Tapas have long been a part of Spanish cuisine, and there are several legends about their origin. One relates that when King Alfonso X of Castile, known as Alfonso the Wise, fell ill, his physicians advised him to drink wine as a cure. The royal healers also recommended he have a small bite to eat with every sip of wine to minimize the side effects of the high-proof prescription. After the king recovered, he issued a decree that henceforth drinking wine should always be accompanied by eating small portions of food – a measure to protect his subjects from the insalubrious effects of overindulging. And in the private clubs of the Sevillian upper classes, it was customary for the waiters to place a piece of bread garnished with a small tidbit as a cover, or tapa, on the drinking vessels to keep out dust and insects.
Tapas can be found everywhere in Spanish gastronomy: be it a refreshing lunch for business partners, a small snack for in-between, or a varied supper with friends and family. And tapas are certainly not associated with the upper classes anymore – unless they are prepared by someone like Albert Adrià, who for years cooked for those who can afford the best of the best. For over 20 years, the master chef worked side-by-side with his brother, Ferran Adrià, at the legendary restaurant elBulli on the Cala Montjoi in Roses.
Growing up in modest circumstances, Ferran left home early and discovered his great passion for cooking. Albert became infused by the same passion and, at the age of 15, followed his brother to elBulli where he trained for two years and found his calling as a pâtissier. Together they were the linchpins of the best restaurant in the world. The brothers turned elBulli into a globally acclaimed brand and revolutionized the entire Spanish gastronomical scene for good. Three times in succession the restaurant was elected as the world's best gourmet restaurant. Eventually though, Albert Adrià decided he was ready to do something else with the skills and the knowledge he had acquired during his years at elBulli.
I wanted to start something that would be accessible to everyone.
The master chef decided he wanted to concentrate his efforts on traditional cuisine and left elBulli a few years before it closed its portals for good in 2011. First he founded the Inopia, a restaurant he closed down again a few years later to dedicate himself to his current project, the Ticketsbar. An elegant bar, the 41°, in which small snacks are served, complements the restaurant. Since their joint opening, both establishments are on average fully booked a month in advance.
In these troubled times, it is naturally a great honor to be running a restaurant that is so successful it has a waiting list. On the other hand, it also means our customers have very high expectations, and that puts a lot of pressure on us.
Pressure that Adrià obviously feels as becomes evident during our conversation. In-between his brief replies, he is busy monitoring incoming emails, giving instructions to personnel on the other side of the room, and continually checking to see whether everything is as it should be. As an interview partner, he is not very forthcoming and his answers are more or less what one might expect to hear. And just by looking around the Ticketsbar, it is difficult to envision what is served here. Tapas, of course, but what kind of tapas exactly? A glance at the menu confirms that the master chef’s reinterpretation of these traditional dishes exceeds our imagination by far. Next to a wide selection of fish and shellfish tapas, there are dishes such as: diced watermelon with ginger marinated in orange zest and peppermint; razor clams; partridge egg-avocado cannelloni; lukewarm tomato ragout; or cress served in fish stock at room temperature. The composition of the tapas is clearly influenced by the time spent at elBulli. Yet, according to Adrià, in terms of concept the restaurants defy comparison. "The Ticketsbar is more affordable, the idea is to enjoy yourself and to experience something that stands out from the other things on offer in Barcelona." But what exactly does Ticketsbar as a brand stand for?
A brand develops by itself. It is like an empty book whose pages fill up over time. I view myself the same way. An identity cannot be created, it has to live and develop in its own time.
And he adds, "I wouldn't want anyone to come here and say to me: ‘I was here last year. I’m so glad it hasn’t changed at all!’ To me, that would not be a compliment." The work he did at elBulli for over 20 years never became routine. "My brother could afford to close elBulli in the winter. We would use the time to experiment, and that would lead to new ideas." Just as little as he likes routine, Albert Adrià obviously does not enjoy questions that fall outside the scope of cooking. He doesn't share personal information. Instead he replies by saying: "Well, that's something I could talk about for hours." And then doesn't. Possibly his style of communication reflects the natural reticence of a man who has spent his life staying out of the limelight. Or maybe he simply prefers to let the food speak for itself. Whatever the case may be, the importance of our questions vanishes among the animated buzz of the guests and the shimmering lights of the Ticketsbar.
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