Geeta Bansal Interviews Albert Adria, Pastry Genius

Categories: On the Line
Albert and Geeta

In the latest installment of Clay Oven chef-owner Geeta Bansal's interviews with master European chefs, she sits down with Albert Adrià, the younger brother of Ferran of El Bullí fame and the man behind the legendary restaurant's magnificent desserts.Enjoy!
La Vida Tapa!
By Geeta Bansal, Executive Chef at Clay Oven Irvine

Outside of Tickets

Albert Adria is a visionary, an artist, an alchemist. He is a young cuisiniar who looks at the world with eyes full of wonder, an accomplished chef with the heart of a child. I first got to know Albert when my husband Praveen and I used to hang out at his bar Inopia every night that we were in Barcelona, Spain.

Quiet and unassuming, he ensured that every guest was well taken care of and enjoying every bite coming their way. Inopia was a small neighborhood tapas bar that was a far cry from El Bulli, his brother Ferran Adria's restaurant near Girona, north of Barcelona. I remember the first time we visited there, unaware of the fact that such spectacular food existed and that it was possible to present and serve food that way. Albert was the man behind the multiple deserts served at El Bulli, that when presented to us, we didn't know if they were meant to be eaten or just looked at and photographed.

Albert gets excited when he talks about food. His eyes brighten up and the hand gestures get more spirited. I applaud the fact that despite being one of the most well known people in the culinary world, he has not taken on the persona of a celebrity chef.

A few months ago we were excited to visit Ticketsbar, his new venture in Barcelona with his hermano Ferran, and within hours of landing at the airport we were seated at the main serving bar (my seat of choice, as I had always done at Inopia), where Albert was at the pass checking every plate on the way out to diners in the restaurant. Having waved us in at the door, he soon came over and I could see that he was genuinely happy to see me as were some members of the team who had come over from Inopia and El Bulli. Needless to say, we returned every subsequent night that we were in Barcelona. Albert inscribed his book Natura to me with, "Tickets and 41: Your real home." Like Inopia, at Tickets I have a feeling they understand that I can never have enough of the Joselito, the Spanish Iberico ham (Tip: Go for the Jamon Joselito Gran Reserva and definitely the Racion portion, washed down with cava or Inedit beer. The fact that I have attended a Joselito and Tattinger tasting should prove my point).

Desserts being put together at Tickets

The vibe at Tickets is very hip and happening (not necessarily in a LA kind of way). Their decor is kitschy and carnival-like, but you have to visit to get the real atmosphere: loud conversations buzzing in many languages, the bell of the little ice cream cart making music as it is wheeled around the dining room, and platters of tapas flying around in the hands of the friendly servers. There are guests from every continent and every city, some already seated while others wait outside for their table to open up, excited about having wrangled an impossible reservation to Tickets, or the even more exclusive 41 Degrees next door. If you are heading to Barcelona, start planning your reservation at least few months in advance.

After our meal and having caught up on our mutual news, we talked about attending the Gastronomika in San Sebastian up north the following week. Albert loves to demonstrate his art and his presentations on stage are the most well-attended at any food symposium or congress of culinaires the world over. I was very touched when he was up on stage after a spectacular talk and demonstration of some of the cocktails and tapas served at 41 Degrees and he asked me, despite the press and cameras all around, if I liked his presentation.

Albert and I after his presentation at the Gastronomika 2012

Albert is so good at what he does because he genuinely cares and wants to please. We had walked the convention floors the previous day along with his 41 Degrees chef Sebastian, discussing the various displays and also all the questions that I had for him, to which he replied, "Are sure you haven't changed into a press reporter?" 41 Degrees is the new restaurant venture in Barcelona by the Adria brothers which serves a lot of the El Bulli signature dishes (a version of the liquid olives, their most talked about dish, is served at Ticketsbar as well). More about 41 in a later segment with Sebastian, the young chef of 41.

The ice cream cart putting together my favorite: The strawberry/honey ice cream cornettos

My questions for Albert and his responses:

What is your philosophy about food?

I do not worry about having a philosophy about the way I cook. I believe you should be happy while cooking and do cheerful cooking demonstrations. (As he quotes in his book Natura, "These are my principles, and if you don't like them, well I have others." - Groucho Marx) Albert says that it is all about the sensation, the taste, and the imagination to blow your mind. At Tickets and 41, his food is a synthesis of snacks and bites, with the aforementioned elements in play.

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