head — "I cook in here. I cook intellectually."
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