A world redrawn: Top Spain chef sees fewer restaurants, more home cooking

Spanish chef from Catalonia Ferran Adria

When the pandemic struck, top chef Ferran Adria was in the final phases of preparing to reopen his world-famous El Bulli restaurant nine years after it closed.


Although the rest of the world ground to a halt, this highly-decorated Catalan chef has been using the lockdown to work around the clock to ensure the August opening goes ahead as planned.

And when it does, the newly-transformed restaurant which held three Michelin stars, will reopen as a creativity laboratory to foster inventions in both gastronomy and other areas.

But for this Spanish master of molecular cuisine, the virus has caused "a lot of grief" for the sector, even if it has transformed many people's relationship with their own kitchens at home, he told AFP.

- 'A brutal situation' -

"It's a brutal situation, a real tragedy," he admitted, saying the crisis had silenced all other debates raging within the sector.

"Now the question is: if I'm solvent, I will be able to open my business. If I'm not, I won't."

After being shuttered for months, restaurants now face tough, restrictive conditions for reopening, with new norms limiting capacity and social distancing, which could spell disaster for many, he said.

"It's not like you just open and that's the end of it. When you're in hospitality, either you're 70 percent full or you're not running a viable business, except in some cases."

And if people can't freely associate with friends and family, it reduces the chances of them going out to eat.

"With all the problems they're talking about, are you likely to go to a restaurant and spend 100 euros? No," Adria said.

"We go to restaurants because it's sociable. The most important thing is to be with friends. To eat well, yes, but with friends. If you can't do that, it's going to be very difficult."

- Perfecting the recipes -

But the lockdown, which was imposed in Spain on March 14 to slow the spread of the virus that has now killed around 28,000 people, had also spawned other changes that would have an impact on society.

"One thing that is going to come out of this lockdown is that some of the population are learning about cooking. Some for entertainment and others because, for the first time in their lives, either they cook or they have to order online every day," he said.

"By now, many people have entered the kitchen. And that is going to have a social impact, even more so with remote working."

Like many other top chefs, Adria has been sharing some of his own recipes to encourage the home cooking revolution.

"I've also been sharing recipes online but more than that I've tried to teach people how to organise themselves in the kitchen. And that has also helped me establish a routine," he said.

For him, being forced to stay at home has given him space to work flat out on the August reopening, getting up "at 4:30 am every day and working until 9:00 pm".

"Working remotely has always been quite normal with the El Bulli Foundation given how much I'm travelling. Now that I'm not going out, working this way is much more efficient".

But for Adria, being cut off from the world is not something new -- with a period of isolation built into the yearly cycle of running El Bulli, which topped the World's 50 Best Restaurants list a record five times.

Located a tiny remote cove off Spain's northeastern coast, the restaurant only opened a few months per year and Adria and his team would spend 10 weeks isolated from the rest of the world perfecting the recipes.

"I would spend six months at El Bulli in Montjoi and the first two-and-a-half-months was basically like lockdown," he said.

"So I've already lived through this experience of being pretty much alone."