El Bulli chef wants a piece of the pizza pie

Ferran Adrià, the internationally acclaimed chef whose El Bulli in Spain is revered as the world’s premier outpost of gastronomic inventiveness, has ventured to Italy to learn a more humble art, pizza making. And perhaps not surprisingly, some Italians have a problem with that.

Ferran and his brother Alberto, the pastry chef at cutting-edge El Bulli, plan to open a straightforward pizzeria in Barcelona, apparently one that will be gimmick-free. They insist their goal is to create an honest interpretation of the Italian specialty, not to wheel out chemicals, liquid nitrogen and other experimental cooking methods to alter toppings, the sauce or dough.

Photo credit: A Food section photograph that accompanied a May 13 article about El Bulli chef Ferran Adria was credited to Phil Gallo. The photographer was Giulio Ferrari. —

In order to do that, they are scouring Italy to unearth secrets. “We’ll learn to make it well, this national dish of yours,” Alberto told La Stampa, the daily newspaper in Turin, during his recent visit to the city in the northwestern region of Piedmont.

He had earlier visited Italy to learn how to make panettone, the light Christmas sweet bread, but says he had too much respect for the original to go into competition. But pizza, Alberto Adrià said, is another thing. “Ferran likes it too much. So we asked ourselves: ‘Why can’t we have a decent one in Barcelona? We should be the one to try.’ ”

Vincenzo Mansi, a world-champion pizza maker from Capri, is skeptical. Despite the successes that Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck have had in the U.S., in Italy the idea of a fine-dining chef suddenly turning into a pizza maker is not just foreign -- it’s preposterous.

“The secret of the pizza is inside the blood,” Mansi said. “You don’t wake up one morning and improvise yourself as a pizzaiolo. I’ve been doing this for over 18 years, and I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered it. You need to know how to touch the dough. You need to know how to deal with the ingredients. You don’t become pizzaiolo, you are born pizzaiolo.”

The Adrià brothers have not announced whose pizza-making advice they are soliciting, but they have been photographed enjoying slices in Turin and Padua. They have neither a date nor a specific location for the Barcelona pizzeria.

The first inkling that Ferran Adrià was looking into pizza came in October during the Salone Internazionale Del Gusto food exhibition in Turin. He requested authentic pizza and was sent to Pizzeria La Cozza, where one of the pizzaioli is Aldo Brandi, a descendant of the inventor of the Margherita pizza 120 years ago.

Hold the foam

Giulio Ferrari, owner of Pizzeria La Cozza, said he was thrown by the news of Adrià wanting to get into pizza. “I hope he’s not going to deconstruct it too much and turn it into a foam,” he said.

La Stampa broke the news that the brothers had begun their great pizza hunt. It also exposed the likely reasoning: profit. The 50-seat El Bulli, located in Roses, Spain, overlooking a bay in Catalonia, is widely reputed to be a money-loser. Famous for being open only six months of the year, it employs 70 people and serves 8,000 diners, but rumors of its closure have been swirling in the restaurant world.

“We are able to continue because El Bulli is a strong brand,” Alberto told students at the Istituto d’Arte Applicata in Turin. “But I don’t want to cook for just a few people. And what’s simpler than a disk on which one lays the ingredients of a pizza?”

Still, the idea that the Adriàs could bring pizza into the haute cuisine world sent the Italian food blogosphere reeling. While some took pride in Ferran Adrià turning his attention to Italy’s cuisine, most posting on La Stampa’s website, Massimo Bernardi’s well-respected Dissapore and Paolo Massobrio’s blog Bar Babietola responded with resentment over a foreign celebrity chef trying to redo an Italian classic.

Another champion pizza maker, Claudio Paduano of Pizzeria Madison in Nocera Inferiore near Salerno, has a more positive outlook, noting it is an honor to pizzaioli that a great chef would consider kneading and tossing dough, making sauce and creating pies.

“There is a lot to learn,” Paduano said. “Nature is not constant, you need knowledge and experience in how to deal with the ingredients.”

Fueling the antipathy toward Ferran Adrià was a recent weeklong series about molecular cuisine on “Striscia la Notizia,” or “Slither the News,” Italy’s equivalent of " The Daily Show.” Max Laudadio, host of the satirical program, ambushed Adrià at an April book signing in Milan and grilled him about his use of chemicals and funding he has received from chemical companies.

Adrià acknowledged he received 25,000 euros from Inicon, a project financed by the European Union to promote additives for the kitchen.


Food journalist Jörg Zipprick was on the show, contending that food additives must be labeled in packaged foods but not in restaurants that clearly use them, such as El Bulli.

Veniero Gambaro, a professor of chemical analysis in Milan, also appeared on the show and, after examining the ingredients of one dish from El Bulli , said, “Not all, but some of the ingredients found in this composition could be considered synthetic products. These are chemical additives that are used in certain processed foods and are usually regulated.”

On the other hand, maybe converting the Spanish to pizza isn’t such a great idea after all. Shortly after the Adriàs made their Italian tour, the American chain Pizza Hut announced it would soon close 100 of its 134 outlets in Spain.