Text by Trevor Baker Illustration/Tim Ellis
A very picture on Albert Adrià’s phone seems a little weirder than the one before. There’s a tiny chair on top of a larger chair. A life-size fake ham. Various larger-than-life plastic frogs. And, finally, a model arm, like a gauntlet, with an expectantly upturned palm. These models made of everything from resin to wood and plastic are, apparently, some of the ideas for “tableware” at the chef’s latest restaurant project, Heart, in Ibiza. Some of them will just be for decoration, presumably, but you’ll be given others instead of plates.
“You’ll lick the back of the frogs,” Adrià explains. “It’ll probably taste sweet, or acid or spicy, we’re not sure yet. It might give you an electric shock!”
Albert Adrià, alongside his more famous brother Ferran, is best known for his work at elBulli, voted the “best restaurant in the world” five times before it closed in 2011. He was the creativity geek, locked away in the “research and development” department, coming up with new ideas for dishes such as a tobacco-flavoured foam called “smoked mousse”.
Since then he’s perhaps been the more visible of the brothers, opening four new restaurants in Barcelona, including the lively Tickets, where we’re talking today.
Heart opens in June and is perhaps the logical conclusion of a journey that’s taken Albert from the high cuisine of elBulli, through an obsession with perfecting other national cuisines (he has a Mexican restaurant, Hoja Santa, and the Japanese-Peruvian Pakta) to something that’s all about pure fun. “My motive for cooking at the moment is pleasure, ahead of technique or presentation. You eat something and go, ‘Wow! Wow! Wow!’” he says, raising an imaginary fork to his mouth.
It’s not surprising, then, that his chosen collaborators at Heart are performance group Cirque du Soleil. Renowned for their elaborate mixture of performance art and acrobatics, Adrià says they had a similar impact on him when he first saw them over 13 years ago. “It left me completely stunned,” he says. “It was creativity at the highest level. We’d seen the typical circuses but this was something different.”
After that show he and his brother went backstage to talk to Cirque impresario Guy Laliberté and they discussed doing something together. That it’s taken so long to arrive is probably a reflection of how successful both the Adriàs and Laliberté have been since then. What’s perhaps most fascinating about this project, though, is that one of the world’s best chefs is prepared to let the food take the back seat to a bunch of performance artists and acrobats.
“In any restaurant in Ibiza the food isn’t the most important thing,” he shrugs. “People don’t eat very much. The people go to restaurants because they have to eat and if they eat well, even better.”
Despite this he can’t help but take the food seriously – he says this is not “dinner and a show”. “There’s no ‘show’ while you’re dining. The protagonist of dinner is the food. Things will happen while you’re dining but with more intensity after you’ve finished.”
Many of the ideas are, at the time of writing, still in an early stage and even Adrià doesn’t know exactly what the Cirque team will come up with, but it’s clear the result will be like no other restaurant on the island.
Made up of three zones, the first, Baraka, will be a kind of street-food market outside on the terrace with dishes from around the world – “But at a level that you won’t find on any street!” The second, the Workshop, will be where you’ll find the frogs and the model arm (apparently you’ll be able to eat from the gauntlet’s hand). Finally, la Boîte (the box) will have most of the performance elements, as well as live music and some of the island’s big-name DJs. At least, Adrià says his music experts have told him they’ll have big-name DJs. “DJs are like chefs,” he smiles, “They work for two things: money or prestige. I hope they’ll be working for us for the prestige!”
You get the feeling that Adrià is a little bit in awe of Ibiza. While his brother Ferran worked there for six months in the ’80s, Albert was always more into Guns N’ Roses than house music.
His first experience of the White Isle, he says, blew him away. “I was there at the opening of [superclub] Ushuaïa,” he says, “and it was phenomenal. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I like to see that kind of huge disco, with 8,000 people inside and the DJ earning more than any musician! When you go to [cabaret restaurant] Lío, Ushuaïa, Pacha… the women are the most beautiful in the world, the men are millionaires. When they say Ibiza is unique, they’re right.”
After Heart, Albert plans to finish the final restaurant, Enigma, in his mini-empire in Barcelona and then look into spreading his wings even further. He says he’s had numerous offers to open a place in New York or London.
Despite new opportunities away from Catalonia, doesn’t he miss the old days of constant creativity in the elBulli kitchen? “I’m still cooking for four hours a day,” he says. “The difference is that, before, my creativity mainly went into coming up with new dishes. Now my creativity is all about coming up with new ideas for restaurants.”
Trevor Baker stayed at the Hotel Mercer in Barcelona mercerbarcelona.com, es.bcn50.org
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