elBulli is a legendary three-star restaurant that revolutionized the world's culinary scene from Catalonia, Spain. The restaurant has been ranked as The World's Best Restaurant five times, and for a time, it was dubbed "the world's most unbookable restaurant." Their creative dishes were praised as art. Chef Albert Adrià was the visionary behind these dishes with his innovative ideas and culinary techniques he acquired as a pastry chef. For example, the method of espuma, which changes ingredients into foams using nitrous oxide gas, is a technique that is said to have originated at elBulli. By making full use of molecular gastronomy, which analyzes ingredients at the molecular level and approaches them scientifically, Albert continually amazed the world from the kitchen of elBulli with his artistic dishes that opened up new possibilities of food. After the restaurant closed in 2011 at the height of its popularity, he continued to reign as the world's top chef while shifting his focus on opening a new category of restaurants by starting the elBarri Group.
Albert opened six restaurants and a tapas bar within the same neighborhood of Barcelona with various concepts, from high-end restaurants to casual and playful scenes, like a culinary "amusement park." Among them is Enigma, which is extremely difficult to make reservations—only accepting 30 customers a day with 40 staff members. Customers spend three or four hours moving through different stations within the restaurant and experience a full-service course of 40 to 45 dishes. The extraordinary dining experience that revolves around dishes inspired by the world's cuisines and uses the entire restaurant space borrows from an essence that originated at elBulli. Still, foodies around the world say this is a further evolution. Albert was 15 years old when he was invited to elBulli, where his brother worked at the time. It was then that he awakened to the joy of cooking by making desserts. Though he is a star chef highly respected in the food town of Barcelona, where everyone knows Albert Adrià's name, his curiosity and desire to explore food remain pure. Fueled by a genuine desire to make people happy with his dishes, he continues to challenge the limits of cooking that surprise, delight, and entertain guests.
"I started working in the kitchen of El Bulli when I was 15 years old. When I told my father that I didn't want to go on to higher education because I didn't particularly like studying, he suggested I work at El Bulli, where my brother Ferran worked. The first two years at the restaurant was a training period. I learned appetizers, fish, meat, and course dishes, but when the training was about to end with dessert, I strongly felt that this was my favorite station. I was excited about the creative freedom and being able to express it like 3D art on a plate. At the time, my brother was the head chef at the age of 23, and it turned out to be an exquisite balance with my brother being in charge of main dishes and me being in charge of dessert. In 1998, I applied dessert techniques into other areas of cooking to foster creativity based on El Bulli's concept that "creation does not come from imitation." I called this challenge warm jelly. Agar, a Japanese ingredient, melts at a temperature of 85ºC (185ºF) and can be used for warm dishes. As a result, temperature and texture can be changed using various thickeners. That year was a turning point for the culinary world.
New cooking tools were developed one after another, allowing science to be added to cooking. It was also the year that El Bulli received three Michelin stars. Nevertheless, in 2011, the restaurant, which attracted guests from all over the world, closed its doors which surprised everyone. Later, my brother, Ferran, shifted his attention to establishing a food research institute, elBullifoundation, and exploring molecular gastronomy. The same year, I started working on opening a restaurant again. However, what all our customers expected was a 'recreation of El Bulli.' I was aware some people were discouraged by the difference in direction, but despite this, I kept my focus and successfully opened up my restaurants. I feel so happy and rewarded from the bottom of my heart now. Of course, we continue to incorporate El Bulli's culinary techniques into our dishes, but that's not our motivation. The main purpose of our restaurants is to make guests happy through our food."
Ingredients: Lobster, aged beef fat, Guerande salt, Cambodian Black Pepper
The dish looks like a lobster, but it's full of beef flavor when you put it in your mouth. Albert's desire to make guests feel surprised, joy, and excitement is embodied in this dish. Boiled lobster is coated with 60-day aged beef fat, stored in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then roasted over charcoal.
Ingredients: Elderflower heads, mineral water, white rice, koji
This welcome drink serves an important role as a palette cleanser before dinner service. Neutral in flavor, the drink is not only refreshing but stimulates taste buds, sharpening guests' senses of taste.
Inspired by the Vermicular Musui–Kamado and paying respect to Japan, this fermented drink is made from rice, koji, and tea extracted from seasonal flowers. Albert makes the best use of the Musui–Kamado, not only with its rice cooking function but also with its precision temperature control for fermentation.
