Seven years after El Bulli served its last meal, the pioneering chef continues to exert his influence across the globe. We caught up with Adrià about his current projects—and why retirement is unlikely.
When asked if he might ever retire—or whether people would stop roping him into projects—Ferran Adrià laughs, the idea so improbable that the "umbilical cord" connecting him to the food world could ever be broken.
"People tell me, 'You don’t cook anymore,'" Adrià said, via a translator, at the opening of Lavazza's new headquarters in Turin, Italy, where his restaurant concept with chef Federico Zanasi, Condividere, will open on June 8. "During the last five years, I’ve been involved with about 30 restaurants. Take Enigma, one of the most important existing restaurants worldwide."
Adrià's world-famous, Roses, Catalonia restaurant for which he is most known, El Bulli, served its last meal on July 30, 2011, but his projects have only amplified since: A foundation. A 35-volume-long encyclopedia. More restaurants. And then there's his vast mentorship ring—but don't call it consulting. Adrià, who is widely considered to be the godfather of molecular gastronomy, views his relationship with budding chefs as something far more precious and unusual than a client-consultant relationship. With Zanasi, for example, Adrià says his main role was not only choosing him for the project, but also helping him find his way.
"I have done it so many times," the chef said. "I know many people, and you know them as well, who ask me for support. That's what I do."
This isn't to say that Adrià has never wanted to be retired, or at least slow down. Sometimes when he says "no," he's talked out of it.
"I’ve known the Italian Lavazza family for 20 years; they’re my family. [But] when they told me they wanted to open a restaurant, I at first said, 'No, no, I’m retired,'" he says. But, per more nudging, the chef agreed, and he decided to find an Italian chef to round out the concept. Zanasi displayed the combination of traits that Adrià looks for in a collaborator: incredible talent, and a willingness to learn.
"He’s very serious, and he cooked well," Adrià says. "And he wanted me to help him. Another guy could have thought that he knew everything. The model is quite special. I’m thinking about something similar, and I have to admit it’s difficult to think of one. It’s not consulting. My role was not just choosing a chef."
Condividere, which opens June 8, will be like "an Italian version of Tickets," he says. (Tickets is his dreamy—wildly hard to get into—tapas spot in Barcelona, routinely ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world.)
Meanwhile, the chef is still busy at work on his upcoming book, volume II of Bebidas, which will be an exhaustive exploration of thesemantics, history, technical composition, and culture of drinks. The first installment, a 563-page tome published only in Spanish, was released last November. (According to Eater, two more volumes are expected this year.)
As ever, he is consumed by philosophy and knowledge; his curiosity motivates everything he does, and says, and is the reason why he'll likely never retire for good. "I cannot know everything," he said, citing his relative ignorance of Polish food as an example. "My job is to learn as much information as possible so that when I talk with someone I can understand what they’re saying."
Unprompted, he mentions the hot dog. It's the most animated he gets during our conversation.
"A hot dog in the States is very different from what a hot dog means to a Spanish person," Adrià said. "For somebody from Barcelona, a hot dog is just a sandwich. For a New Yorker, it’s a symbol of identity."
You get the sense he could go on for hours.