If you read Ferran Adrià's explanation of his origins at elBulli, the renowned chef humbly explains that it was simply chance which determined his career. While destiny may have been the impetus for his place in the kitchen, the new exhibition at NYC's Drawing Center, "Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity," makes it boldly clear it's Adrià's profound mind that turned the Spanish seaside restaurant into a prolifically innovative lab that would forever change the way the world understands food. The show, curated by Brett Littman, smartly breaks down Adrià's intellectual philosophies and complex processes by visually displaying his unique dialogue between cooking and art.
As the brains behind 1,846 new dishes and a person obsessed with research, synthesis and self-analysis, Adrià has a lot to offer the creative community. But until he was invited to Documenta 12 in 2006, to see what was happening at elBulli you had to go there, because Adrià felt that, "The idea of cuisine and cooking was not something you could put in a museum—that would be catering." His inclusion in the prestigious Documenta contemporary art exhibition allowed Adrià to contextualize what he was doing relative to other creative disciplines, and to further define his process. This, as well as his friendship with British artist Richard Hamilton, who helped him "understand the language of cooking," are what aided Adrià in forging an authentic connection between the culinary and the art worlds. As he told us on a tour of "Notes on Creativity," "Gastronomy as the discipline is the most complex discipline in the world because you're using all of the senses. The level of concentration required is so complex that people don't even really capture it."
The Drawing Center exhibition very neatly focuses on Adrià as an innovator and collaborator. The extensive archive of his methods and ideas are presented in a relatively traditional format, but Adrià explains, "I don't come here as someone who draws, or as an amazing artist. These drawings are very interesting about the creative process. I use these drawings to visualize the future and sort of to keep track of all I've done, as well." This includes becoming the first chef to work directly with an industrial designer (Luki Huber) to create new tools, tableware and utensils that would enable them to develop new techniques and concepts.
Working in a team is essential to Adrià: "In 2014 it's very difficult to talk about this idea of a solitary genius because the level is so high, in all disciplines, it's hard to just do something alone now." In addition to the fact that collaborating undoubtedly increases the level of greatness, it also speaks to his insatiable desire to be constantly learning in order to evolve and create something genuinely new. As he notes, "A lot of people create things, but how many of them have created a new style in the last 20 years? Based on what the experts tell me, it's not too many."
ElBulli officially closed in 2011, but Adrià has turned the restaurant into an educational foundation to continue fostering ingenuity. "It's so important to create, we want to keep doing that. But it's important for us to create a space where we can create the creators of the future. That's what the foundation is for," he explains. The elBulliFoundation is set to open in 2015, and will be home to a range of progressive expressions, from exhibitions to a kitchen for culinary education and research to meeting rooms for interdisciplinary collaboration.
"In the end people are creative because they have an ego. Not necessarily of fame, but a creative ego," Adrià sagely summarizes. Luckily, his own ego is utterly modest, forever curious and matched by an incredible understanding of how important it is to share everything he has learned.
"Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity" is currently on view at the Drawing Center and runs through 28 February 2014 before embarking on an international tour. This year also marks the final book in a series of seven from Phaidon, which provide in-depth look at elBulli and serve as Adrià's "catalog-resume."
Photos by Karen Day. See more in the slideshow.