My conversation with Ferran Adria, the world’s greatest chef

Ferran Adria has been called the world’s greatest chef. He is certainly one of the most creative. This episode shares the insights on creativity, inspiration and more I learned from my visit to elBulli Taller and my conversation with Ferran Adria, the world’s greatest living chef.

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Show notes:

Where I find inspiration

– I’ve talked before about how I seek out inspiration and advice from some of the world’s greatest chefs. I find that inspiration not just in the food they create but their creative process, running their teams and building their culture.
– Today we are going to talk about a Ferran Adria who is widely recognized as the worlds greatest living chef.
– In 2012 I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Barcelona and spent the day talking with Ferran in his workshop. Today we are going to talk about some of the things I learned talking with Ferran about his restaurant, creative style and his team

About Ferran and elBulli

– Gourmet magazine referred to Adria  as “the Salvador Dali­ of the kitchen” and his restaurant ElBulli was one of the single most influential restaurants in history.
– In the late 1980’s, Adria  began performing cooking experiments which would forever change El Bulli’s place in culinary history. Adria’s experiments are often associated with Molecular Gastronomy, the application of science to culinary practices and cooking phenomena. His creations are designed to surprise and enchant his guests but the importance of taste is always the ultimate goal.
– elBulli was only open for about six months of the year, from mid-June to mid-December. elBulli had 3 Michelin stars and was one of the best restaurants in the world.
– It received first place in the Restaurant Top 50 in 2002. Again in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, 4 years straight and a record 5 times overall.
– But Camelot couldn’t last – they had to invest hundreds of thousands of Euros per season to keep it open. In 2010, Ferran announced that elBulli would close the next season.

About elBulli Taller

– Taller means workshop in Spanish
– Located steps aways from the Boqueria market in Barcelona in a nondescript building
– The space was developed for experimentation, theory development and menu planning
– If you want to find our more about Ferran I can recommend a TV show and a movie – ‘Decoding Ferran Adria’ with Anthony Bourdain and ElBulli: Cooking in progress documentary

The visit

– Ferran walked through the space explaining everything
– Over the course of the conversation and my endless questions, I found that some interesting insights emerged.

Moving forward by looking back

– At the end of every season at elBulli, Ferran made the entire creative team go through all the work they did over the past six months to see what was successful, what failed and what they need to work on.
– Most creative people do not like to look back like this and would rather move on to their next idea. Reviewing your work like this is critical so you can learn from it and that it will help you grow as a creative thinker faster than just looking forward.
– I’ve never worked in a studio where this was done with any regularity. Only seemed to happen after an assignment had gone very badly and management wanted to be sure I didn’t happen again.
– I know I am guilty of it because so often when I look back I at my work I only see the short coming and the mistakes and I never take a more holistic view of it.

Creativity isn’t copying

– This was a saying that Ferran got from his mentor and is the simple saying he uses as the standard for all the work at elBulli.
– We all have the tendency to fall back into past achievements and use things that we know because its safe and you don’t have to risk anything.
– Going away from what you know is scarier because you have to risk a lot more.
– Build a studio where risk, failure and sometimes even fighting are actually encouraged.
– If everyone is taking risks it makes it easier for an individual to put themselves out there and break through into something new.

Obsess over every detail

– There is no such thing as an unimportant detail
– The upstairs of the Taller is filled with the failed recipes, service ware and experiments

Great teams are ‘we’

– Ferran is always very clear to give credit to his team for the work that they created and that no great creative endeavor is ever the work of just one man.

Fail constantly

– This is something I have known and preached for a long time but it was good to hear it from Ferran that it is a key part of his process as well.
– Most people don’t want to fail, they view it as a huge negative, they don’t want to admit they had an idea that didn’t work but it is essential to the creative process.
– We see an entire new generation where creativity is on the decline for the first time in generations and I think it is because they are so obsessed with getting to the write answer and not understand that creativity is a process and not just an answer.
– The key is that when you fail you have to be able to look at your process to see what you did wrong and then improve upon it the next time.
– In this way, failing creates a cycle where you can constantly try to improve your work, your process and yourself with a fearlessness that lets you really try new and far-reaching ideas.
– Fail faster

Mentioned in this episode:


Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations
“Decoding Ferran Adria”

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