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In photos: The magical culinary world of Albert Adria

By Frances Cha, CNN
January 7, 2014 -- Updated 1905 GMT (0305 HKT)
The younger Adria brother is known for creating many of elBulli's most iconic dishes, and is coming into his own with his four new restaurants in Barcelona. In this photo: ''El Bosque Animado" at his tapas restaurant Tickets. The younger Adria brother is known for creating many of elBulli's most iconic dishes, and is coming into his own with his four new restaurants in Barcelona. In this photo: ''El Bosque Animado" at his tapas restaurant Tickets.
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The iconic dishes of Albert Adria
Mini airbags
"Costillita de conejo con su sangre"
A whimsical take on tapas
"The Magician of the Moment"
Sea Urchin Maki
"Olivas Sfericas"
"Bizcocho Tibio de Almendra"
"Falsas Espardenyes Con Quinoa Y Sisho Morado"
"Navajas a la Parrilla Con Jengibre ajo y Limon"
Pakta
"Mollete de Papada"
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • elBulli's Albert Adria has opened four restaurants in Barcelona
  • The chef won Michelin stars for two of his new restaurants in November
  • His fifth project of the moment will be the launch of a Mexican restaurant

(CNN) -- Since the closing of what was the world's best restaurant for many years, life has been busy for Albert Adria.

Known as the not-so-secret secret weapon behind the imaginative, acclaimed elBulli on the Catalan coast in Spain, the younger Adria brother was the creator of many of the restaurant's deconstructivist dishes that haunted the ambitions of young chefs around the world.

It's difficult to overstate the influence of his work at elBulli under the leadership of his older brother Ferran.

"Picture an armada without a flagship, a solar system without a sun, and that is what high-end Spanish cuisine will look like in the absence of El Bulli," was how the New York Times mourned the 2011 closing of "the world's most influential restaurant."

Coming out of the kitchen shadows in the years since, Adria is generating buzz and critical acclaim with the whimsical bars and restaurants he has opened in Barcelona -- cocktail bar 41ºExperience, tapas bar Tickets, Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Pakta and Bodega 1900, a casual vermouth bar.

Time Magazine highlighted him as "The Magician of the Moment" in the magazine's roundup of the most influential people in the gastronomy world.

In November, he received a Michelin star for Tickets and another one for 41ºExperience.

We caught up with the starred chef in Hong Kong as he prepared for a special dinner featuring his iconic dishes at Catalunya Hong Kong.

CNN: Could you talk a little about why elBulli closed? If profitability was an issue, as it has been reported, then why were the dishes not priced higher, given the massive popularity?

Albert Adria: My brother had been there 25 years and I had been there 23 years and we came to a conclusion together that it was the best idea to leave it when it was at its top. We were getting older and working for 16 hours a day was getting unsustainable.

The problem wasn't the economic side -- that it was never an issue. The problem with this kind of restaurant is the physical and mental exhaustion. So we had to give it a break.

MORE: Spanish dominate world's best restaurants list

CNN: Your new five restaurants (he has another one in the works in addition to the four already open) are not as exhausting?

Albert Adria: It's as if I made Ferraris before, and now I make Mercedes. Quality, but different quality.

CNN: What are the price points for these new projects?

Albert Adria: Tickets are around €80 ($109) per head, 41º Experience has two concepts -- you can go there and have cocktails -- around €12 ($16) each -- and snacks, or a closed menu which is €200 ($273).

At Pakta, the price is €130 ($177) and Bodega 1900 is €40 ($55). My next venture Yaguarcan, a Mexican restaurant, will be €50($68) at the bar and €80-€90 ($109-$122) at the restaurant.

The restaurants with higher pricing have less capacity.

CNN: Are people getting fed up with designer food?

Albert Adria: No, absolutely not. It's a cycle. It became popular and a lot of these kinds of restaurants opened but there were still very few very good restaurants. The question is never which style of cuisine is in fashion or not. There are only two kinds of cuisines -- good or bad. And the good always wins. That is clear.

These days, I like to go to small but very good restaurants. Thanks to high gastronomy training -- at elBulli for example -- a lot of young cooks are ready to make unbelievable things. Those in their 20s and 30s have a technical capacity that is unbelievable.

In Spain, for example, and anywhere really, you can eat very well because of these hundreds of young chefs who have trained with the greats.

All of these young chefs have adapted to the crisis and they have started to make all of these little restaurants with a different type of kitchen but one that is very, very good.

CNN: Do people taking photos of your food ever make you angry?

Albert Adria: It's a reality that people take pictures of all the dishes. There's a good side and a bad side. Obviously, the good side is that they are promoting your dishes, the bad side is that many of the photos are very bad.

At 41º Experience for example, the element of surprise is very important but if you type 41º on the Internet, you can see all the menus, which spoils the surprise and is very bad for me. At 41º, the creativity is so important. The restaurant only seats 16, but we have 20 people working there.

CNN: Are tapas becoming too cliche?

Albert Adria: The concept of tapas is actually a rather difficult one to explain so it's difficult to export the concept to certain countries.

In China, the concept of sharing is similar so it's gone down very well, but as for whether it is cliche, it is not really. As with any type of restaurants, you just have good tapas restaurants and bad tapas restaurants. The good ones do very well. And the quality depends on the quality of the products.

The best restaurants uses the best quality products, that is clear. Even when making a pizza, it's important to use the best flour, even the water is important. You must use the best water.

The industry is ready to make a lot better products but the problem is that the people are not ready to pay extra for the better product.

MORE: Asia's 50 best restaurants

CNN: What do you think of the Michelin star ratings?

Albert Adria: Guides are always good if you are at the top.

The game has changed a lot since these paper guides started, and the information the customers are receiving changes very quickly these days.

On Tripadvisor for example, there are a thousand comments and you don't know who these people are, whether their opinions can be trusted. At the end of the day there's a lot more information these days but it's very unreliable.

There's a saying in Spain that it's better that people talk about you, even if it's bad. I don't agree with that. It should not be about a lot of information, if should be about who is giving the information, and whether it is reliable or non reliable.

Another thing, I received two Michelin stars last year, but this did not change anything at my restaurant in terms of reservations. In years past, at elBulli when we were given three Michelin stars, we became flooded with reservations. But now you don't see that and that is reference to how the world of guides has changed.

CNN: Do you ever just have a steak?

Albert Adria: Usually I don't eat much. In the morning, I make myself a good shake that has everything I need, and throughout the day I have to go try all the food from the restaurants so I don't ever sit down and eat something like a steak. All chefs have this way of life.

CNN: What is your perfect day off?

Every day is the best day of my life. I'm happy just where I am. So it's hard to think of what I would do on a day off.

With five restaurants I am so busy, so it's important to surround myself with a good group of people who make me laugh and happy every day. Otherwise I would go crazy.

CNN: Who is the best cook in your family?

Albert Adria: My mother!

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