One of the things I really wanted to understand about Ferran Adria — but didn’t have the room to explain it in tomorrow’s interview with the mad scientists behind modernist cuisine — was how the chef even began to make the transition to deconstructed dishes, foams, spherifications, dehydrated ingredients and the rest. It’s easy to forget, but when Adria first joined El Bulli in the early 1980s, the restaurant specialized in French nouvelle cuisine, itself a sort of rebellion against tradition.
But how does one make the transition from nouvelle cuisine to something that, essentially, never existed before?
“The first parts of the transition were actually very gradual,” Adria says while sitting in Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert. “It was based on a Catalan-Mediterranean cuisine and a modern conception of Catalan-Mediterranean cuisine.”
“We had like a period of two or three years in which we were quite radical about the kind of ingredients and products we used. They had to be Catalan and old Spanish,” Ferran says through an interpreter. “The principle behind that decision was that if we wanted to do something that was very different to nouvelle cuisine, we had to try and use ingredients that weren’t commonly found in nouvelle cuisine, like foie gras or scallops or so on, otherwise people would identify or relate them to nouvelle cuisine.”
“Once we had done this style, we obviously could have worked on it and done many variations, but we thought we had already done it, so it was time to sort of move on,” he continues. “We [didn’t] have a very clear conception of this. It was a very subconscious decision. We started to try and do something new, with a totally new attitude.”
“Basically,” Ferran says, “we tried to find a new way of expressing our idea of cuisine, where provocation, irony and humor had an important place in part of the meal. On a sense level, taste was important, but texture was fundamental. This new discourse gradually gets expanded, but at that time, because it was so new and so different, nobody seemed to really understand what we were doing.”
“At the same, obviously, we were still learning in the process. It wasn’t perfect. We hadn’t perfected it. We continued developing. We developed this discourse until the words become sentences, until we reached the last season of El Bulli. Over the last 20 years, we have done 1,846 different dishes.”