Lessons from a Master Chef

Chefs José Andrés and Ferran Adrià
September 30, 2011

In a conversation that ranged from pears to miniskirts, the world-renowned Ferran Adrià spoke to a sold-out crowd at Lisner Thursday night.

José Andrés hailed him as “one of the best creative geniuses of all time.”

Washington Post food and travel editor Joe Yonan called him “arguably the most influential chef in the world.”

But when Ferran Adrià, until recently head chef at the acclaimed Spanish restaurant El Bulli, took center stage at Lisner Auditorium, he urged people to be humble about food and cooking.

“Most people don’t know very much about cooking or cuisine,” said Mr. Adrià, who spoke through an interpreter. “It’s impossible to know all there is to know.”
After introductions by President Steven Knapp and Mr. Yonan, longtime friend and fellow Spaniard Mr. Andrés joined Mr. Adrià on stage.

“Much of who and what I am I owe to this person,” said Mr. Andrés, an award-winning chef who founded some of D.C.’s most celebrated restaurants. The two chefs’ relationship dates back 25 years to when Mr. Andrés started working at El Bulli as a teenager.

Mr. Adrià then traced the evolution of creativity in cooking and discussed his new cookbook and plans for the El Bulli Foundation.

Until the last century, he said, cooking had become more about reproducing recipes than creativity. He used pears, omelets, pastry and beef as examples of foods that can change dramatically depending on how they are prepared.

Then Mr. Adrià called for “a woman in a miniskirt.”

When joined on stage by a woman in a short dress, he talked about the founder of the miniskirt Mary Quant and how she reconceptualized what men in ancient Rome wore to create a new style copied by millions.

“The most important thing is it’s not about being the first. It’s about being the one who conceptualizes it,” Mr. Adrià said. “Practically everything is out there, but who will be the first to conceptualize it?”

The chef described his new cookbook The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià as “normal food for normal people.” The book contains dozens of recipes and meal options—including roast chicken, a potato chip omelet and coconut flan—that can be made simply at a low cost.

Mr. Adrià also talked about the transformation of El Bulli, which was considered by many critics to be among the best in the world and temporarily closed last summer. The restaurant had operated in Catalonia, Spain, since 1956. “We had reached a limit in how we could express ourselves,” he said. “We wanted to go back to uncertainty and risk taking.”

Mr. Adrià is now spearheading the El Bulli Foundation, which will redevelop the restaurant site to include archive space, a museum and an idea center. It will reopen in 2014.

“We want to stimulate the creativity of chefs around the world,” he said. “My life changed after hearing a gentleman say a very simple sentence: creativity means not copying,” he said. “It’s still one of best statements I’ve ever heard.”

“I hope I made you think a little tonight,” said Mr. Adrià.

The event, which was followed by a book signing, was presented by GW, Phaidon Press, ThinkFoodGroup, the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain and Politics and Prose. A portion of the proceeds will benefit World Central Kitchen and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.