Geeta Bansal Interviews Albert Adria About His New Pakta and Yaguarcan Restaurants

Geeta with Albert
Geeta with Albert

Every Monday, Clay Oven Irvine executive chef/owner Geeta Bansal shares an interview that she has done with some of the heavyweights of European cooking. Today, she regales us with the second part of her interview with Albert Adria. Here is the first one. Enjoy!
Albert Adria On Tickets, Pakta, Yaguarcan and 41° Reincarnated (Continued . . .)
By Geeta Bansal, executive chef/owner at Clay Oven Irvine

Albert Adria is simply one of the most notable chefs of the world at this time. He belongs to a genre of chefs endowed with magical powers to transform food into unique forms while enhancing their taste. Adria joined the El Bulli team (his brother Ferran Adria was already on board) at the ripe old age of 15 years. He is known for creating the various deserts at El Bulli and the processes of transforming products by what came to be known as "molecular gastronomy" all over the world. In his book Natura, Adria says that he still doesn't know the meaning of the term molecular cooking.

He does not understand why he is addressed as the confectioner, foam guy, the desert chef, a deconstructionist, or as the chef who does weird food. He views his creations not as technical marvels, but as art with the ability to convey emotions. Adria is most inspired by nature, along with its imperfections. Food is his passion, and that about sums it for him.

A family man who will sometimes break off in the midst of a conversation because he just remembered he did not call his mother that day, so he must, of course, do so right away, Adria lives close to the restaurant with his wife, Sylvia, and son, Alex.

He left El Bulli in 2009, before it closed the following year, to work on his various projects such as Inopia (which opened in 2006), Tickets, 41° and two more that will open this year. Each successive restaurant that he opens becomes my favorite. As much as I love Tickets, 41° (aptly named the 41degree Experience) is at the top of my list, until I visit the next one.

Wherever you travel in the world, you see the way Adria's cuisine and style has changed the face of gastronomy. He works tirelessly, checking products, creating new plates, giving demonstrations, handling the operations of all his restaurants, travelling all over the world to food events, and still working at the pass each night at Tickets. All these ventures have been very well-received, and business is booming, which speaks to his competent management of this growing empire. Those of you trying to get a reservation know how hard it is to get in without a few months' notice.

Adria's new restaurant, Pakta (in Quecha, an ancient language spoken by the Incas; it means "union"), was to open on Jan. 15, but it was postponed to March 5, and just last night pushed back another three weeks. I first heard details about Pakta from Franco Kisic at Tickets, during one of many conversations we had at the end of night when things quieted down. He was at that time assisting Adria in fine-tuning this new concept they had come up with, and I got to see the location of this new project close to Tickets.

Adria's Tickets
Adria's Tickets

I was curious about the décor since Tickets is based on the Vida La Tapa theme and is a bright, cheery space (with a cute female door girl guarding the entrance, top hat and all). The adjacent 41° is smaller and more chic, with red-leather-topped tables, a bar in half the space, silver steers on the walls, and plastic filaments hanging from the ceiling, from which an ever-changing projection alters the space on a continuum. It is a dimly lit room with a mysterious air that in a way prepares you for what comes next: the smoking, flaming cocktails or the unending procession of exquisite little bites, all enjoyed to a soundtrack by Suey.

Interior of 41°
Interior of 41°

In subsequent conversations with Adria, I got the gist of his plans for the brand-new ventures in his empire. I learned about the concept of dual kitchens, one Japanese and the other Peruvian, both meeting in the middle. Pakta is located on Calle Lerida, just 200 meters from Tickets, in the Parallel. I don't know if it will have a listed telephone number.

The menu will include traditional items such as soba noodles, salsas and ceviche, sashimi with the influence of South American cuisine, and modern or inventive things such as nigiri with Peruvian chili peppers called ají, as well as, of course, leche de tigre, or tiger's milk. This is the potent citrus marinade used for making ceviche in Peru and much of South America.

Smoking Salmon with Roe
Smoking Salmon with Roe

"When I think of a menu, I think of a closed space," Adria says. So unlike Tickets (which has an à la carte menu), Pakta will serve a degustation-style menu at an average of 100€ per person. Adria commented that during the creative process with Kioki Li, who will be handling the Japanese kitchen, and Peruvian Jorge Munoz, they had all been making nigiri for some time, and he was very proficient in it by now. Rias de Galicia will be handling the seafood supplies to ensure quality products.

Seafood at 41°
Seafood at 41°

Adria and his creative team have created more than 100 new dishes over the past six months, though, initially, the menu will have just 35 dishes. The kitchen team will include a brigade of six chefs, plus the two main. Franco assisted in the training and formation of the dining-room team and the creation of authentic Peruvian cocktails such as chilcanos and sake sours. In my last conversation with him, he had left for Lima a few days after his recent visit to Barcelona, with everything ready to go. After the opening of Pakta, 41° is moving next door, into a larger space that will retain its style. The dining area will be on the upper floor, while downstairs will be its very popular bar with small bites, charcuterie and its 14€-plus cocktails that are so famous.

