THE OBSERVER

Now, what the heck is this?

Our guest editor for today’s issue is Ferran Adrià, who attempts to answer the same question that the best chef in the world wanted foodies to ask themselves when they walked into El Bulli before having what may have been one of the best experiences of their lives. What was El Bulli, exactly? Essentially it was a gastronomic innovation centre where Ferran's team built a story, an artistic narrative through a menu experienced by diners in a series of surprises. When the waiter served a smoke mousse: what was it? “It was a provocation! What the heck was that?", Ferran Adrià asks himself nowadays. He provides the answer to his own question: "Smoked water foam with oil and bread, but in reality it was a quest for the limits", though he admits with a laugh that "every now and then someone got pretty miffed ...". Ferran Adrià has guided us in the adventure of the issue you are holding, which is not a conventional newspaper, but one in which you will find quality news, analysis and opinion. It is also a newspaper which pays tribute to a genius in the kitchen who has managed to help us see just how many processes a kitchen and a newspaper have in common, the similarities between a tasting menu and the information carefully curated for you. With Ferran we visited Mercabarna in the early hours of the morning, which he considers to be one of the best wholesale markets in the world, seeing its quality as on a par with the markets in Japan. ARA’s photographers followed his eyes while our journalists followed his words. Afterwards, Ferran visited our editorial board and discussed the leading items of news with each of the desk editors. He talked about the agri-food industry and the business of organic farming with our Economy desk and discussed still lives and the avant-garde with our Culture desk. He laughed at how so many soccer players have animal nicknames and with the Politics desk he spoke of the urgent need to feed ourselves, of how "you can’t understand a society if you don’t understand what they eat" and how refusing to eat is an instrument of protest and the condemnation of injustice. Since we have been working on this issue for months, we decided to go ahead and publish it, while also reserving a space for the political prisoners [on hunger strike] and their determination not to eat, while at the same time trying to maintain a certain air of normality in the daily life of Catalonia.

The driving force behind Ferran Adrià and his legendary restaurant El Bulli is innovation, which is also what we seek on a daily basis here at ARA. Ferran explains how, inspired by eighteenth century nobles who were observed while they dined, and with a "sadomasochistic relationship with innovation", El Bulli set out to push the boundaries of gastronomy and to take his quest for the limits of creation as the restaurant and the team’s raison d'être. In hindsight, he smiles and describes his approach as naive, since the research, now systematized and carried out all over the world, began with more intuition than science. Adrià believed that innovation peaked between 1994 and 1998, and the truth is that at around that time, this frank, amusing man changed the history of world cuisine. He talks about how important it was to make changes to the menu and the rhythm of the dishes and how they settled upon 46 as the number of concoctions sampled during a visit to El Bulli, as an almost physical and intellectual limit of the senses. He saw it more as an intellectual exercise, driving it home with: "I couldn’t care whether it was tasty or not. We wanted you to be blown away". Today Adrià is an artist who continues to explore the limits, and thousands of people were blown away by El Bulli’s magic, people who will never forget the experience that Ferran Adrià and his team created in the Cala Montjoi eatery. His creativity culminated in the smoke mousse, which he likens to Duchamp's Fountain, "when art was a urinal, which no one has managed to better". Adrià is all instinct, intuition, and hard work, "an early-rising woodpecker", as he calls himself. He speaks of the years of fighting himself: "We had no choice but to change. The pressure was huge and we loved it, [it forced us] to reinvent ourselves every day".

In keeping with his revolutionary cuisine, Adrià is a rebel with the ability to think big. In the many conversations he’s had with the editorial team these days, we’ve heard him say "we’ll only be strong if we stick together, since we’re a small nation", that “us chefs have to cook, but we don’t need to know about everything", that we shouldn't fall prey to the organic food fad because "everything is artificial. Have you ever found a yogurt in the woods?".

We have also heard him speak of how chefs have been at the forefront of creation and the industry and, as Juan Mari Arzak told him several decades ago,: "We’re entertainers, damn it" Entertainer? The best in the world!

Ferran Adrià has personally selected all the pictures. He has taught us to look at our own newspaper and the way we make it differently, by doing what he did at El Bulli, working with generosity, creativity and a sense of humour.

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