Currently, the elBarri Group has six restaurants. The concept is different for each restaurant. For example, Enigma's labyrinthine space showcases the concept of "surprise." Like a ticket booth of a movie theater at the entrance, Tickets is designed to "entertain;" Bodega 1900 focuses on " tradition." The menu is handled by a creative team of four chefs, including myself, and we develop menus for all of our restaurants in our test kitchen. We don't look around for rare, out-of-season ingredients for a menu. Instead, we lean towards using seasonal ingredients that are the most delicious and easy to source in the given season, and we create a menu from there. For example, when bonito is in season, we think about a number of bonito dishes while changing which parts of the fish to use for each restaurant
There is a season for each kind of vegetable, herb, bean, mushroom, etc., in which that particular ingredient tastes the best. We develop new ideas by looking at seasonal ingredient cards that we post on the wall of our test kitchen like a calendar. Of course, markets are a treasure trove of ideas. A menu utilizing seasonal ingredients is the most natural without creating waste, and guests will be pleased. This concept is a departure from my El Bulli days when I was focusing on pursuing innovative cuisine. The al-Parallel district, where the restaurants are located, is not the best neighborhood in Barcelona, but rather a deserted district with a dubious image. However, it was easier for me to open up a restaurant in that district because the rent was relatively cheap. When we first opened a small tapas bar here, many customers came every day, even though it was not in a popular area. It felt much more rewarding to witness the area being revitalized by one small tapas bar than being successful in a popular spot.
The name elBarri means "neighborhood," and we have six restaurants within walking range in this area. This closeness is crucial because I visit each restaurant twice a day, the first time before opening, and the second time during business hours. There is a lot of staff, but we are working in a very open atmosphere, like sharing information such as the reservation status of each restaurant with everyone. My philosophy and mission are to provide happiness through food. And to achieve it, I must be happy. If one is tired from being swallowed by busyness, you will not perform the duty. This applies to each staff member. We try to create an environment where everyone can always work in a happy state, such as closing during daytime hours and increasing only at night. It is important to make it a restaurant with a soul. Besides, inspiration is important in this job. When the five senses are opened up, no matter what you see or touch, it will lead to new culinary ideas. I feel like I have a little trouble resting my head and not thinking about new ideas (laughs). No matter how long I've been working in cooking, I think the most recently made dish has to be my best. Not only the taste but also the impact should be the best. I don't have the youth to work as hard as I did in elBulli, but as I get older, I have more experience and technique now. I want my last creation to be the best. Always facing your work with that thought will help you to have higher aspirations.
"As a chef, having a new cooking tool in the kitchen is genuinely fun. Technology expands cooking potentials, and my definition of an excellent kitchen tool is something that allows us to not only cook easier but also think outside the box. My impression of Vermicular cookware is that it's surprisingly precise, yet it can be used in a wide range of cooking. For us, the Musui–Kamado is best utilized when cooking dishes that can be impacted by even 1ºC variance because of the precision temperature control function. It's made with such precision, and yet the operation is extremely simple and intuitive. At Enigma, we serve customers fermented welcome drinks that have been made using Vermicular. Enigma serves over 40 dishes for the course, so the first drink, which isn't sweet, is intended to reset the sense of taste. The main ingredients are rice and malted rice because Vermicular is made in Japan. Also, I use herbal tea extracted from elderflower, which is only on the market for two months a year, respecting the Japanese philosophy of using seasonal ingredients.
Rice is cooked with elderflower tea, and then mixed with malted rice, and then fermented. Temperature control is vital for fermentation, so this drink makes effective use of Vermicular's functions. Even though it is a product developed for home use, the accuracy of the Vermicular and its intuitive functions are very attractive as kitchen equipment for professionals. In addition to cooking, it is also a good experimental instrument to learn how taste and texture change depending on temperature and time. I think that if there was a Vermicular in the kitchen of El Bulli, the work would have been much more efficient. Many more innovative dishes could have been born."
"Barcelona is a city of food because facing the Mediterranean Sea with plenty of sun makes the vegetables, fruit, and wine taste excellent. The soil enriches our ingredients. Most of Barcelona, as well as this district where my restaurants are located, are walkable. There are many famous works of architecture, and my recommendation is to enjoy Barcelona by walking around in the evening while feeling the different atmospheres of each area.
Japan is my favorite country that I have visited many times, especially when I first went there in 1998. I still remember the excitement. Until then, there were only two categories of food—French and Spanish—in my own country, but when I was in front of the delicacies of Japanese food and the chefs in Japan, I was ashamed of my savagery (laughs). The rich knowledge of ingredients, the awareness of inheriting the tradition of cooking, and the quality of cooking utensils such as kitchen knives made with a sense of detail and passion, are all wonderful. Enigma now has a Japanese teppanyaki-style counter, and the menu often features dishes like sashimi. In fact, we have our restaurant Pakta in elBarri, which has been designed with the motif of an izakaya, so the stimulation and influence I received from Japan are tremendous. I'm sure that it is common to the chefs around the world."