April 27, 2010 / 3:07 AM / 7 years ago

Ferran Adria, gastronomy's renaissance man

4 Min Read

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Ferran Adria doesn't like to be called the world's best chef, a title he's been awarded many times.

The man who's pioneered molecular gastronomy and reshaped avant-garde cuisine at his award-winning elBulli restaurant insists he's just an ordinary guy who loves to cook, and who now has set his sights on yet another culinary revolution.

In 2012, El Bulli, outside Barcelona, and which was voted the world's best restaurant four years in a row by the prestigious Restaurant Magazine, will shut down for two years and become a think tank that Adria calls a "the biggest testing ground for creativity in the world."

It will host between 20 to 25 aspiring chefs and others interested in science and the arts and who will try and come up with the next big thing in gastronomy, he said.

"Human beings need to evolve," the 47-year-old Spanish culinary superstar told Reuters during his first visit to Singapore, which aims to become a global gourmet hub.

"We've been pushing the limits, and what we've been doing has been controversial, but if food is as much about eating as the experience, then our mission is to create an experience," he said via an interpreter.

Three Michelin-starred Adria, who received Restaurant Magazine's first "Chef of the Decade" award this year, made his name since the 1990s by using tools such as liquid nitrogen, centrifuges and precision scales to create dishes that taste as unusual as they look.

Foams, Jellies, Unexpected Textures

Foam, jellies, unexpected textures and novelty ingredients abound at elBulli, where Adria has been the sole head chef since 1987, at the helm of a team of about 70 that believe food is as much an art as a scientific discipline.

The restaurant, which already closes half the year so the team can work on its creations, is fully booked for 2010.

Detractors have branded El Bulli as pretentious and elitist, but these descriptions do not fit its head chef, who says he is determined to share his knowledge with the world.

"One of my missions is to establish what will happen in the future," he told reporters in Singapore. "We're going to be doing a little science fiction from here to 2014."

"ElBulli needed to be turned upside down, to be unsettled. What does the best mean? Who decides what is best? Influential, I can understand, but at the end of the day I am a cook who, like my team, is happiest when I am creating."

Adria said his think tank will be largely self-financed -- "I have no children, so this is like looking after my own children. My wife agrees," he quips -- and he also expects grants from foundations and governments.

"I want people to have absolute freedom, that's more important than money," he said. "I've gained this over the past 25 years, and that's what I want to share."

But does this mean the end of elBulli, that was ousted from Britain's Restaurant Magazine's top slot this year by Danish restaurant Noma?

Adria said that come 2014, elBulli will not reopen as a conventional restaurant, but remain a culinary creativity hub which the public can visit. How this differs, he did not elaborate.

"I don't intend to retire, far from it," he said. "But the one thing I am sure of is that we won't go back to what we're doing. What will remain, however, is the creative spirit. We're committed to that."

Editing by Ron Popeski

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