The next venture is named Yaguarcan (house of Jaguar) and is located on Calle del Carmen in Barcelona's El Raval neighborhood, which has now transformed from a rougher area into an edgy quarter with hip bars and restaurants. (I have another favorite restaurant there named Dos Pallilos.) It is to be a large space with a mescal and tequila bar, a restaurant, and a visible tortilleria as part of an open kitchen. This is by far the largest of the Adria ventures and will be a casual space with 80 seats. Mexican specialties such as moles, tamales and empanadas (with a contemporary twist) will be served like tapas for the younger clientele of that area. Raval is the area adjacent to the bustling Ramblas and is a must-see for every tourist to Barcelona. The atelier where all of the R&D for El Bulli and other projects was done, as well as their offices, are also situated nearby.

Albert's version of Mexican Sweet Corn Ravioli
Albert's version of Mexican Sweet Corn Ravioli

By now, Adria must be tired of my never-ending questions, but here I go again. . . . 

Geeta Bansal: What prompted you to go with an open concept for 41°? It is informal and formal at the same time.

Albert Adria: It is more formal than informal, as you know. This informality has details but a more professional perspective.

How do you explain what you are trying to achieve by this revolutionary concept?

What I am doing is having fun and venturing on the fun side of cuisine, while at the same time I'm studying an area as great as the cocktail and its interaction with the food--in this case, finger food. We wanted to find a dialogue between cocktails and tapas. [The cocktails are notable at 41° with fun names, such as the Pizzicato Five, named after a pop group from Japan.]

Beef Tenderloin
Beef Tenderloin

Do you see yourself as setting a new trend on the restaurant scene? A lot of restaurants are going more casual and doing away with formal service. What is your opinion about this?

I do not concern myself with all of that. I want to have a full house every night and excite my clients with what we present. Content has to be great and be able to transmit pure feeling to the people. We have a game with the diner, and we want to involve them and excite them. [Adria said earlier that he often talks to his brother Ferran about the fragility of their creations and how they are not finished until they end up in someone's mouth. A lot of thought goes into every dish that he puts on his menu.] I think it is fabulous that in a restaurant such as Tickets, you can say food is like clothing -- one day you dress more elegant, and another day more informal, if that is how you feel.

What will you change when you move 41° to a larger location?

This place, as you know, is bigger and will permit us to improve the way we work. [The kitchen at 41° is very small considering all that team prepares there; the dining room at present has tables against one wall while the other side is taken over by the long bar where the cocktails are created.] The seats will increase from 16 to 20.

Managing three of the hottest restaurants/bars in the world, are you going to focus on management or still actively cook on a regular basis?

I am happy as a chef foremost, especially while I am cooking. I hope I never forget that. [It is easy to gauge how he aims to connect with his guests, as while overseeing every plate going out, he is looking around the room to see the diner's reactions because he actually cares.]

With all these new projects, how will you manage to do that?

What I have to do is surround myself with the best people. I have a great team to help me accomplish my goal of creating novel concepts of cuisine. [Among the talented people on his creative team are Marc Alvarez, Sebastian Mazzola, Kyoki Li and Jorge Munoz.]

Will the design concept be different for the new 41°?

Sure, it will be different. The space where the new 41° is going to be located is a terrace between buildings. This location has marked its aesthetic. I want it to be like a penthouse in New York. [New York is Adria's favorite city in the U.S.]

Bar at 41°
Bar at 41°

Are you concerned with opening new restaurants at a time when Spain, along with the rest of the world, is facing tough economic times?

Of course, I know the reality of my fellow compañeros. They go out to establish ventures and not open in Spain because they believe it is not possible for business to grow here. I am not thinking like that. Professionalism and tenacity are necessary. I also think of myself as a creator of new concepts; I like to create a unique space.

Are you going to keep this in mind while setting menu prices for the new restaurants?

The crisis is there; that is why Pakta will have only 32 seats, since it is going to be more expensive. The Mexican restaurant will have many more seats. This one you know is going to be in a different neighborhood that has a younger atmosphere and will attract younger customers.

But things are worth what they are worth. Cooking with good products is expensive, so the prices reflect that. [In an earlier conversation, he had said that décor should make you realize the product is the star.]

Albert's Fare Inspired by Nature
Albert's Fare Inspired by Nature

What is the opening of your newest restaurant going to be like? More press, friends, or your clients?

I expect it to be quiet -- as I told you, Pakta is small. We kept it small because we seek something new in the Nikkei language, for my clients. If, then, on the opening day, it is press or just friends, it is besides the point. The key is to think that they are all important.

Anything you would like to say about Pakta, the food, the décor or the people who will be working there?

Right now, I just want to make it happen! (It has been delayed from January 15 to March 5 and now yet again for three more weeks) I want to show that such an interesting kitchen can exist. The Japanese kitchen as elaborated by Kyoko and the Peruvian kitchen alongside by Jorge Munoz. [I am sure the overriding aesthetic of the food at this restaurant will be Adria's style, infused with his sense of humor.]

Whimsical Decor at Tickets
Whimsical Decor at Tickets

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Espero que vivo, con eso me conformo [I hope I live, I am content with that].

Adria constantly reinvents himself, and our conversations about his work and cuisine in general will go on. His quest is to learn as many lessons as he can from his work and his life. Unlike his über-modern brother Ferran, he said that, as opposed to El Bulli--where the staff focused on the present--he will be looking to the past while creating the future.

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