‘Food Is Like Music’: Q’s With Michelin-Starred Chef Albert Adrià

Albert Adrià
Sebastian Gomes
– Albert Adrià
The maestro

Albert Adrià is one of the world’s most renowned chefs. He rose to fame after developing the iconic El Bulli in Cala Montjoi, Girona, into one of the world’s best restaurants together with his brother Ferran.
Adrià and his team were cooking at the first edition of Spain’s first major rock event Doctor Music Festival, at about the same time El Bulli received its third Michelin star. 
Doctor Music Festival was scheduled to return for a reincarnation edition in Barcelona, July 12-14, with Adrià providing the culinary headliners, but the event got cancelled when authorities forced promoter Neo Sala to switch locations at the eleventh hour.
Fans aren’t just missing out on a killer lineup that would have featured Greta Van Fleet, Rosalía, The Chemical Brothers, The Strokes, The Smashing Pumpkins, Underworld, Jimmy Cliff, King Crimson, Sabaton, Primal Scream, James Murphy, Mando Diao and many more. They will also never get to taste the exquisite creations of Adrià, who was planning on setting up a Barcelona-style street food market on site and serving some of his signature dishes. 
Almond popsicle with a prize
– Almond popsicle with a prize

By the time Doctor Music Festival’s fate had been sealed, we had already spoken to Adrià, who found time for a Skype conversation out of his “laboratory,” the Enigma, which is one of five restaurants he owns in Barcelona, and the one serving the most avant-garde food creations imaginable. 
Another one is called Tickets, it’s the most fun and extravagant place to enjoy traditional Spanish tapas with a twist that expands the senses. Tickets would have also been the brand present at Doctor Music Festival this summer. Adrià and his team couldn’t believe it when the announcement of its cancellation hit the news, seeing that they’d been in talks with Sala for about four years leading up to the reincarnation. 
Adrià has ample experience cooking at live events, his team having brought its creations to other Spanish festivals, including Sónar, Primavera Sound as well as Tomorrowland’s Unite live stream event in Barcelona. And since we talked about much more than his plans for Doctor Music Festival, it would have been a shame not to publish the interview.
– Tickets
One of five restaurants Albert Adrià owns in Barcelona

Do you enjoy music, Mr. Adrià?
When we started El Bulli, we didn’t have a television signal. The only pass-time we had were comics and music. We would pass cassettes from one to another.
What were your favourite artists that could be heard in the kitchen?
“Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits, “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns N Roses, Jo Jackson, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Clash, all the classic rock acts especially.
A waiter from California used to work with us, and he would bring all his music with him.
So cooking at music event isn’t just a professional engagement for you. You actually love music.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we now have a restaurant in Ibiza, which also hosts live concerts in cooperation with Cirque du Soleil. We have a house band. After dinner, it transforms into a club until seven in the morning. It’s called Heart Ibiza. 
So you’re a club owner as well?
Yes, and I pay the DJs.
In the live business, it’s all about creating an experience. For many festival promoters it’s not strictly about the lineup anymore, but about the entire package.
Yes, we’ve seen that with all of the events we’ve cooked at in the past, be it Sónar, Primavera Sound or Tomorrowland. Music influences everyone. It changes the way you feel.
In that way, it’s very similar to food.
How about the restaurant business. Can you still stand out by serving really good food even in a simple setting? Or does the competition, especially in a place like Barcelona, dictate that you need to offer an experience outside food?
You can still have a restaurant without the need to create all of this experience around it, for sure. At the end, everything is just an excuse to eat. It should be, at least.
The atmosphere inside Tickets
– The atmosphere inside Tickets
“My philosophy is to make others happy,” Adrià says.

What are the challenges of cooking at a festival? Are you limited in terms of appliances and devices you use to create your signature dishes?
There are some limitations, of course. But, in such a case, everything is an excuse to listen to music. We’re trying to create our experience, but always with the main stage in view. 
The second thing is mass. We want to serve as many people as possible.
The third thing is to make the people, who experience our food feel privileged, while at the same time offering competitive prices instead of a very expensive VIP experience.
The plan for Doctor Music Festival had been to create some sort of market with many street food stalls serving very honest food, cooked the moment it is ordered, and using the best products we have. So, if you’d order an oyster, we’d open it right in front of your eyes. We want to create maximum-level street food. No burgers.
Drinks also become very important at these types of events. We don’t want to create something that’s separate from the festival, and Tickets fits perfectly into that space.
Does music influence the way we experience food?
Eating a meal will feel different when listening to The Prodigy, as opposed to Greta Van Fleet, for instance. The food is the same, but the perception changes of course. It’s a beautiful thing.
We would like to personalize things depending on the group that’s playing on stage, but that’s impossible if you want to cater to the taste of all guests at the same time.
How did El Bulli end up cooking at the first Doctor Music Festival?
Juli, one of our partners, was a crazy music fan. He’d travel the world to see his favorite bands, like the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd. I don’t know if you remember the lineups of the first Doctor Music Festivals, but they were crazy powerful: David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. You couldn’t not go to the festival.
This was 20 years ago as well, there was nothing else happening here.
Basil air waffle
– Basil air waffle

