In a simmering interview between Ferran Adria and the curator of a new exhibition dedicated to his thousands of culinary drawings, the avant garde chef reveals his plans for the elBulli Foundation and the online BulliPedia.
There is more to the genius of Spanish chef Ferran Adrià than just his signature avant garde cuisine. Because behind the inventive dishes of El Bulli – he was the first to incorporate tapas, spoons, skewers jellies and savoury ice cream – there is an entire philosophy that Adrià dedicated half of each year to researching while the restaurant was in operation (El Bulli closed in 2011 and will reopen next year as a foundation). These groundbreaking ideas in gastronomy were carefully documented in notebooks – in the form of recipes, lists and thousands of conceptual drawings. It is these remarkable sketches that are the focus of yet another exhibition dedicated to the Willy Wonka-style chef. ‘Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity’ at The Drawing Center, New York, explores the chef’s abstract plate drawings, organizational charts, menus, mood boards and more. What is apparent is that Adrià’s thoughts weren’t limited to just gastronomy and were just one dish on a menu of big ideas.
We showcase these extraordinary images alongside photographs of some of El Bulli’s most cutting edge dishes (taken from ‘Ferran Adrià: The Art of Food’, which took place at London’s Somerset House in 2013) and hear from Adrià himself in a candid interview about creativity.
Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity
January 25 – February 28 at The Drawing Center, New York
Brett Littman, Curator of ‘Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity’: What does creativity mean to you?
Ferran Adrià: For me, creativity is not a job; it’s a way of understanding life. I have used cooking as a language to develop that creativity and also to have a dialogue with other disciplines like design, science, art, and architecture. To get up every morning not knowing what is going
to happen during the day is what inspires me to continue creating.
Why has creativity been so central to your thinking?
In 1987 I decided that reproducing the same dish again and again
wouldn’t be the driving force behind my career. I wanted to create new
dishes. Logically speaking, creativity in cooking is something that has
to be developed in a restaurant. This is what we did at elBulli. On the
one hand, there was the creative process, which evolved over time. On
the other hand, there was the subsequent reproduction of our creations.
To make an analogy, the first part (the creative process) would be the
composition of a piece of music. The second part (reproduction) would be
equivalent to the interpretation of this work by an orchestra.
How do you balance all of that rationality
with the chaos that usually accompanies unbridled creativity?
I love chaos and anarchy, but in order to be efficient and effective it is
essential to have order. This is our philosophy when we are in the creative
process: anarchy only works in a framework of order.
The investigation, that is to say, our research about developments
throughout history was vital in this process for us, otherwise it would
happen as it has many times—we could have copied things that already
existed. In our case, research was more and more bound together with
Do you think that creativity is valued in society today?
Without a doubt. But you have to keep in mind that this process dates
back some 40,000 years, that is to say, when the human mind was sufficiently
intelligent to create. All human evolution is based on creativity,
which is why it’s important not to magnify this as if it were something
new. Creativity has always existed. The difference is that we’re much
more intelligent now, there are many more of us, and we can rely on
many more tools.
What do you tell students about creativity? Do you think everyone
can be “creative”?
The most important thing, not only for students but for anyone, is not to
give creativity excessive importance. When we hear the word creativity
associated with the word genius, we can be suspicious. There are many
people that can develop work without being creative that are marvelous,
and others who dedicate themselves to creativity but we are not better
because of it. The most important thing is the human perspective, one’s
personality, and the proximity to the creative act. If one treats creativity
as something normal, without believing it to be something divine, it will
be much easier for this creativity to be long-lasting. Having said that,
there are always creatives who are very talented, but leave a lot to be
desired on a human level.
One of the most interesting aspects of elBulli, from an art perspective,
is that you, Alberto, Oriol, and Marc were all able to use visualization
techniques (drawings, sketches, notes, charts, photography) to
communicate in the kitchen and Taller (workshop). How did the
elBulli team learn to express themselves in visual terms?
Alberto started to create together in 1987; Oriol joined us in 1996.
The three of us worked together for fifteen years. When we were
immersed in our creative sessions, such as can be seen in the film elBulli,
Cooking in Progress (2011), just a glance between us was sufficient
to understand each other. We used the drawings as a record, like the
minutes of a meeting, of everything we were doing. This also gave form
and order to what we created.
This was the orderly and non-anarchic part of the creative process.
Although we started using computers later, there was always an initial
phase in which we used notes. We could term this our visual alphabet
and drawings were used to accompany these notes.
You have been developing BulliPedia in collaboration with
students at Barcelona University and chefs around the world. What
is BulliPedia and how do you think it will be used to further innovations
Bullipedia is one of our most ambitious projects. The initial idea was
to create a thematic encyclopedia of elBulli, taking advantage of all
the information we had in the General Catalogue. In fact, in the press
release of January 2010 in which we announced the transformation
of elBulli, a decision to create an encyclopedia of techno-emotional
cuisine had already been undertaken.
In order to carry out this project, we started to thematically produce
work on the evolutionary analysis of the culinary families. But in
February of 2012 we realized that in order to do the evolutionary
analysis correctly we would need information that preceded elBulli.
At that moment we decided that Bullipedia would not only be about
elBulli, rather we would broaden the scope of the project to include all
western culinary arts.
This is how the project Bullipedia was born. It is intended as a professional
tool based on a codification of a creative discipline. The objectives
of Bullipedia are:
1. Organize all culinary knowledge in a clear, orderly, and concise form.
2. Create an Internet tool that allows access, sorting, use, and
exchange of all this knowledge. The idea was inspired by
search engines like Google and Yahoo and Internet encyclopedias —
Wikipedia is the perfect expression of this.
3. Propose a model that can also be incorporated by other disciplines.
Bullipedia will serve as a way of informing oneself in a quick and
reliable manner, to accumulate knowledge, and to help in the process
of creation. However, we are sketching out other uses, for example,
how this knowledge can be used in the field of education. In effect,
Bullipedia can be a model of how to organize knowledge and teach
it in an educational setting.
Ferran, in your career, you have been very open to learning from
and instigating dialogues with other disciplines. Why is sharing
knowledge important to you?
Initially, the dialogues I established in order to learn were with other
chefs and with people from the world of catering. But there was a
moment in which we opened ourselves up to other disciplines, because
otherwise we considered that it would be a very closed relationship.
These dialogues provided new paths when it came time to create: with
industrial design we opened up a whole new world related to dishes,
technology, etc. The dialogue with science allowed us to understand what
was happening at the time of cooking and understand our products from
a new perspective. Photography made us reflect on the presentation of
our dishes. Architecture made us see how the kitchen and the dining
room in a restaurant should be.
Without a doubt this is one of the most important episodes in our
trajectory—it created many interesting opportunities for us that
wouldn’t otherwise have been possible..
How will these dialogues be carried on in the new elBulli Foundation
you are creating?
Within elBulliDNA, as well as in Bullipedia or elBulli1846, we will
be in dialogue with all the creative disciplines. With the creative team
of elBulliDNA we will have a team of provocoteurs (designers, artists...).
In elBulli1846 we want a group of artists, designers, and architects to
work on how to show the history of cooking, articulating it in a way that
transforms it into a workshop. In the case of Bullipedia, experts in other
disciplines (botany, history…) will be enormously useful in pushing the
The motto of elBullifoundation is significant in this respect. It is a motto
that encourages creativity and expresses that we want to use creativity on
the inside as well as when looking outside. That is to say: while we want
to nourish other people, we also want them to nourish us.