In the season finale of “Chef’s Table,” chef Albert Adrià considers the restaurant that made him famous. How his culinary adventures began in the El Bulli kitchen with an invitation from his brother, Ferran. His persistence for master status at the pastry table, the culinary innovations that lead to gastronomic achievements. He mulls over the machine that paved the way to the awards, the grinding of gears and the tireless hours. The forever shadow of his brother. The episode, which aired earlier this fall, follows the path of a man dedicated to the declaration of his own victories after years behind the curtain.
“Hey, I have a name, too. I’ve earned the right to be Albert Adrià,” he concludes. “So, I’m working on being remembered.”
While El Bulli closed in mid-2011, Adrià has determinedly emerged from the shadows. His restaurant group, El Barri, embarked on an aggressive plan of growth, building six properties just in Barcelona alone, with London, Ibiza, and New York City also on the project list. Pegged closely together around the city’s Plaça d’Espanya, the six eateries – Pakta, Tickets, Bodega 1900, Hoja Santa, Enigma, and Nino Viejo – each feature their own cuisine, with the kitchens creating a combined 450 new dishes every year. “A gastronomic amusement park with six differentiated concepts in the same neighborhood,” he explains on his website. Recognized internationally as the World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2015, Adrià is already seeing the fruits of his labor, with a World’s Best Restaurant nod for Tickets in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Tapas for A Hundred
From the front of the house on a recent Portland weeknight, Meethechef founder Tania Cidoncha expressed her admiration for Adrià, along with her desire to share his story with the Pacific Northwest. Combining Spanish food, art, and culture, the evening included a live painting demo with Pepe Carretero, music from Seffarine, and a walk-around tasting from some of the city’s best restaurants. Urdaneta, Ataula, Bar Casa Vale, Perlot, J. Molina, Woven Wineworks, Magna Kusina, Tournant, and A Yen for Chocolate were all in attendance with small plates and pours.
Confident and friendly, Adrià joined Ciconcha, his shirt emblazoned with the Cakes & Bubbles logo, his recent London endeavor. Moving to centerstage, he discussed the operations and undertaking of such a culinary amusement park. With a brief slideshow, he shared images of common kitchen ingredients, reviewing how each of his restaurant concepts can utilize a single ingredient, tailoring to fit the cuisine – white asparagus, tomato, sea urchin, artichoke – all the while, bringing new ideas to the plate.
“Because the restaurants are so close together, I can use different parts for different restaurants,” he shared. “Everything coming from a common base.”
“In Asia, they eat the outside of the sea cucumber. In Spain, we eat the inside. The skin, the exterior, we actually toss it away. That shows how selfish we are – one part of the world, we eat one part, the other part of the world, we throw it away.”
One part of the octopus, we’ll use in our Mexican concept. Another part is used in the Peruvian concept. In Spain, we actually throw away the heads. Forty percent of the octopus is the head. There’s actually an octopus shortage. We should really be trying to taking advantage of all the resources from the sea that we can.
Bad cooking comes from bad chefs
As the chef moved through his kitchen prep, creating dishes with sea urchin and avocado alongside zucchini and shoyu broth, he emphasized ingredient knowledge. Familiarity in the difference between a Valencia orange and a Florida orange. Examining the taste and scent of an ingredient before you begin to cook.
“Good cooking begins with really great products, raw material. If I don’t have a good product, I can’t make a good dish. I don’t know a good plate that doesn’t have great product. Everything that looks good and smells good is good.”
“Creativity really comes from a curiosity – asking a lot of questions about everything,” Albert Adrià said, finishing his last plate of the night. “When I cook for people, I want them to go home and reflect.”
Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender