Svelte in a sharp suit rather than chef’s whites, Catalan chef and self-titled culinary ‘agitator’, Ferrán Adriá chose London’s baroque Spanish embassy to announce details of the first European Congress of Tourism and Gastronomy on Tuesday.
Against a backdrop of jaunty canvases of vintage drunken dandies, Adriá opened with the line, ‘next week, I learn English’ (delivered to rousing applause via his translator).
On the need for such an initiative, he explained that cooking techniques had advanced ‘more in 15 years than the past 100’, partly because the internet ‘links chefs’. He posed the questions, ‘what will hotels, airlines and restaurants look like in a decade?’ and, ‘how will information be delivered?’
Expanding upon his announcement last month that the triple Michelin-starred restaurant, elBulli will become a non-profit culinary ‘think-tank’ in the next four years (and thus eligible for tax breaks) he criticised press for causing him ’20 days of anguish’ in its wake. ‘There was much speculation and confusion – people got lost in it all.’ Along with restaurant manager, Juli Soler, he vexed, ‘this all came out way before we were ready…’
Ultimately, Adriá claims no ulterior motive for his decision other than to perpetuate a culture of gastronomic reinvention. ‘It’s very difficult to remain creative in a restaurant,’ he said. ‘But with 30 scholarships available for the very finest talents, paid between €15-20k, elBulli is no longer going to be just about me – that’s the difference.’
Unfortunately, the restaurant’s hellish reservations system, quoted at 2 million enquiries for 6,500 covers per year, will not change. He said: ‘it’s not about the numbers of diners whom visit, but the numbers of chefs who have worked with us and continue to influence – totalling over 1,000 in two decades.’
Of the reason why London was chosen as the launch-pad for the congress, Joan Mesquida, Spanish Secretary of State for Tourism, underlined Spain’s attraction to the British – who make around 17 million visits per year according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Food is a major reason, with ‘Restaurant Magazine featuring four Spanish restaurants in the world’s top 50,’ he said. However, ‘nobody taught us how to eat, so the congress will focus on education and the roots of gastronomy.’ Mesquida then formally announced Adriá as the new face of the Spanish Tourism Board.
As if influenced by thoughts of holidays, rare sun poured through the voiles, glinting through flutes of vintage Cava. The bubbles deftly cut through moist, silky slithers of Jamón de Teruel and Adriá authored canapés, including squid head cornets.
The inaugural event occurs at Madrid’s Institución Ferial, 24-25 May, and will feature 27 European countries.
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2010 occurs 26 April at Guildhall, City of London.