It's hard to remember a time when "molecular gastronomy" wasn't part of the foodie lexicon, but that's in part because of Ferran Adria, arguably the most influential chef of his generation. By now, the type of cuisine Adria has created at El Bulli restaurant in Roses, Spain—characterized by manipulating food to create unexpected textures and flavors that challenge the diner's perceptions of the dish—has been emulated by the likes of Jose Andres, Wylie Dufresne, Grant Achatz, and countless others.
And at a recent event moderated by former New York Times food critic Frank Bruni and part of the New York City Wine & Food Festival, which took place Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, Adria talked about the idea that started it all.
"A lot of people think that Mary Quant invented the miniskirt, but she didn't—the Egyptians did," Adria said. "In my opinion, it's not important to do something first. It's about seeing it and conceptualizing it, because everything exists already."
He compared it to El Bulli's use of hot jelly: "Until 1998 hot jelly hadn't existed. But it had existed. You could find it in Chinese cuisine. They knew that agar agar could tolerate 90 degrees, but no one had actually conceptualized the hot jelly. We conceptualized it."
He also talked about the recently closed El Bulli and his new more casual direction—opening Tickets, a tapas bar in Barcelona, with his brother as well writing a new home cooking book called The Family Meal, which focuses on "normal food for normal people,” as Adria says. Far from the avant-garde creations of El Bulli, his new projects reflect a return to simpler techniques, a trend many chefs are adopting these days.
"We have the wrong notion of simple and complex," he says. "Why don't we cook?" To those who claim a lack of time and energy he responds, "What happened to our parents? Were they never tired? And they worked harder than us!"