Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Ferran Adria: The chef without a restaurant has big ideas

By Peter Bale and Juan Andres Munoz, CNN
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2324 GMT (0724 HKT)
Ferran Adria, the man who led Spain's elBulli to five "world's best restaurant" titles has a bold new venture. His elBulli Foundation will promote his "theory of everything," a model to unlock creativity in any walk of life. Ferran Adria, the man who led Spain's elBulli to five "world's best restaurant" titles has a bold new venture. His elBulli Foundation will promote his "theory of everything," a model to unlock creativity in any walk of life.
HIDE CAPTION
Cooking is not enough
Visitor center
Creativity Map
Pina coladas, elBulli-style
Polymath, control freak, philosopher
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former head chef of Spain's elBulli, is launching a new venture
  • Ferran Adria's elBulli Foundation will include a search engine of gastronomy and visitor center
  • Adria says he's come up with a "theory of everything" ... a model to unlock creativity in any walk of life
  • His "creativity map" outlines the process that takes an idea from inspiration to finished product

Barcelona (CNN) -- What does an acclaimed chef do for an encore after he's closed the best restaurant in the world?

For Ferran Adria, former head chef of Spain's elBulli, it's creating a new menu of big ideas.

Called the elBulli Foundation, Adria's new umbrella enterprise will encompass everything from an Internet search engine of gastronomy to a food laboratory to a huge visitor center.

All of this is necessary, he says, to explain his theories not just about cooking but about creativity writ large.

"Here you will eat knowledge," says the great chef of his elBulli Foundation.

More like a physicist or philosopher than a chef, Adria says he's come up with a "theory of everything" -- a model to unlock creativity in any walk of life.

MORE: The magical culinary world of elBulli's Albert Adria

Dali in the kitchen

"This is not about cooking. It's about creativity," he says, speaking through a translator while walking through the building that will house his new operation, an abandoned textile factory, in Barcelona, home to great Catalan innovators such as architect Antoni Gaudi and surrealist paint Salvador Dali .

The elBulli Foundation will spawn a research laboratory, BulliPedia (an online encyclopedia of food) and massive open online courses to teach gastronomy and creativity.

"I am a cook but no one else is thinking these things," he says.

He believes Bullipedia will become the most disruptive Internet venture since Wikipedia.

Adria tends to speak of himself as "we."

It's his way of recognizing his collaborators, some of who have gone on to create their own great restaurants.

"We have thought many times that we are crazy," he says. "If that is so then we must be changing many things."

With the passion of the self-taught, Adria speaks with his hands as much as his mouth, kneading the air as if it were pastry, pinching fingers together to make points as if adding salt.

MORE: Insider Guide: Best of Barcelona

Ferran Adria became a cook after joining the army at age 19.
Ferran Adria became a cook after joining the army at age 19.

It's all in the recipe

Any business, skill or art can be improved with a touch of elBulli magic, he suggests.

"The aim of this project is to show people they can be creative ... to be creative about any process," says Adria, waving his arms so vigorously you're glad he's not wielding a kitchen knife.

Adria, 52, is a native of Catalonia. He joined the army at 19 and became a cook.

He was hired to the kitchen staff of elBulli restaurant at 22, working in the little restaurant on the beach at Roses on the Costa Brava north of Barcelona.

Rising to head chef, he was recognized as an innovator, leading elBulli to a record five wins in the "world's best restaurant" awards.

A pioneer in molecular gastronomy, Adria liberated new tastes and developed new methods such as nitrogen-infused foams.

Despite holding three Michelin stars -- menu items included frozen whisky sour candy and tobacco-flavored blackberries -- elBulli closed in July 2011.

MORE: Noma wins top prize at San Pellegrino World's best Restaurants awards

During a two-hour tour of his enormous new space, Adria explains the creative force that drove him to lead the world's best restaurant, only to close it after 25 years.

A polymath and control freak, Adria's new kitchen of ideas features hundreds of meters of foam pinboards with ideas big and small sketched on them.

There's also a scale model of the huge visitor center he plans for the coast next to the now-closed elBulli restaurant.

Articles about Google founder Larry Page are pinned to one board. Another has diagrams of cuts of meat from a pig.

MORE: Spanish cuisine: Best food in the world right now?

Truffle ice cream

A sprawling library houses every recipe ever cooked at elBulli and an archive of food and recipes going back to the 15th century.

"In 1768 there was black truffle ice cream," says the man who created liquid olives. "If you think I do crazy things, that's even more amazing. The things that were done many years ago were so far ahead of their time."

Adria is planning what he says will be the first exhibition of its kind about the creative process, set for an October opening at Telefonica exhibition space in Madrid.

The "Investigación y del Método Científico" will be an examination of the scientific methods behind elBulli.

At the center of the exhibition is a Creativity Map, a sort of astrological chart outlining the process that takes an idea through trial and error to finished product.

"Everything is in the map," he says, explaining how the broad chart can provide the answer to almost anything.

Adria is free with his advice and major institutions around the world seek his input. He lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

MORE: Barceloneta and more of Europe's best city beaches

Those are pina coladas the way elBulli used to fix them.
Those are pina coladas the way elBulli used to fix them.

It's how he tells 'em

Some of his truisms may sound so simple as to be half-baked, but there's a driving force behind his seeming madness: deconstruct everything.

A few beauties from the Adria lexion:

"A fried egg is chemistry."

"Eating with chopsticks is more sensual so we made (elBulli) chopsticks."

"People ask me how I get my ideas ... if you go to the toilet with a magazine you are thinking."

Critics have called his food pretentious, even dangerous to consume.

But the fans of haute cuisine love him.

The big question, of course, is when is Adria going to cook again?

His answer will disappoint many.

Adria says he turned away two million potential reservations for elBulli in its final year.

He now plans to serve only 20 meals a year: 10 paid and 10 free.

Right now he's focused on solving bigger questions: "What type of information do we need about ravioli so that it becomes knowledge?"

MORE: 10 of Europe's most expensive restaurants

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
The guidebook asked staff, contributors and authors for well-known and lesser-known recommendations.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
An airport in Asia has stolen the crown from Manila's Ninoy Aquino, voted 'world's worst' three years in a row.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0543 GMT (1343 HKT)
It's time for a beef break, veal vacation, hog holiday or sinew sabbatical in a T-bone a-fide U.S. meatopolis.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
With so many awesome new attractions on the way, the next few years are going to be a roller coaster ride.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0107 GMT (0907 HKT)
Scientists are busy surveying Southeast Asia's Coral Triangle, home to 75 percent of all known coral species.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT)
Bounce Below in Wales
Bounce Below transforms an abandoned slate mine into a surreal, springy world of fear and fun,
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2316 GMT (0716 HKT)
With chopsticks or fingers? Wasabi or no? A double Michelin-starred Tokyo chef sets the record straight and shows us the sushi way.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2224 GMT (0624 HKT)
Markthal Rotterdam foodhall in the Netherlands.
It may look like a gateway across time and space crafted with alien technology, but in reality it's a fruit and vegetable market.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
Based on the votes of over 330 industry experts, the 2014 winners include bars from 27 cities in 14 countries.
October 12, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Careening down an active volcano at 95 kph on a thin board? It happens only at Cerro Negro in Nicaragua.
ADVERTISEMENT