Culinary Pioneer Albert Adrià on Business, Family and Creativity
Renowned Spanish chef Albert Adrià—younger brother to Ferran—was the head pastry chef at elBulli and for many years the director of the 3-star Michelin restaurant’s workshop, El Bullitaller. These days, his elBarri restaurant group is involved in New York’s Mercado Little Spain and runs seven critically-acclaimed restaurants in Barcelona, Ibiza and London. This March, the Michelin-starred chef was in Toronto to celebrate his decades-long partnership with Barcelona-based beer brand Estrella Damm.
We took the opportunity to ask him about his creative process, the importance of a business plan, and what it’s really like to work with family.
What was the hardest or best thing about working with family?
Can you imagine working with your family? [Laughs.] As a professional, you always leave your family issues outside at the door. It was good for us usually; we created our own teams in the kitchen, and
and that team is like a family too. Of course we fought sometimes, but we like each other.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned about running a restaurant from your older brother, Ferran?
We started together, but this kind of job requires learning every day. It can take a year on your own for you to learn the business, especially now that the world is so small. When I started at elBulli in 1985, the only cuisine that was known was French cuisine. Now, the restaurant world has been internationalized.
You are involved in many restaurants and culinary projects around the world. What is the common denominator?
For me, the best chef is the one who uses common sense.
How important is a business plan versus having a unique idea?
Without a business plan, you don’t have a business. I get that question a lot, as if I am a businessman or a chef. But I am a chef and a businessman. Because if the numbers aren’t right, then you had better close down the restaurant—I don’t like to create restaurants that lose money.
Do you have any advice for leading a team or multiple teams in a high stress environment?
I’m always messaging everyone continuously because I manage many teams. Having a great team in place is the most important thing; if the team improves and becomes better, then the restaurant will also become better.
This trip is the first time I’ve left my restaurants in two months. Being present in your company is very important. I have my own kitchen, and I visit my restaurants in Barcelona three times a day to make sure that everything is running smoothly and that there are no surprises.
What does innovation mean to you?
We cannot make revolutions every day. There’s a lot of information around and everybody speaks about creativity, but very loosely. What I think is important about the creative process is a positive state, questioning yourself, having the capacity to answer your own questions, and having respect.
What inspires you?
Everything in life, the good and the bad. Some people think that only good things can be inspiring, but bad things like errors and mistakes also can inspire. Mistakes can teach you important lessons, and they can also become an inspiration. In business, things can change quickly; what matters is your ability to make decisions and adapt to the changes.