Listening to Ferran Adrià speak to a packed house at Bazaar Meat in SLS Las Vegas on September 11, I felt as though I should be taking notes. The legendary Spanish chef was delivering a lecture entitled Creativity in the Art of Food at his first public Las Vegas appearance, presented by Spanish beer company Estrella Damm. But Adrià, who recently signed on as a spokesman for the brand, clearly wasn’t in Las Vegas to shill beer.
Speaking through an interpreter for close to two hours, he seemed intent on re-defining the way in which we as a society think of food, tackling such diverse topics as the vocabulary we use to describe food to the way major developments in human history have affected what we eat. It was pretty heady stuff, the kind of lecture I imagine he delivers when addressing students at Harvard University, which he’ll be doing again next month. But it’s just the beginning of what Adrià hopes to contribute to the study of cuisine
Adrià revolutionized the culinary world with his work at Spain’s legendary El Bulli restaurant. There he developed many of the avant-garde scientific cooking techniques that came to be known as the molecular gastronomy movement. (The chef is quick to remind me, however, that “in Spain, no one calls it that.”) There, he mentored chefs like José Andrés, who now has five Las Vegas restaurants of his own and who hosted Adrià at Bazaar Meat. El Bulli, which was only open six months a year so the chef could spend the other six developing new techniques, was named the best in the world a record five times. Then in 2011, he stopped service at El Bulli altogether.
Adrià says he was frustrated that his staff of 75 was only able to serve 50 customers a night. He wanted to reach a wider audience, millions of people over several generations. So El Bulli the restaurant has become El Bulli Foundation, possibly the most ambitious culinary educational project ever undertaken.
“The food world has not reached college [level],” Adrià says of the need for such a foundation. “The first time that it happened was with the [recent series of] classes at Harvard.”
So for the past three years, he and his team have been visiting colleges to collect and sort through scholarly materials on food and cooking. He’s lectured at Harvard, and helped create museum exhibitions around the world. In the meantime, the foundation is creating a permanent cooking exhibition at El Bulli called 1846, after the number of dishes served in the restaurant’s history. That site will also serve as a creativity center for industry professionals. And finally, the foundation is preparing to launch BulliPedia, an online repository of culinary knowledge, from recipes to the history of various cuisines.
“It’s about sharing,” Adrià says of the combined efforts to connect the entire culinary world. “Then it’s out of our hands. In 10 years time we will see [the results].”
Unfortunately, Adrià has no plans to return to the world of haute cuisine. He will be feeding people, however, at 1846. But, he insists of the planned dining facility there, “It’s not a restaurant. It’s a place you go to eat. There’s a big difference.”
Las Vegans can still get a taste of Adrià’s classic cuisine at Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan and Bazaar Meat, where his mentee Andrés still offers his old boss’ famed liquid olives.