Albert Adria, from the pastry chef of elBulli to the owner of elBarri
Albert Adria, who started his career as the pastry chef in his brother’s Ferran Adria’s elBulli, is today an accomplished chef who owns elBarri, a collection of six fascinating restaurants in Barcelona. In 2015 Albert was also named best pastry chef by the jury of the World’s 50 best restaurants.
Your career started at elBulli where you created desserts which became legendary. How did it happen that you decided to join your brother? And why did you decide the pastry section?
My carreer started when I was 15 years old, but it was only later that I fell in love with my work. My beginnings resemble so many similar stories: a kid that doesn’t feel at ease in school so his parents send him to work. However, at that time Ferran was already working at elBulli for 2 years and joining my brother was the best option for me as a teenager. Before discovering pastry I went through all the different sections of the kitchen. I learnt all the basics of how a restaurant works. My crustacean allergy, which was stonger at the time, made me feel better in the dessert part, moreover in that area there were still more things to develop at that time.
Now you own important restaurants. Do you see yourself more as a cook or a patissier?
I always considered myself a cook, but it is incontestable that I worked as a patissier for 20 years. There is generally lower interest for the pastry section in the kitchen, which results in a lower level of desserts compared to the main courses (that’s really still a problem of many restaurants). That’s why I consider myself privileged seeing many youngsters willing to work with us.
For you, what is most fascinating about pastry and is there anything you dislike?
I am fascinated by the fact that contrary to the other kitchen disciplines where it all starts from a main ingredient and everything gravitates around it, the pastry work is really 3 dimensional - you start from zero to create something unique.
The thing I don’t like however is the actual situation of pastry work, where pastry chefs are treated like the poor brothers of the cooks, so it is really hard to gain some recognition. It is especially hard for the young pastry chefs who are very passionate and work hard towards building their career.
You are one of the most creative pastry chefs in the world. What is inspiring your creativity?
I think that in everything, in pastry as well as in savoury cooking, you have to be receptive all the time and always keep an open mind. The most important thing is that the subconscious is always alert and that any input can be transformed into a new idea.
If you had to express your pastry work in words, how would you describe it?
In pastry, like in cookery, there are always two words: humility and passion. For humility, I am talking about being constantly aware that you don’t know everything, and for passion, to work 14 hours a day.
What about chocolate? How is your relationship with chocolate? How important it is in your desserts and how do you enjoy it best?
My relationship with chocolate is total. I suppose that for 95% of people, chocolate will always be the most requested dessert, as it covers the almost spiritual necessities. I have a great respect for chocolate desserts because working with chocolate is a full elaboration in itself and I think that even if it’s quite easy to make a good chocolate dessert it’s very difficult to make something different with chocolate.
If a young chef asked you to give him your best advice on chocolate, what would it be?
I would tell him for sure to go and learn from the best chefs, and thank God we have many of them in Spain. This is the key for the future. Learning from them means acquiring a solid base which is the key for the future.
What would be your “rules” for a perfect restaurant dessert? What would be the main thing you would be careful about when creating it?
I think that most important is to give as much weight to the dessert as to the savoury part. Leave a space in between for the customer to enjoy it. Avoid desserts that are too high in calories and too filling. After a nice dinner it is not recommended to saturate the palate even more with sugar. Serve something light and delicious that makes a perfect finish to the special occasion.
What is your favourite dessert to eat and what type of desserts do you enjoy creating best?
I think using fruits of the season is my favourite. There is nothing better than creating a dessert with an excellent mango, pear, cherry…
Is there any type of dessert which you think is not gaining the attention it should deserve?
The genial stuff can’t be completely forgotten, but time flies by for everything, and for example, the coulant can be created in so many ways and it will never go out of fasion.
What about ingredients? Are there any ingredients which fascinate you more than others or is there any ingredient which is still not explored enough by you?
Coconut and banana are products that I feel really comfortable with, however I think that there are still many fruits which I haven’t worked much with yet.
You have built a great collection of restaurants. How do you manage to handle all of them – even more because they are so different from one another?
The basis is to have a strong team which shares values and visions, this we were taught by Ferran and Juli at elBulli, and we also learnt that an aligned team is much stronger than whichever mind privileged individually. Without them I would have been nothing and what we have built over the past few years would mean nothing. The creativity, the logistics … everything follows the same philosophy and values that the team and I develop day by day. My role is to supervise, support, coordinate and guide the staff.
What are you working on at the moment?
At this moment I am completely absorbed by Enigma, which is the last restaurant I opened, and with which I am closing the circle of elBarri. Contrary to the others, that we can consider as my brother says “pret a porter gastronomy”, Enigma is meant to be without a declaration of intentions. I have an extraordinary team (all those who built the 41º which I closed in 2014) and I think that I can’t escape from who I am: I grew up in elBulli as a professional and as a person, and even if we don’t want (nor can’t) compare ourselves to what elBulli meant, we know the potential that we have and we know we are going to enjoy the journey. Where we are going to land…is yet to be seen …