‘Chef’s Table Season 5, Episode 4: ‘Albert Adrià’ Recap

The Albert Adriàepisode of retraces the history of one of the world’s most important restaurants, while also showcasing how one of its major players continues to innovate. Fans of avant-garde cuisine will surely love this episode, which shows, in vivid detail, how many of the chef’s famous creations come together. It’s arguably the most visually impressive episode of Season 5.

Who is Albert Adrià?

Albert Adrià is the chef/proprietor of a group of acclaimed, forward-thinking Barcelona restaurants, including Tickets, Enigma, and Pakta. Prior to opening these establishments, Albert was the pastry chef and creative director of the groundbreaking avant-garde restaurant El Bulli, where his brother Ferran was the savory chef and co-proprietor. Early in this episode, writer Matt Goulding says, “When we’re talking about raw talent, bar none, pound for pound, there is no better cook on the planet than Albert Adrià.”

What was his journey through the culinary world like?

Adrià grew up in the working-class L’Hospitalet neighborhood of Barcelona. Albert always felt a little bit different than the other kids, partially because he was dyslexic. At 15 years old, he told his dad that he was tired of school and wanted to do something else, so he reached out to his older brother Ferran, who had just gotten a job as the head chef at a restaurant in nearby Roses, Spain called El Bulli. Although he had no formal culinary training, Ferran put Albert to work and taught him how to be a valuable member of a kitchen team. “It was the most beautiful period of my life,” Albert says, reflecting on the early days of his time at El Bulli.

After a year and a half, Albert became the pastry chef. His traditional, French-inspired desserts were popular with guests, but as Ferran’s cuisine started to get more and more ambitious, Albert realized that he needed to change his pastries to match the savory courses. With both of the Adria brothers experimenting in the kitchen, El Bulli earned its third Michelin star, and Albert felt a renewed sense of purpose. “When creating pastries, it was limitless,” he says.

But the younger Adrià brother had more ambition beyond just dessert. He soon convinced Ferran to let him establish a test kitchen where he could develop innovations, with the ultimate goal of creating around 45 new dishes per season. As creative director for El Bulli, Albert pioneered the use of hot gelatins, refined foams, silicon molds, and sugar lamps, as well as the practice of spherification. “I felt free,” Albert says, while reflecting on his time in the test kitchen. “Everything was suddenly a world of color.”

Although Albert was responsible for many of the restaurant’s innovations, Ferran was the brother that got all of the attention from the media. As El Bulli became more famous around the world, Ferran started doing “multiple interviews” per day, according to Albert. “His name, Ferran Adrià, is just as powerful as El Bulli,” the chef remarks. Eventually the media attention that the restaurant was receiving, and the constant pressure to keep innovating, took a toll on Albert. After 23 years working at his brother’s side, the chef decided to leave El Bulli and open his own restaurant, Tickets, in Barcelona.

Ezra Patchett/Netflix

What was his “Aha” moment?

Diners did not embrace Albert’s circus-themed tapas restaurant when it opened, partially, he thought, because many of them were expecting something in the avant-garde vein of El Bulli, and he was serving something more straightforward. “The first days were heartbreaking,” Albert says. After assessing the situation, Adrià realized that he didn’t have a story to tell with this menu. If anything, the original iteration of Tickets was a way to leave his past behind. That’s when he realized that, to move forward, Albert had to return to the avant-garde cooking that he pioneered at El Bulli. And by serving experimental dishes in a whimsical, tapas-style setting, Adrià finally found the personal and professional success that he was chasing. “For 25 years I was comfortable in the shadow,” he says. “But I have my own dignity. I had to become the monster, because I’m El Bulli.”

What are some of Adrià’s most quotable moments in the episode?

On the creative mindset: “What is creativity? There is no end to creativity. A technique or a concept is followed by another one and another one and another one. And there is no end. We play to discover the avant-garde. There aren’t limits. There is total freedom. Let’s say that we skip the rules. One plus one is three. If you always think that one plus one is two, you will never do anything different. Those who think that one plus one is three are the ones who dare.”

On discovering spherification: “I visited a food factory. In their laboratory, they had a bottle of sauce, with little balls floating. I quickly asked, ‘How is that done?’ And the chemist handed me a bag of algae. I arrived back in Barcelona at 6:30 p.m. and went to the workshop. I was alone in the workshop. I dissolved water with the alginate and calcium with water. I took a spoon and tossed the water in the bath. And when I lifted it out, I saw that it created a membrane. When I punctured it, there was liquid inside. ‘Wow.’ I began to tremble and sweat. I knew I had found something important. The first spherification was the olive. And I asked myself, ‘Where’s the limit?’ That moment, I realized that I don’t see a ceiling. And from then on, our techniques really took off. “

On being an experimental chef: “When you are avant-garde you have two options: You either get killed, or you find a new way.”

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