The 30-course meals he served up at his three-star Michelin restaurant, El Bulli, set in the costal village of Roses in Catalonia, thrilled food lovers. The fast-paced meals included avant garde bites such as liquid ravioli, caviar made from olive oil, snails eggs, deep fried rabbits’ ears, boneless chicken feet, Parmesan snow and beetroot mousse. His devoted clientele lapped it up.
Before his restaurant closed in July — it will be reopened in 2014 for creative projects — he had a waiting list of up to three years. For the 2,000 bookings every year, they received more than 400,000 applications. El Bulli was also voted No 1 top restaurant in the world a record five times by Restaurant magazine. But Adrià is not about to shrink from the gastronomic limelight.
Taking yet another radical step, he has published a collection of pared back recipes with the family in mind — and not a boneless chicken’s foot in sight.
This is food to be savoured by all, and not just the gourmands, with recipes for salmon and lentils; spaghetti with tomato and basil; and roast chicken with potato straws and Thai curry.
The genesis of The Family Meal lies in his experience of cooking for his own staff. In contrast to the slap-dash approach of other restaurants where staff are often fed on leftovers or on a grab-and-go basis, Adrià meticulously planned their three-course meals a year in advance. All staff at El Bulli ate together at 6pm.
Initially, the book was designed as a guide for other restaurants, but Adrià soon realised its wider appeal to families looking for simple, nutritious fare on a budget — some courses cost as little as €3.
Despite his legendary skill as a chef, he painstakingly takes the guesswork out of the preparation. Every meal — there are 31 in total — is illustrated with step-by-step pictures. And showing his eagle eye for detail, each one is introduced with a shot of all the ingredients laid out on a classic chequered table cloth, with a time guide to help novices stay on track.
But you cannot take the chef out of the cookery book writer. Recipes serve two, six, 25 and 75 people; pictures are obviously shot in a restaurant kitchen (spot the super-size baking trays) and readers are nudged to invest in a nitrous-oxide siphon for the carmel foam — a trademark item of equipment in the El Bulli kitchen laboratory.
Adrià was born far from high-tech kitchen gadgets and gastronomic science. Originally from Barcelona, there was little indication during his childhood of what was to come.
His working class parents — his mother worked in a beauty salon, his father was a plasterer — had no contacts with the world of Michelin dining. He simply fell into cooking when offered a job in a beachside hotel.
His innate talent and huge drive were soon recognised and by the age of 25 he was heading up the kitchen in El Bulli, just three years after he joined the restaurant.
Now 49, his energy and commitment to food remains undiminished. Adrià hopes his book will help to remould our relationship with food.
“It’s like sport. If a child plays sport early in childhood, and doesn’t give it up, he will play sport the rest of his life,” he said in a recent interview. “And if children have a connection with, and are involved in, the preparation of the food they eat, then it will be normal for them to cook these kind of meals, and they will go on cooking them for the rest of their lives.”
Family values were also on his mind in 2007 when he acted as a consultant to the hit film Ratatouillie — a heart-warming story about a rat who dreams of becoming a top chef. (Adrià dubbed one of the voices on the Spanish version.) At the time he said he hoped the film would encourage children to spend more time in the kitchen.
And if it means feasting on roasted vegetables, salmon with lentils with white chocolate cream for dessert (see meal 29 below) instead of a super-size me takeaway, then everyone — adults and children alike — is on to a winner. Go on, try it. It’s as simple as child’s play.
* The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià (hardback, €26.35) is published by Phaidon this week.