Author's Note: Leading into this week's recipes from Ferran Adrià's newly released The Family Meal, we are thrilled to have had the rare opportunity to sit down and chat about life after elbulli with Ferran.
How has your life changed after the closing of elBulli? It hasn't changed at all. We've been doing pretty much the same thing we've been doing for the past few years. The difference is instead of thinking about new dishes, we are preparing a new project, the elBulli Foundation for 2014, and we've had a lot of work to catch up on. Different sorts of projects from the last few months, documentaries, books, and a feature film. More of less it's the same as before. I hope that June next year I'll have a bit more free time to concentrate on the future of the foundation and setting it up.
What's your idea of comfort food and what do you cook for yourself at home? It depends on the moment. I don't believe that there are categorical questions and answers. For instance, right now I need a cup of coffee. And as far as what I cook at home, I don't. I'm a professional chef so I cook at the restaurant. But on the other hand, what we cook at the restaurant for family meal, that can be shared at home and cooked at home.
How do you feel about so many chefs adopting your techniques? It's the normal thing to do. I also use techniques developed by other chefs. For example, I didn't invent consomme.
Do you feel that some restaurants and chefs are focusing too much on presentation and experience rather than flavor and enjoyment of the food? Flavor is a subjective issue. What you consider to be good and flavorful might not be the same for another person. If you're a good chef than your aim is to try and create a really great experience with really good food. I believe that everything I do is really good, although there are a lot of people who don't like it. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing what I do. This is one of those myths out there, you know, that modern, contemporary chefs are not concerned with flavor, and sometimes not even the traditional chefs are concerned with flavor. Do you think all pizzas are really good? It's a question of sensitivity, independently from the type of cuisine you're doing.
Can you explain the concept of family meal for our readers who haven't worked at restaurants? As most people can imagine, we must have a meal everyday in the restaurant, and we don't have that much time or the budget. A lot of places do the best they can, as quickly as they can, but it's not a good thing because if you don't look after your own staff meals how can you expect them to look after their diners?
The last few years we decided to make a conscious decision to improve the meals and to look after them in the same way we look after the meals of our diners. Though that three years process we found the most appropriate kinds of recipes that everybody would enjoy, that would fit in the budget, that could be done relatively quickly so that everyone could enjoy their staff meal.
And so, though that process we created our production cards and recipes and realized, "Hey, we have some great material, why not share this with other people?"
The book focuses on organization, efficiency and preparation which are concepts that don't come into play as much in the home kitchen as they do in restaurants. How do you think those ideas can translate into home cooking? That's precisely one of the issues. People have to learn to get organized in the kitchen. They will save a lot of time and be able to make proper, nice meals. But they have to get organized and slowly practice by using some of the steps I suggest in the cookbook, like freezing stock and things like that.
What are some of the typical conversations that took place during the family meals at elbulli? We don't talk. We spend 14 hours a day together so it's actually the opposite, it's a quiet moment. At home it's different because you don't see each other throughout the day, so it's you moment to get together and talk. Although the younger stagiers, as soon as they finish their meal, often rush outside, have a cigarette and a quick chat.
Lots of menus in The Family Meal have an international lean. Who created the menus for family meals? Most of these recipes are known by a lot of people. Together with some of the international stagiers that worked at elbulli, some of them suggested recipes and helped in making them more effective. For example, figuring out how to make guacamole for 75 people.
What are some of your favorite family meals? There aren't necessarily any favorites, that's why I created so many menus. If there were favorites I would have only included four. Two or three of the menus are really good, really quick, and really simple to make, but that doesn't mean they are the best.
There's something very civilized about sitting down to a meal with three courses before a service. Why do you think a multi-course meal is important? At the family meal, what we do is serve on platters so that everybody takes whatever they want, and we try to make it as varied as possible.
And we can't make more than three different dishes, that would make it a bit complicated. When there's such a large number of people it's important to serve them on platters (family style), when you're cooking for yourself at home it's not such an issue.
What happens after service is finished for the evening? Does the staff sit down and have a drink just like they had dinner together or just clean up and go home? Nothing, everybody is desperate to get out, they've already spent more than 12 hours at the restaurant. Everyone just goes home.