While tapas and paellas make up a chunk of the food scene in Barcelona, for 11 years now, chef Adrià’s creative and cutting-edge cuisine has been a reason tourists book a table at his restaurant two months in advance. Adrià started his career in 1985 and soon shot to fame as the head pastry chef of El Bulli, and the head chef of five Michelin star restaurants in a span of five years. Post pandemic, the 53-year-old chef re-launched his fine-dining restaurant Enigma, with a new concept that he calls 'fun dining' (think all-day food and drink offerings) in the Sant Antoni area of Barcelona. He speaks to Bazaar India about the changing food culture and his favourite produce to work with.
Harper’s Bazaar (HB): With a movement towards a return to simpler food, what does “avant-garde” or “modern” gastronomy mean to you now?
Chef Albert Adrià (AA): For me, there is no such thing as simple food, because if it had been so, everyone would do it (be a chef)... There is only good food and bad food. The quality of the ingredients and produce used for a dish are important in determining its taste. Food made with quality seasonal products is good food for me, irrespective of the preparation style. Cooking traditions are constantly evolving, and there will always be room for all cooking styles that offer good food prepared with the best of ingredients.
HB: You're considered to be a mentor to many path-breaking chefs in the world. But who inspires you? Which young chef/restaurant would you put your bets on and why?
AA: Every mentor starts off as an apprentice. My journey is a reflection of the inspiration I draw from people from various creative fields, be it gastronomy or other art forms.
HB: Last year you released your cookbook Vegetales a todo color, where veggies were the main ingredient. What made you fall in love with the simplicity of vegetables versus exquisite meats?
AA: I love working with vegetables. When I cook at home, I use a variety of vegetables. In fact, during the pandemic, we had vegetables for dinner every night. I particularly love to work with tomatoes, aubergines, and cucumbers. In a professional kitchen, I use a lot of artichokes, green peas and broad beans, and cook it in a simple way—they are either boiled or grilled and mixed with flavours that blend well.
HB: During the pandemic, you had to close down your restaurants Hoja Santa, Pakta, Bodega 1900, and the acclaimed Tickets, what was that one lesson that you learnt in this process?
AA: These closings were a consequence of many different unfortunate events that happened to my ex-partners’ company. I do not like to look back. It was a precious stage of my life, but I now dedicate 100 per cent of my time to the newly-opened Enigma.
HB: Talking about re-openings, probably the one we all were waiting for was the new version of Enigma (which re-launched in June this year). Tell us more about your decision to revamp it?
AA: The best ever concept restaurant that I have been at the helm of is Tickets, so I decided to combine the models and concepts of Tickets and Enigma into one, and thus was born the new Enigma. Here, tradition and innovation go hand in hand, and our contemporary tapas are a testimony to that philosophy. There is enormous potential to grow and be creative. There is still a lot to do.
HB: If someone was visiting Barcelona for the first time, which restaurants would you recommend to them? Apart from Enigma, of course.
AA: Most tourists visiting Barcelona are looking for tapas and traditional cuisine, and the city is dotted with some very good restaurants that serve traditional Spanish cuisine. The most famous Spanish tapas—tomato and Iberian ham on a crunchy bread—is a must-have, as are preparations such as the Russian salad (ensaladilla rusa), potato omelette (tortilla de patata), tomato salad, and padrón peppers. Rice dishes and paellas are also very popular, and you can treat yourself to some of the best seafood dishes here.
HB: We would love to know what one of the most celebrated chefs in the world likes to cook, and eat at home?
AA: I live above a food market—Mercado de La Boquería (the Boquería market). I go there without any planning and pick up the best seasonal produce available, and depending on what I find, I cook a simple meal from it. I usually gravitate towards seafood and very rarely pick a meat or game to work with.
HB: It’s been a long and illustrious journey as a chef–you’ve seen the food world evolve in front of you–how has the culinary scene in Barcelona and the world changed around you?
AA: As in every other area, consumption habits are changing at a lightning speed. There is a new generation of young people who will take up gastronomy as a hobby because their economy allows it and not so much to celebrate their culinary traditions and culture. With regards to service, too, a lot of things have changed. A lot of restaurants are adopting technology and providing personalised experiences; guests can easily reserve tables online or choose their wine, for instance, or simply pay in advance. And there is a sea of change in terms of eating habits as well. There is a considerable increase in the number of allergies and intolerances that people have. There is also a rise in the number of pescatarians. In Barcelona particularly, there is a shift in the eating schedules—locals are getting used to dining earlier, while people visiting the country walk in much later. The typical, post-dinner lounging and drinking at the table is now disappearing. But post-pandemic, the one prominent and common thing that I see is that people seek fun and merriment above anything else.
HB: Have you tried Indian food? If yes, what is your favourite dish? And if not, do you have any Indian dishes on your bucket-list?
AA: If I am honest, it is one of the cuisines that I know the least about, in spite of it being one of the most famous ones. I love the use of vegetables and language of spices in Indian cuisine. I am also intrigued by the innumerable delicacies that are made in the street. I am looking forward to visiting the country.
HB: If you had to describe Indian food in one word, what would it be?
HB: What can we look forward to in the coming year from you–any new restaurant or cookbooks in the offing?
AA: I am primarily going to focus on Enigma, and try to set a benchmark for gastronomy, and perhaps even start an exportable and international Ticket restaurant model, though I doubt that will be any sooner than 2024.
Lead image: Albert Adria/Instagram