A cook without a restaurant? A gastronomic centre with no food? Since Spanish chef Ferran Adria shut down his famed El Bulli restaurant on the Costa Brava, he’s been moving on to bigger and better things: he seeks to engage in an experiment involving art, design, architecture, the Internet and of course eating, but in a different way.
The “impossible” textures and forms he gave to the 1,846 dishes he created for El Bulli were but a first step in that combination of art, cuisine and science being created by Adria.
Now he has an even more ambitious and complex plan up his sleeve: establish a conversation with other disciplines such as design, architecture and philosophy. He aims to innovate using food to understand the world.
Adria, now 50, is planning to establish the El Bulli Foundation, set to open its doors in Catalonia in March 2015. The project has been cooking since the El Bulli restaurant, chosen from 2006 to 2009 as the best in the world, closed in 2011.
“The slogan is ‘Feed innovation’,” Adria says in New York, where he is auctioning off El Bulli wines to raise funds for his latest project. Adria’s intention is to transform Cala Montjoi, the restaurant site in northeastern Spain, into a kind of gastronomic Silicon Valley.
One of the most influential figures in cooking over the last decade and a leader in his field, Adria travels the world, giving lectures and advice, and continues to learn while he develops his own project.
The El Bulli Foundation will be a “an experience centre” in which there will be no food consumption, at least not in the tradition concept of “eating”. It will host exhibitions and be a centre for creation, research and thought.
Adria says the centre will combine the imagination of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, the eclectic universe of US pop artist Andy Warhol, the entertainment of the Cirque du Soleil Canadian circus acrobats and the innovation of MediaLab, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology architecture and planning laboratory.
“We want it to be a fun space like the Cirque du Soleil, free-thinking like the Factory [Warhol’s studio], open to people with new ideas, a bit crazy like Dali, but also very serious and efficient like MediaLab. That is the dream, the challenge, that we have,” Adria says.
The first goal is to preserve and share the legacy of the El Bulli restaurant. “People want to see gastronomy in another way which is not eating. When you go to see a museum of the Barca football club, you don’t go there to play football.” It’s not a restaurant, he explains, because restaurants are “either opened or shut, not transformed”.
“There will be reflection on food in general,” Adria says, but it won't just be passive thinking. “It will have a creative team whose work will be to create dishes. It is not a school – it is a centre for thought. This idea is very complex, very complex, but that is what makes it brilliant. It is strange, different.”
Those who expect Adria to share his recipes with hundreds of followers, as other chefs do, will be proved wrong. What he wants to do is to reach millions with his innovative thinking: not so much fill bellies with food but minds with ideas, contributing to a sensation of happiness by stimulating far more than just the palate.
The El Bulli restaurant, because it was small and table availability was limited, was a luxury only a few could afford. Now it can be shared: “In a sense, this will be a democratisation of El Bulli,” says Adria.
The El Bulli Foundation project also includes the Bullipedia, an online encyclopaedia that will include the history of gastronomy, food, recipes and the ideas that have emerged on cooking. Everything that there is to be known about eating will be there.
“It’s a huge project,” says Adria of the Bullipedia, to be presented in July in Berlin. “This is the craziest project in 50 years. It speaks of and addresses the world of the Internet, of the evolution of Google, of Wikipedia, a professional tool that will catalogue trustworthy information so that when you navigate, you can gather knowledge that will help you create. It is going to be a network of universities, cooking schools and cooks.”
Yet another project will be something termed the elBulliDNA that will come into being in New York in 2014. Adria himself finds it difficult to describe it, but it has to do with telling the story of the origins of cooking through the Internet.
The ideas that emerge will be presented as dishes at dinner tables a couple of times a year, sponsored by companies and private citizens, raising money for charity or to finance the foundation.
El Bulli Foundation wants to reach out to people without sitting them down at a dinner table, encourage citizens to become chefs like Adria in their home kitchens and ensure that the ideas can spread to their own homes and environments.
Kitchen walls are no limitation. “We want to use cooking to reach young people, small and medium-sized companies, with this concept of innovation, but also of happiness, because in the end, cooking is happiness.
“It’s a language that everybody understands. Everybody talks about cooking. Since everybody eats, everybody will talk about it with you and that is fantastic, that is the social power of cooking.”