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When the mentor rejects the disciple: Why did chefs Ferran Adrià and José Andrés fall out?

A misunderstanding drove the Spanish chef to settle in the United States and create a gastronomic emporium

Ferran Adrià and Jose Andrés.
Ferran Adrià and Jose Andrés.
Paz Álvarez

Since the elBulli restaurant closed on July 30, 2011, Spanish chef José Andrés had not returned to Cala Montjoi, in Girona, Spain. However, he recently went back there to show his three daughters, Carlota, 26, Inés, 21, and Lucía, 18, the place where he started working while he was studying at Barcelona’s School of Restaurants and Hospitality. Catalan chef Ferran Adrià, the former head chef of elBulli, was waiting for him there. José Andrés and his family had traveled to this remote spot overlooking the Mediterranean to record one of the six episodes that make up the docuseries José Andrés and Family in Spain. In it, Adrià receives the chef, who acknowledges: “Ferran is the God of cooking, my mentor and one of my best friends.” In this same spot, a new version of elBulli – elBulli1846 – will open its doors in April.

“This is where the gastronomic revolution began; now it’s a museum, but it used to be a restaurant with more than two million reservation requests a year,” José Andrés explains to his daughters. Although they were small, they were present the day Adrià closed the doors of the legendary restaurant, accompanied by their mother, Patricia Fernández de la Cruz. They even passed trays of appetizers among the guests.

In another scene from the series, two of the girls tell their father, almost in passing, that if he had not argued with Ferran Adrià he would not have met their mother, and they would not exist. José Andrés remembers the moment, but fails to reveal the reason for the dispute, which he did mention publicly the day the last dinner was served at elBulli.

That summer day of 2011, Adrià and his partner, Juli Soler (who died in 2015), sat at a long table placed under the pines at the entrance of the restaurant with some of the most renowned Bullinian cooks in the world. That evening, José Andrés, accompanied by the Danish René Redzepi (whose restaurant Noma was the best in the world at the time, according to Restaurant magazine’s list of The World’s Best 50 Restaurants) and the American Grant Achatz (from the Alinea restaurant in Chicago), explained that he owed his career to an argument with his mentor.

Jose Andrés and Ferran Adrià at an event in Los Angeles, in October.
Jose Andrés and Ferran Adrià at an event in Los Angeles, in October.Alexandra Wyman (WireImage)

A fateful evening in Barcelona

José Andrés had become an intern at elBulli in 1988. After a training period of three years, he and Adrià agreed to meet at a bar in Barcelona to talk about work: the renowned chef wanted to hire the outstanding student. He arrived at the meeting place a few minutes early and saw that the cook was not there yet. After waiting for a while, José Andrés went out, looking for a phone booth to call him. When he returned, Adrià was already at the table. Strict with manners and punctuality, he was annoyed by his disciple’s tardiness. He told him so, and did not hire him. José Andrés, with no job and nothing to keep him in Spain, caught a plane and went to the United States. Days later, he called Adrià from New York to tell him he had found a job.

Thus began the American adventure of the Spanish chef, who began to work at Paradis Barcelona, El Dorado Petit and El Cid before moving to Washington, his headquarters and the place where he created ThinkFoodGroup, a company that manages a group of restaurants in cities like Miami, New York, Las Vegas and Chicago. He also created the NGO World Central Kitchen, which takes care of food needs in emergency situations like the war in Ukraine. In Spain, he is a partner of the Bulbiza Holding gastronomic project, with several locations in Madrid.

Despite the incident that separated Ferran Adrià and José Andrés, today they are great friends. Together they have participated in the Science and Cooking course taught at Harvard University, and when the Catalan chef has offered a conference or a training program at the prestigious Massachusetts university, José Andrés has been there as a translator. They are also partners, together with Albert Adrià, of Mercado Little Spain, a space of more than 3,200 square meters in Manhattan.

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