Has music ever inspired one of your dishes?
Yes, just like nature and other art as well. Music is very important at a restaurant for two reasons: one, it creates ambiance, and two, it gives warmth when there are not many people around.
When a restaurant is full, the best background music is the sounds created by the guests. But if not, music helps to create this warmth.
What made you want to be part of the reincarnation of DMF?
I have very fond memories of when we first collaborated 20 years ago.
Any band’s you would have loved to check out from the 2019 lineup?
I’m a big fan of Smashing Pumpkins and really wanted to see Greta Van Fleet. The Prodigy is no more, unfortunately. I’ve seen some images of the Chemical Brothers show, which also looked amazing. They were supposed to close the festival, which everyone wasd looking forward to.
To you have a favorite band of all times?
Very hard to say, but when I’m in doubt I always go for Pink Floyd.
What would you cook for them if you had the chance?
Whatever they ask for. I actually already cooked for their drummer when I met him in Ibiza.
We have a lot of music business people and artists that come and eat at my restaurants, they really appreciate good food. We had Ron Wood, the Chemical Brothers, and many more eat at Tickets.
How would you some up or cooking philosophy?
My philosophy is to make the others happy. At the end of the day, we are turning a necessity, which is to eat, into a pleasure. And people pay a lot of money for it, so you have to think about their personal pleasure when cooking, and not too much about your own philosophy.
So, we have different philosophies for each of our restaurants.
Green peas-sion fruit
– Green peas-sion fruit

And speaking about Tickets. What’s the last show, concert or theatre you bought a ticket for?
I was about to get tickets to Metallica, when they last visited Barcelona, but couldn’t make it in the end. Before that, U2 in Barcelona. The problem is, I’m mostly working in the restaurant, when there’s a concert happening.
The last show I saw was in Dubai, called La Perle. It’s not really a circus, but an unbelievable show, created by Franco Dragone, who worked for a long time with Cirque du Soleil. He created Allegría, their most famous show.
Do you play an instrument yourself?
No, I can’t play any instruments. I wish. My son plays the guitar, and I see myself reflected in him, so that has to do.
Robuchon cake
– Robuchon cake

If you weren’t working as a chef today, what would you be doing?
Working as a publicist, selling products. We’re selling a product as well, our restaurants, and I would love to be in charge of that.
What do you do to relax?
Listen to music. I concentrate a lot, when listening to music, that helps me wind down. My favorite place used to be alone in my car, but I don’t use a car anymore.
Do you like it when other people cook for you?
I love it. It’s fantastic. That’s the moment you realize how much you love what you do, when you want to do it for others. 
We have these events called Four Hands [cuatro manos], which have been going on a lot lately, where two chefs get together and create a menu. It’s a great way to get together, learn other ways of working and share philosophies. It teaches you to respect the craft much more.
Food is like music: there are many styles, but only really two types: good or bad.
Pan con tomate
– Pan con tomate
Tickets serves classic Spanish tapas with a twist, like this crunchy bread with tomatoes

Is there any food you hate?
I have respect for anybody cooking with a good technique and using good products. I will always respect the result. I hate cooking that’s not honest. The problems come when people serve you shit, and they know it. If you go an eat a burger for one Euro, you know it’s going to be shit, no problem. What do you expect for one Euro?
The problem is when you pay 15 Euros for a dish and you can taste that the fish has been defrosted and the sauce microwaved. That’s what I hate.
Are there musical genres you hate?
Yes. I hate Reggaeton and trap. A lot. 
What’s your favorite cuisine outside of Spain?
Puh. Maybe Mexico? But Mexican food in Mexico, not in the U.S. or Spain. Mexican food in Mexico. I love Japanese and Chinese too, but if I had to choose to live somewhere, it’d be Mexico. The only problem would be that I’d gain 20 kilos in Mexico.
Cooks have become Rockstars in their own right. Do you sign a lot of autographs when walking through the streets of Barcelona these days?
Not in the streets, but at the restaurants, yes.
Like in a good band, the front man gets all the hype but it’s about the entire ensemble. Is it similar in your profession?
Like my brother Ferran always says, running a good kitchen is always a team game. I’m the director of an orchestra. You have 25 people working for me and we’ve developed a routine, like a good band. We have to practice for hours and hours, just like a band, and at the moment of truth, it all comes together. We are more or less 30 cooks in Tickets.
The Tickets orchestra
– The Tickets orchestra
Led by chef Fran Agudo


How big is the orchestra across all restaurants? 
90 in Barcelona. Too much!
Are you going to cook at more live events going forward?
We like being at these types of events. We have something different to offer, which people accept very well. The only thing is that it’s always a huge effort, and costly as well, which is why we’re not doing it as often as we’d like.
What’s next? What are you working on at the moment?
We have a project in Dubai, but it’s still just a project. We hope it’ll work out. A 3,000 meter long terrace. We can have a lot of fun with that. I’m interested in projects where I can have fun.
Prawn on frozen sea snow
– Prawn on frozen sea snow