For a feature article in The Village Voice on whether great chefs can also be considered great artists, I interviewed about a dozen big names in the food world, from critics like Bill Buford and Jay Rayner, to superstar chefs like Eric Ripert and the 2016 Female Chef of the Year, Ana Roš. But perhaps the biggest name of them all had fascinating things to say on the subject: Ferran Adrià.
Thanks to the beauty of your creations you’ve been often described as an artist. Do you consider yourself as an artist, as well as a chef?
I do not think of myself as an artist, I consider myself strictly a cook. That does not take away the fact that there are elements in the production of certain chefs that trigger aesthetic emotions similar to those triggered by certain works of art.
Many people make a distinction between chefs as skilled artisans, versus chefs as artists. Would you make such a distinction, and what would a chef need to show in order to be considered a true artist?
What happens is that it’s usually thought that a different quality value is added to a chef, if the artist tag is granted. If we start from the beginning, the chef is a person whose job is cooking to feed people. We know there are many kinds of cooks, just as there are many kinds of places to eat, public or private. In the age of civilization, to the wealthier and favoured social sectors, the so-called “culinary art” was born, a cooking trend that aspires to not only feeding, but also surprising, pleasuring and arousing emotions. This trend has gone through history from first in courts of the ruling classes, and from late eighteenth century, also in restaurants. There are restaurants today that follow this “culinary art” trend, and others offering popular cuisine. But pay attention: both can be high quality. The offerings of some chefs, generally those who make culinary art, can suggest reasons for consideration, for aesthetic emotions, for conceptualism, etc. similar to those artists produce.
Do you think that today’s chefs will be studied by culinary historians two-hundred years into the future?
The current rise of gastronomy should not make us forget that time is the only judge of the actual transcendence of all manifestations created by human beings, including, obviously, cooking. Indeed, if we observe [the evolution] of cooking in the last 100 years, we will see that there are several points of inflexion, such as the entry of the nouvelle cuisine, for example, or the apparition of the techno-emotional cuisine in the mid-nineties. From there, we do not know how history will be written in the future.
As a professor of art history, I’m interested in Surrealism and he way it provokes a sense of wonder and awe to shake the audience out of its everyday existence: do you see anything in common with your food?
Several times, El Bulli‘s cuisine has been associated with certain movements in the history of art. With Cubism, for example, when talking about our deconstructive style, or with Pop Art, by our inclusion of elements of popular culture in our cuisine. Also with conceptual art, by our appeal to the concept as an important element in our gastronomic proposal. As for Surrealism, there may be elements in common, but I believe that both in this case, and in the ones I just mentioned, these are interpretations or parallels that are made from the world of art. I think our cuisine is generated radically from within the history of gastronomy. This does not mean that I am not interested in art, like so many cultural manifestations. Moreover, I believe that I have learned a great deal from the world of art concerning, for example, creative freedom.
You and Salvador Dalì come both from the same Spanish area and your creations are examples of the very best of their creative field. Do you have any particular affinity for Dali?
I really enjoy Dali’s work, I consider him one of the great painters of the 20th century. I also have always been interested in his way of thinking. I couldn’t say if I do have any affinity with him, I think I identify myself more with Picasso, Miró, Duchamp, Hamilton’s way of working.
For Proust, a taste recalling home and childhood was a madeleine dipped in tea. What’s for you?
I get that feeling with taste and smell of fresh bread, made by a good baker.