In the supplement of today’s EL PAIS (14/02/10), Agusti Fancelli has interviewed Ferran Adria about his plans for the future of elBulli. I’ve translated and summarised what he said here (a bit roughly and quickly):
“What’s been happening over the last few days is neither cooking nor gastronomy. Spanish cuisine has taken on an economic and social dimension that is above and beyond elBulli.
People might think that I have a huge marketing operation behind me, but there’s just a press officer who is part of a team of 40 people. In the new phase, we need to rethink that. In the next few months, probably in New York, I’ll announce my plans. I’m thinking about a foundation.
We need more financial muscle. As a business, elBulli is sheer madness. In 2001, when everything was going really well, we stopped serving lunch, losing half our income. What sort of company does that? Anyone with a bit of sense would have set up two teams, serving lunch and dinner every day of the year. I could have earned three million euros a year. But no, we decided to cut down.
Now the brand is worth much more than the restaurant. That’s why I’m thinking about a foundation.
For some time I’ve had the feeling that if I didn’t make these changes in 2012, the whole team would just explode. So we’re just getting ahead of the game.
Everything elBulli has generated in the last 10 years has made a lot of money for a lot of people, while the team has carried on just earning their salary. They deserve more. In a month I’ll get them together to explain my ideas and they will be free to take whatever path suits them best.”
Will elBulli still be a restaurant when it reopens in 2014?
“I’m not sure yet what it’ll be… but it won’t be just a restaurant, just as it hasn’t been in recent times anyway. Training will still be important and will be more integrated in the new structure. And another thing: it will never again be the best restaurant in the world.
I’m not interested in awards and classifications any more. I’ve been really lucky to have received a lot of recognition, way beyond my wildest dreams, but that’s over. For the fourth consecutive year, The Restaurant Magazine has rated us in first place. What can I expect? To be number one for the next 10 years? It makes no sense.”
But will you still be serving meals in elBullí in 2014?
“Absolutely. Customer feedback is essential. But, how many people? I don’t know. And maybe they won’t be paying. If there’s financing in place, different formulae can be looked at.
We have 40 covers, so can only serve a maximum of 80 people a day, if we open for lunch and dinner. That’s 20,000 a year if we open 250 days. The documentary A Day in elBullí was seen by 2.5 million, so a lot of people now understand a bit more about what I’m doing. My aspiration is that more people could come to elBulli than at present.
But one thing that’s not going to happen in future is having five people turning down bookings like we have at the moment. It makes no sense.
It’s not the same serving a meal to specialised people as it is to someone who is eating here for the first time, or to a particular company, or a group of researchers in nutrition. What you have to explain to them is different, you need different menus. I’m not ruling out devoting certain weeks to serving only breakfasts, or inviting particular groups to spend three days at elBulli in winter.
After the summer, I’m going to Harvard to explain what we are doing in Cala Monjoi. For me, and I think for Spanish cuisine, that is of the utmost importance.
The future elBulli will be a place where training, research and creativity come together. With an advantage for those who attend: that we will no longer be in competition. We can teach them, and then each individual can follow their own path.
I am talking about a research and development project; this country, in the culinary sector, should have several centres devoted to this, as it is a vital strategic sector in a country like ours where tourism is so important. And the government should be involved, something I think they are now aware of.
We have to think very carefully about what sort of training we are going to provide. Just for Spanish professionals or for foreigners too? It’s not the same thing. In the next 15 yeas, five brilliant chefs could emerge in Spain, not 100. If our generation trains those five pioneering chefs, who will be the stars between 2020 and 2040, then we will have done our job.
Globalisation has come at lightning speed in this sector. When I started there was only one reference point: France. Now there’s Japan, China, Singapore, the USA, Mexico. These connections go back a long way in art and architecture, but in cooking it’s only happened in the last 15 years. We have to take these influences into account, but on the other hand, go out and explain what’s happening in Spanish cuisine. So what we need to do is create specialised teams who can travel around the world.”
In 2010 and 2011, elBulli will carry on serving dinners?
“Of course. I haven’t ruled out a retrospective for 2011, as lots of people have asked me to do that. Maybe regular customers could choose the menu, we’ll see. In 2012, I’m planning to spend quite a bit of time in China, learning.”
And beyond 2014? You’ve mentioned the Mibu restaurant in Tokyo before…
“That could be a solution for when all these projects are up and running. Serving a table of eight people each day, with six in the kitchen. A human dimension for the retirement phase.