Colman Andrews provides a brilliant portrait of Ferran Adrià, the chef of the renowned Catalan restaurant, El Bulli in Ferran, a book that combines biography, culinary journalism, and cultural studies.
What led you to write this book now?
I first ate at El Bulli in 1985 when I was doing research for a book on Catalan cuisine. I don't have the vaguest recollection of anything I ate, and I didn't really think anymore about Ferran and El Bulli until the early '90s, when I started to hear rumors about a daring "new" restaurant in a hidden Spanish coastal town. In 1998, José Andrés, who had apprenticed with Ferran, introduced me to Ferran as a chef who was going to be very famous. Ferran and I got to know each other, and I had lunch at El Bulli and realized what an interesting story Ferran, his restaurant, and his clearly innovative ways of cooking would make. I thought that his story would have appeal beyond those interested only in food in the same way that people are interested in musicians or athletes as figures who shape culture more broadly.
How would you describe Ferran's techniques and why he has become, as you say, "the man who reinvented food."
Ferran loves very traditional and simple food, but what he does as a chef—a creator, really—is to identify and emphasize the character of every ingredient of each dish while still keeping the character of the whole. He's much like a kid who's given a chemistry set, but who, instead of following the formulas that come with the set, asks, "I wonder what happens when you combine this ingredient with that one?" He has a way of illuminating the original dishes and putting them in new perspectives, opening up new possibilities for cooking and food preparation with traditional ingredients.
Ferran says that the cuisine of El Bulli is opera. Can you elaborate?
A meal at El Bulli is not just about an individual dish; the progression of the dishes is highly important, and the nature of the food is meant to surprise or delight you. The entire experience of dining at El Bulli is very orchestrated. When you're being served a 35-course meal, the pacing has to be just right. So the service works on a different level at El Bulli; it is friendly, but it is very deliberate. He also involves his customers in the creative process, often sending out dishes that are designed to be finished in the dining room by the diners themselves.
How has Ferran influenced the world of food?
Ferran has innovatively worked with techniques such as caramelization, liquification, "spherification," and the production of food-based "foams" and "airs" to alter the basic characteristics of food's forms and flavors. He has blurred the line between sweet and savory, appetizer and main course, main course and dessert, introduced new terminology to describe stages of a meal, and developed a whole "cold cuisine" based on frozen savory preparations.