Design Indaba 09 || Day 2 || Ferran Adria

One of the great stars of Design Indaba this year was Ferran Adria, the Spanish chef.


Ferran Adria has been called the “Picasso of cooking” and “the greatest chef in the world “.  His restaurant, El Bulli receives  over a million reservations a year of which  only eight thousand get a table.


Ferran Adria spoke to us through an interpreter.  Contrary to what one might think of a chef who is famed for his “molecular cuisine” and uses liquid nitrogen in his cooking, he repeatedly emphasized his respect for the past.

There are two Ferrans, he explained.  The cook, and the one who eats.  To demonstrate the difference in approach, he drank a sip of water.

“You do this every day”.

But the cook, says Ferran, notices that the water has no colour, and little smell.  He tests the taste, and the temperature and the texture.  This awareness  is the basis for Ferran’s style of cooking.

Cooking is an unique art form, in which the audience makes the product a part of their bodies.  The products are alive.  Unlike other forms of design, there are no intermediaries between the audience and the creator.  Ferran Adria emphasized the vulnerability of the chef’s work to their audience. ” If you don’t eat it properly, you destroy it”.

He showed us a number of strange and bizarre ways that he prepares food, for example tomato shells created from juice frozen inside balloons and injected with foam amongst other innovations.

I found a number of blogs by people who had attended El Bulli and written about their experiences.  You can read one of these here.

The images below are from one of these accounts.

Ferran Adria explained some of his purpose in the strange food he creates.  Sometimes they are jokes that explore our preconceived notions of the way things look should determine their taste.  He also enjoys reversing the usual relationship between savoury and sweet food as can be seen in these “oreo cookies” that are made from salty olive dough:


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This restaurant is always exploring new methods of cooking which makes it possible to create unexpected taste and textural combinations such as this quail egg with its shell of caramel.  To quote from the review:

“As we placed the spoons into our mouths the crunchy outer shell cracked and the warm egg yolk mixed with the sweet caramel of the shell and the salt crystals.”


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He strives to make you aware of the food in ways which are not necessarily pleasant .  This liquefied truffle is an exploration of the importance of substance and texture.


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The container is always important in setting the stage for the viewers taste experience.  Here we have a sweet melon and passion fruit desert presented as caviare:


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But according to the principles listed on the Elbulli site, the point is not to create shocking gimmicks, but to explore the boundaries of what is good:


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According to Ferran Adria, eating is deeply cultural, and cuisine is a truly universal language.

To quote from the page on the principles of El Bulli:

“All products have the same gastronomic value, regardless of their price.”

“Although the characteristics of the products may be modified (temperature, texture, shape, etc.), the aim is always to preserve the purity of their original flavour.”

“The information given off by a dish is enjoyed through the senses; it is also enjoyed and interpreted by reflection.”

“Taste is not the only sense that can be stimulated: touch can also be played with (contrasts of temperatures and textures), as well as smell, sight (colours, shapes, trompe d’oeil, etc.), whereby the five senses become one of the main points of reference in the creative cooking process.”

“Decontextualisation, irony, spectacle, performance are completely legitimate, as long as they are not superficial but respond to, or are closely bound up with, a process of gastronomic reflection.”

“Knowledge and/or collaboration with experts from different fields (gastronomic culture, history, industrial design, etc.,) is essential for progress in cooking.”

Another theme in Ferran Adria’s talk was the nature of creativity.

“You cannot be creative if you are not honest” and “creativity is not to copy, it is not a job, it is a passion.  And passion is the most important thing”.

Ferran Adria has been a source of inspiration for many chefs.  You can read a blog by one of them here,  as well as an New York Times  article comparing the new American restaurants with El Bulli.

Ferran Adria left us with these thoughts:

“Nothing is impossible

Help Young People

Dont be scared.”

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