On August 9, 2011 at 6:30pm I sat down with chef Albert Adrià for a chat at his newly opened Tickets tapas bar. I knew this interview was coming for weeks and I spent an insane amount of time researching my subject and trying to figure out what to ask him. I even enlisted the help of good friends who all happen to be dessert lovers, no coincidence there (thank you Kerrin, Andrea and Mowie). You see this was my very first official interview ever and for me to be interviewing one of the top chefs in the world was nerve-wracking! However, the minute Chef Adrià came up to shake my hand and introduce himself to me, I relaxed, sat down and had a lovely chat with one of the most fascinating men I’ve ever met.
In opening this restaurant, you wanted it to be more accessible financially, food wise, but also reservations wise…
Yes, I wanted it to be more accessible to everyone, financially and for reservations that’s why you can reserve online. The problem is a lot of people reserve then cancel, for example this week we have a lot of free spots because a lot of people cancelled. We are closing at the end of the week for holidays and re-opening mid-september and I can tell you that’s when will really get crazy since elBulli is now closed and people will storm Tickets in the hope it will be like elBulli.
Speaking of elBulli, I was in Copenhagen at a friend’s wedding on July 31 and had a little thought for elBulli even though I’ve never been there. How do you feel about a world without elBulli?
I was part of elBulli for 23 years so of course it will leave a hole but we are people who are always looking to the future and not the past and even though it was part of our history and our lives, it’s now time to move on. The pressure of the everyday, the craziness, the problems with the reservations… We are now looking forward to 2014 when it will reopen as elBullifoundation.
It must be difficult to be constantly creating and to always be so “avant-garde”
That is the problem, to always be avant-garde… this is why I created Tickets, it’s just a place to have a good time, a tapas bar.
Do you miss that level of creation?
I still create here but it’s not a level of creation in order to be number one in the world, it’s to create good food. We are still trying to define what Tickets is. People who have never been to elBulli walk in and ask us for elBulli food. We are presently in a transitional period to become the “neighbourhood’s elBulli”.
Do you have things on the menu that were at elBulli?
Not really, we have the elBulli olives of course but that’s about it. The philosophy and the technique of elBulli are used but the great difference is that here, the product is king. We like to mix tradition and modernity, traditional dishes with modern thinking.
Does the menu change often?
I am looking to implement a more permanent menu then playing around with seasonal products. The product here is king, you ask for tomatoes, you’re going to get tomatoes. Now we all need a little break to rest, create new recipes and rethink the new menu for when we come back. We have also raised some of the prices so that the average per person dining price is now 60 euros, which we think is fair for what you’re getting, about 10 to 12 tapas for 2 people. The names of the dishes on the menu are very ordinary but when the dishes arrive, it’s a surprise!
So you still have that same playfulness of wanting to surprise people?
Yes but very, very contained, very contained. The contact with the people here is direct (the open kitchen) the most important thing for me is that people eat everything, for me it’s an obsession. Once that’s established, we can play with the texture and the shape but not with the product itself. You ask for a tomato, you’ll get a tomato. We do play with the presentation but there’s still a lot to do, we’ve only been open since March 2011 (note: 41º cocktail bar has been open since January 2011)
I’ve read that you’d like to open branches of Tickets tapas bar all over the world?
Everyone knows that we have an avant-garde cuisine in Spain but we don’t promote traditional Spanish cuisine or tapas across the world like Japanese, Chinese, Mexican or even Peruvian cuisine is spread. Why are there no good Spanish restaurants in the world? We could promote traditional or modern Spanish cuisine but I find the best way to eat in Spain is tapas because it’s informal, direct and you can taste a lot of different things. So when the time comes, yes, why not expand but the concept of Tickets is not determined yet, we would like to take our time to really perfect it and define it, do one thing at a time and do it well. Once all our clients are satisfied and keep coming back then we will think of expanding
Have you been to Montreal?
Only the airport!
Because I was thinking it would be nice to have a Tickets in Montreal someday!
Yes, why not? We get a lot of Canadians here at the restaurant, I don’t know why but I think Canadians like to eat! And they’re all very good clients.
What do you think of the future of haute gastronomy in the world after elBulli?
I don’t think it’s a question of before or after elBulli . With technology and the internet, we have gone from the world being a huge place to it being very small. We have also gone from not knowing anything about what is being done in Canada to being able to find out anything on youtube, flickr, etc. With the expansion of new cuisines like the Chinese, Japanese and Mexican and the research of new products and techniques, there’s a lot of information out there so it’s time to focus and create a more mature cuisine without forgetting about tradition. All the techniques have been developed so in the end, you’re only left with the taste of the dish.
So how do you know when a dish is ready? When the “creation and research” part is done? How do you know when to stop?
Here it’s easy to say ok it’s done, but at elBulli it was never the case. You could start something but you would never know when it was done. Simplicity is always the best though, complex simplicity.
You’re in the kitchen everyday here at Tickets, what makes you happiest in the kitchen?
I have to be in the kitchen everyday, even on my days off, when I’m home, I cook. I love to cook at home because it’s different from the restaurant and I learn a lot from cooking at home. I sometimes drive myself crazy then have to remind myself to calm down since I’m only cooking for me!
Well, it’s for your family too, does your son eat everything?
Yes, yes, he eats everything. He has great genes, between his mom who eats everything, his dad and his uncle!
What do you like to teach the young cooks in your kitchen?
In September, I am starting classes where I will teach young cooks my vision of cooking. I am a believer in giving responsibility to young cooks so if they’re in my kitchen, even if they’re straight out of school, they will be cooking for real customers and have real responsibilities.
What is the next food trend in your opinion?
For me it’s simple, in the end there’s good food and there’s bad food, it’s not a question of trend. There are new techniques, new cuisine fusions, etc. for example, in Spain we love Japanese cuisine because we eat a lot of fish. Any restaurant you go to in Spain – Can Roca, Mugaritz – you will find soya sauce, ginger, konbu, wasabi… I personally also love Chinese cuisine. I love the wok, everyone talks about technology but after your hands, the wok is the most ergonomic invention. It is the tool best suited to cook vegetables…
What about Peruvian cuisine?
Peru has a very interesting mix of Quechua, Japanese and Chinese cuisine, among many others. Peruvians are all very passionate about food, it seems, they are actually crazy about food!
Let’s talk desserts because I love desserts… I know you were the pastry chef at elBulli for a long time…
Yes, but here I don’t make dessert, Andres is the one who makes them, he worked with me on my book Natura…
It’s a beautiful book, it’s like flipping through an art book.
Yes, but in the end, it all has to taste good first. Anyway, so Andres makes the desserts here. We started out by making classic desserts then we decided that since we know a thing or two about desserts, we will make different desserts but that can always be traced back to more traditional ones.
Do people expect the desserts to be very sophisticated since it is you after all?
You will see that the dining experience here is a complete one. Dessert is very important because it’s the closing element of the dinner and it can elevate the whole experience or bring it down.
That brings me to my next question, I find that dessert is almost like an after-thought in a lot of restaurants. You can have an extraordinary meal ending with a very ordinary dessert…
Yes, dessert is often annoying for cooks, but there’s a change today. Cooks are now obligated to learn pastry making. It also depends a lot on the importance the restaurateur puts on the dessert, on the demand of the clientele… but what you’re saying is true even in some great restaurants, it is a shame.
What’s your favourite spot in Barcelona for dessert?
We have a restaurant and pastry school called Espai Sucre that makes very good desserts.
And what is your favourite dessert?
I love tiramisu, crème brulée or a good ice cream.
The classics then…
Yes! In 20 years I will become the most classic I’m sure!