HONG KONG (Reuters) - Ground-breaking chef Ferran Adria is on a quest to find the soul of Asian cooking, which could perhaps provide key hints for future gastronomic inventions from the man who brought the world culinary foam.
Considered the world's best chef by several critics, Adria and his El Bulli restaurant became synonymous with a transformation of traditional dishes into fun and funky culinary adventures.
But, pleading a need for transformation, he last month shut the restaurant down -- at least in its current incarnation. It will re-open in 2014 as the El Bulli Foundation.
"I don't know much about Asia, and Asia could be an archive of ideas," Adria told Reuters in Hong Kong, on the sidelines of a trip promoting Spanish food, after a visit to Beijing and Shanghai.
"The gastronomical culture of China is very, very important. Simply to just get to know all the products that exist in China but not exist in the West would take months."
Roughly 15 trips to Japan have helped him understand the country and its cuisine a little, but this has merely whetted his appetite for learning about the rest of the continent.
"I've looked at the soul of the cooking and the reason of things (in Japan) and then I started looking at cooking techniques. But I haven't got to that point for the rest of Asia yet," he added.
At this stage he said his visit had almost sparked more questions than answers.
"What kinds of Chinese cuisine are there? Does imperial cuisine come from traditional cuisine or not? These are all the things we need to know," he said.
"You cannot get an influence from the cuisine of a country if you don't understand it. And to understand it, you've got to study it."
At the final El Bulli dinner last month Adria said the restaurant had become "a monster" that needed taming and transformation.
Its new incarnation, the El Bulli Foundation, will be a center for new culinary inventions from the Catalan who gave the world paella made of Kellogg's Rice Krispies and gazpacho popsicles.
Asked about his comment, Adria chuckled but said that success requires transformation, especially once things becomes as complex as the restaurant had. But he is confident the foundation will again stamp his mark on the gastronomic world.
It will be open to the public, although reservations and opening hours will not be those of any usual eatery.
"(It) is to be a think tank where we will share everything that we create and divulge it around the world," he added. "It's going to be a place for reflection."
The sharing could extend to agreements with governments, most likely centering around products such as Iberian ham and olive oil at first, perhaps through exports. But no deals will be sealed until at 2013 at the earliest.
Other initiatives could include exchanges of cooking techniques and ideas, part of the reason behind his current culinary quest -- although he dismisses the idea of popular "fusion" cuisine as "a lie" and something that always existed.
"Think for example of Chinese cuisine. What would it be without corn, without tomato, without peppers, without all those ingredients that came from America that weren't there before, or all the elements from the Arab world?" he said.
"That's fusion cooking."
Though Adria acknowledged that much about his future and that of the foundation remains unknown, he added that uncertainty often resulted in new questions that led to fresh ideas and initiatives.
"When somebody doesn't understand things very well, it means you're on the right path in terms of creativity," he said, noting that it had taken time before his culinary ideas caught on.
"When I first started in 1994 creating this new language in cuisine, people did not understand me. And there's still a lot of people who don't understand me," he laughed.
"But it's a good sign that if 20 years later it's still a controversial issue and a controversial subject. It means that it's still worth it, it's still avant garde."
Editing by Elaine Lies