The rush to assess Ferran Adrià’s place in culinary history started long before El Bulli closed. There is no question of his influence, which is broad and, in some facets, sure to last. The dishes and techniques originating at El Bulli are a major part of how he will be remembered. The books, films, and multilingual website cataloguing his work provide a remarkable record of a long, fertile period. Their impact is already apparent in kitchens everywhere, sometimes in a gratifying way and sometimes with a bit too much enthusiasm. Michael Laiskonis, the former Le Bernardin pastry chef, remembers first encountering Adrià’s books as a young chef and having to “put them away” due to the threat of getting too swept up in them.
More significant than the artifacts themselves is the spirit of openness behind sharing them. If early reports are any indication, El Bulli’s next incarnation will extend this still further, with daily reports on work at the taller posted to the website. It seems appropriate that this news brings to mind a former El Bulli stagiaire. René Redzepi went on to become chef and co-owner of Noma in Copenhagen, now generally regarded, in the wake of El Bulli’s closing, as the world’s finest restaurant. Redzepi holds weekly developmental sessions with his kitchen staff and shares the results of their work in real time, via Twitter. As for Adrià’s work, and largely thanks to his General Catalogue, chefs all over have unprecedented access to his ideas, and the effect has been galvanizing. A sense of possibility, of permission to attempt the improbable (and fail at times) has swept kitchens worldwide. Even chefs with firmly established reputations, like Terrance Brennan, whose Picholine in New York has held two Michelin stars, view this changed climate with admiration, calling this the most exciting time he can remember for young chefs. And despite the fact that he is a decorated chef, firmly in mid-career, Brennan has quietly adopted techniques from Adrià that fit his own personal style.
But as with a seismic shift in any creative discipline, Adrià has his detractors. The Spanish chef Santi Santamaria, who held three Michelin stars of his own, criticized Adrià as part of “a gang of charlatans who work to distract snobs,” and questioned the use of what he called “emulsifiers and chemical agents,” suggesting they place diners’ health in danger. A similar concern with additives comes from food writer Jörg Zipprick, who has called Adrià’s food artificial. Curiously, Lisa Abend notes that a number of the stagiaires she followed at El Bulli tell her they want to cook “real food” in the future, despite their admiration for Adrià and their desire to learn from him. Misgivings or not, Adrià’s influence will not be undone at this point. Neither will chefs who refuse to embrace these new ways end up deemed Luddites; there’s always an audience for those espousing purity and simplicity, whatever the field.