Mention the surname Adrià to any food lover and they will immediately think of el Bulli, the iconic restaurant of Ferran Adrià near the town of Roses, in Catalonia, Spain. In that same restaurant, his brother Albert was working magic in the pastry section. Together they helped put Spanish cuisine on the world gastronomy map creating what is probably the most famous restaurant in the world. At its peak, it had 400 requests for every table in the restaurant which opened for only six months per year.
They shocked the culinary world when they decided to close the restaurant in 2011 but as Albert says, “we had to kill the monster before it killed us”.
That restaurant, which defined molecular gastronomy and influenced most of the leading chefs in the world today closed its doors in 2011 and was running at a loss each year.
The roles today have changed. Albert, is the face of el Barri, their restaurant empire in Barcelona that has opened a number of highly successful including the restaurant that is most well known among them, Tickets.
At Tickets, you can still try some of the magical dishes that made el Bulli famous. In the process, they have also democratised the concept of ‘fine dining’. Here you can try the iconic ‘spherical olives’ of el Bulli fame for 3 euros.
el Barri today may not be as well known as el Bulli but that may be set to change with the opening of the most ambitious project by the Adrià brothers yet, a restaurant called Enigma which should be a dignified successor to el Bulli.
The much awaited restaurant in Barcelona is said to be the closest that the brothers have created to el Bulli. “Enigma is the best name for a restaurant. It is an enigma for me, for the workers and for our clients. It will not replicate el Bulli because the restaurant was a different concept for a different time. It will be different but it will go in the same direction without copying el Bulli,” Albert Adrià told Food and Wine Gazette in an interview.
The challenge for Enigma is to also make it profitable like the rest of the restaurants. Because ultimately, what the Adrià brothers seem to be doing today is just as revolutionary as what they have done with el Bulli many years back. The restaurant will be big, at around 700 metres squared and will serve only 24 guests in the restaurant though it will also have other spaces.
The company which runs restaurants in Barcelona including Tickets, Pakta, Hoja Santo, Bodega 1900 and Nino Viejo as well as Heart in Ibiza has invested over 3.2 million in the new restaurant. “Our aim is to also make money with this restaurant. At the time when we were creating the concept, Ferran did not believe it was possible because of the investment involved but I believe it can be done. Now, having seen how much we have invested, maybe Ferran was right,” he says.
Albert hopes that the restaurant Enigma will ease the pressure on Tickets, their tapas bar which has been extremely successful to the extent that booking is extremely difficult and today finds itself in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
“We never opened Tickets with the intention of creating such a pressure on the brand. It is an effort to keep it going. It is a success but it was not created with this purpose in mind. What we want with Enigma is for eating to still be fun but it will be completely different to Tickets, not only in terms of atmosphere and ambiance but also in price.”
Having created a solid base of restaurants, Albert wants to attempt a new take on fine dining. He is today the main face of the Adrià brothers, more visible than his brother Ferran who continues to research and create, albeit not in a restaurant kitchen.
Although he is today managing the el Barri business, Albert still is very much at home in the restaurant kitchens cooking with his teams. You can also find him cooking in different chef congresses (this interview was carried out during Chef Sache in Cologne) and recently he was in Brussels at the Bon Bon Restaurant for the Brussels Headquarters Gelinaz! event which he loved.
Ferran was known for deconstructing everything from the green olive to the Spanish tortilla. “Ferran still have the same influence he had before. He still has an active part in the business. We have changed the role but the game is the same. Ferran never stopped thinking about creating new ideas,” Albert told Food and Wine Gazette.
“I also want to be different, to do things and change things. If you don’t move forward, you are in the wrong world. What I want to do is not only reinvent myself but also reinvent the people around me.”
What they have created in Barcelona is a completely different vision of el Bulli and one which is more approachable, easier for clients to access and also which ultimately makes business sense. “We wanted to create like a park of attractions in one neighbourhood offering different culinary styles.”
For this he has his team to thank. Although he is mostly at Tickets, he is changing restaurant every week and cooking with each team on a weekly basis.
At Tickets, which has been open since 2011, the Adria brothers play with tradition and modernity and show that these can co-exist even in a traditional tapas bar. “Ultimately, the hallmark of great cuisine is great produce. You can have different styles in the kitchen and use the latest technology but the foundation remains the produce,” Albert says.
Albert reflects on the changes that took place in the gastronomy world since el Bulli closed. “The financial crisis changed everything in gastronomy and the way we look at gastronomy. Today, there cannot be many restaurants at the top end. The rest have no alternative but to adapt to the clients. Each and every one of us needs to find ways to create restaurant concepts that work and that enable clients to experience our cuisine. We need to be dynamic, quick and flexible. Spanish people nowadays are in a crisis and they cannot afford to stay 2 and a half hours in a restaurant,” he said.
The Spanish chef knows that to be creative today you need money. “At el Bulli, we were really at the forefront of creativity. But at the time, we were lucky because we had the money. We were also investing all the money that we earned back into el Bulli. But Ferran had a vision and he managed to create the largest brand that Spain has ever had. He was very intelligent and had the foresight to create such a recognisable brand.”
Albert believes that today, the two can open more restaurants not only in Spain but also outside their country. “I don’t think it would be possible to open Tickets in another country but we could replicate Pakta in places such as Dubai or London because it is the most cosmopolitan of the restaurants we have.”
The concept of creating a number of restaurants in a rundown area of Barcelona has really benefitted the business and the area, Albert says. “There are synergies in terms of the produce we buy, our staff and also customers. If people want to visit Tickets but it is fully booked, we tell them that we have other restaurants that they can try and many go to these other restaurants. Some may visit different restaurants over a span of a few days.”
The Spanish chef says that innovation comes mainly from his team. “I co-ordinate the work but it’s the chefs who are cooking on a daily basis in the restaurants. When the chefs believe in themselves it is good for me, it is good for the company and it is also good for the chefs themselves. It is important that the chefs working for us feel good and confident,” he says.
It has now been 5 years since el Bulli closed but Albert is fully of energy and wanting to continue making an impact. “My dream for the next five years is to continue to open more and more restaurants. We want to complete our el Barri idea though it is very expensive. We also want to open restaurants outside Spain though we do not want to work with big companies. I do not like to work for someone else,” he said,
Albert will be opening a restaurant soon in the Dominican Republic. We will be cooking Paella and Spanish rice at a beach club. “But this is easy to do and not as expensive as London.”
He would still like to do something in London having had experience with a pop-up restaurant. “We have our project Heart in Ibiza together with Cirque du Soleil which is open for six months and we could send our staff to London to gain experience there. I love the city but it is hard for the family and me. I have a 10 year old son and living in London would be difficult,” Albert says. “It is not an easy city to raise children.”
Despite the brand that they have created Albert acknowledges that guides such as Michelin or the World’s 50 Best restaurants are still very important. “There are many journalists who think that a restaurant is only decent if it has stars or is in a list. The reality shows that these are very very important Albert said.”
The culinary world is eagerly awaiting the opening of Enigma. Albert told Food and Wine Gazette that the opening has now slipped to January though they hope to start serving their first guests in December.
Could Enigma be el Bulli 2.0? It is still hard to tell but judging by what Albert and his brother have done so far, we are sure that we will be hearing a lot about their new restaurant in the coming months.
Albert Adria takes a quiet moment during the hectic Gelinaz! Brussels Headquarters event at Bon Bon