Ferran Adrià: World’s top chef doesn’t want to go back into the kitchen

Ferran Adrià - "the most influential chef in the world" - is a man on a mission. Just not one that involves him having to run a restaurant.

Ferran Adrià: World's top chef doesn't want to go back into the kitchen
Photo: AFP

The Catalan — whose elBulli restaurant was named the best on the planet a record five times — is out to prove that the wildly experimental dishes he pioneered there still cut the mustard.

In the seven years since he unexpectedly shut the legendary Costa Brava restaurant, with 3,000 people still on the waiting list for a table, simpler more earthy cooking has come into vogue. 

But the father of molecular cuisine, who brought the world the idea of “mandarin air”, eating smoke, caramelised quails, trout egg tempura and any number of foams and emulsions, told AFP that he has not stood still.   

“I have not stopped working” nor experimenting, he said, since he shuttered elBulli, which held the maximum three Michelin stars.   

Back then Adrià admitted that he was feeling a little jaded.    

But as he explains in a new 15-part documentary series about his incredible rise from dishwasher to culinary superstar, “elBulli: Story of a Dream”, which begins on Amazon Prime on Monday, he has well and truly got his mojo back.   

It is just that he doesn't want to go back to cooking at the stove day and night.

Famous chefs don't cook

“It makes no sense for me to open a restaurant,” he told AFP. “Why would I do that?

“Almost all the greatest chefs in the world — with a few exceptions — no longer actually cook. They taste, direct and conceive,” he said.   

Adrià has, however, helped his brother Albert to open six establishments in Barcelona, of which one, Enigma, he described as a “baby elBulli”.   

It came 95th in the latest “50 Best” world restaurants list.   

Instead he teaches at Harvard university, gives advice, and runs the elBulli foundation, funded by €12 million euros of private capital from the Spanish giants Telefonica and CaixaBank and the Italian coffee company Lavazza.   

A natural enthusiast every bit as whimsical and surprising in the flesh as his cooking, Adrià is more concerned about bringing on the next generation of master chefs.

He had a big hand in forming the trio of talents who have replaced him at the top of the global gastronomic tree: fellow Catalan Joan Roca (of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona), Italian Massimo Bottura (of Osteria Francescana in Modena) and the Dane Rene Redzepi of Noma fame. 

READ MORE: Spain dominates best Restaurant awards but misses top spot

Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca. Photo: AFP

“I'd say 95 percent of the restaurants I have helped have been successful,” he added, acknowledging that he has worked with the Spanish chef Jose Andres of the Minibar in Washington DC, which has two Michelin stars.

'Techno-emotional cooking'

Adrià — who is still only 56 — is also working on a gastronomic innovation centre on the site of the old elBulli at Cala Montjoi, which is due to open five years behind schedule next year.

Rather than a molecular cuisine, he prefers to call his cooking “techno-emotional”.

“They say that I am out of fashion, that no one makes 'espumas' anymore (his light-as-air mousses). But thousands of restaurants across the world now use siphons,” said the “alchemist” The Guardian once called “the most imaginative generator of haute cuisine on the planet.”

He said his mission at elBulli's was to discover “the limits of the gastronomic experience”. In 17 years there he created 1,846 recipes, including a “crispy liquid”, a mousse of white beans and sea urchins and powdered foie gras.

Adrià said he hopes the new Amazon series — based on a previous television series about his work — will help demolish some of the myths about elBulli, which sparked controversy because of its use of chemical additives.   

“Salt is a lot worse for the health than any stabiliser,” he hit back.   

Another of his new passions is a project he calls his  “Bullipedia”, an enormous gastronomic encyclopedia for which the autodidact has plunged himself into studying 400 years of French cuisine.

“It is one of my big sources of inspiration” at the moment, with Chinese, Mexican, Peruvian and Japanese cooking.   

While the British and American press like to see Adrià as a symbol of the new hegemony of Spanish haute cuisine over the French, he told AFP that he was a “child of French nouvelle cuisine”, citing Michel Guerard, the Troisgros clan, Paul Bocuse and Alain Chapel as his main influences. 

 By AFP's Anna Pelegri  and Anne-Laure Mondesert 

READ ALSO: Chef Ferran Adrià to reopen Spain's El Bulli as food lab in 2019

For members


Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day


Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain


Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP


The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 


It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 


In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).