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Ferran Adriá Dishes on the Modern Restaurant's Biggest Challenge and What To Do About It

He compares restaurants to nuclear energy

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Having millions of people make reservations to eat your food three years out, and still believing "I’m no one to say whether someone cooks well or not" is humble on a whole other dimension. This is Ferran Adriá – who’s widely considered the best chef in the world by many accounts, although not necessarily his own.

On Monday, September 26, the chef was joined by other world-renowned culinary personalities in the second edition of the annual Estrella Damm Gastronomy Congress in Miami. The event featured live cooking demos by Jorge Muñoz from Michelin-starred Pakta in Barcelona; Aaron Mulliss, head chef at the first gastropub to receive two Michelin stars, The Hand and Flowers; and Nick Beardshaw, head chef at The Coach, the number three gastropub in the UK.

Eater Miami sat down with Adriá before his press conference with local chef Michelle Bernstein and chatted about dining trends, Miami’s future as a culinary city and the biggest problem restaurants face today. (The interview was conducted in Spanish and then translated.)

Eater: Last year was your first conference here in Miami. What do you think will be different about it this year?

Ferran Adriá: We’re going to talk a bit about where we are in the Bulli Foundation. And since there will be a lot of restaurateurs in the audience, I’m going to do a bit of an analysis, from the business standpoint, on how I see the restaurant world today and everything that’s been happening in the last couple of years.

What do you hope to achieve with these conferences?

In the end it’s just a discussion that allows people to reflect. I came to Miami for the first time about 10 years ago, back then there was only Nobu, now there’s a whole revolution of young men and women opening smaller and more intimate restaurants. It’s a whole new game with Asian and Latin American cuisine influences seen in Miami and all over the world.

People go to restaurants the way they go to the movies. They want to see a new movie every time.

Another really interesting detail. Yesterday I was with Jose Andres and we were talking about this, which is happening in Barcelona as well as in the U.S., people go to restaurants the way they go to the movies. They want to see a new movie every time. People don’t repeat restaurants. There’s no business that can support this, the lack of rotation.

As a business model it’s a disaster. It’s as if there were 300 Ferrari and Porsche distributors. There could be a lot of money in Miami, but they still wouldn’t be able to support themselves. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that and how I, personally, see that specialization is the future. When you specialize in something, you can be the best. Or one of the best. When you want to do it all, then it’s more difficult.

Can you tell us a little bit about this year’s theme, ‘challenge of contemporary cuisine’?

More than anything we’re going to discuss the challenge of the restaurants. This isn’t discussed too much. People talk about cooking but they don’t talk about managing.
When I first came to the U.S., a restaurant with 30, 40 seats, like there are today, was unfathomable. For example in NY there are a lot, and now in Miami you’re starting to see these small restaurants, by U.S. standards. Before there seemed to only be restaurants that sat 100+, and now they’re more intimate and they don’t need to be luxurious.

There’s no market study for this. In Paris about 5 or 6 years ago there was a study done. The results showed that the people of Paris ranked food fourth in importance.

What was the first?

L’accueil, the greeting. The affection. The big problem amongst gastronomical restaurants is that there are very little reports. In fast food there are so many, measuring tendencies, etc. because there is so much money amongst these brands. And these brands invest a lot of money to measure what clients want. For us, it’s very artisanal. People say "a Peruvian restaurant could work" but there’s no study.

Should there be more studies done?

The logical thing would be for the restaurants to get together and invest some money annually to conduct these studies in order to understand. If you were to open a restaurant today, how much silverware would you need? You have to see what the tendencies are, but there’s no way to. It’s every man for himself. The problem is the massive amounts of restaurants closing so soon after they open. It’s a disaster. The amount of restaurants that last so little.

Would you start a business on nuclear energy?

No...

Me neither. People are doing this with restaurants. And chefs don’t know about management. Very few of them do. They have to hire managers and it all becomes so complex. The logical thing would be for chefs and their entire team to be educated on how to manage. This is the big "challenge." The chefs who also know how to manage are the ones who make money. I think it’s important for the young people to understand this.

Can you elaborate a bit on the changes you’ve seen in the city in the past 10 years?

I wouldn’t say Miami is a gastronomical destination, yet.

Yesterday I was eating with Jose Andres and he was telling me about all the restaurants they’re going to open. It’s crazy. More new restaurants. It’s really a revolution in Miami. This is because the public demands it. It’s a huge attitude change.

I wouldn’t say Miami is a gastronomical destination, yet. But this is important for maintaining a quality restaurant. You need to become a gastronomical destination. Barcelona, for example, isn’t a place people go exclusively to eat. But when they’re deciding between cities in Europe, they’ll often choose Barcelona because not only is it a beautiful city, but you eat very well there. This is just starting in Miami.

Any favorite restaurants?

I’m good friends with Jose Andres so, Bazaar. But I really want to go to Diego Muñoz’s Peruvian restaurant [1111 Peruvian Bistro] because he’s from El Bulli.

Any final advice for young restaurateurs?

I don’t like giving advice, but I do like sharing. They need to learn to manage. Management is very important. Cooking is beautiful and so is good service, but if you don’t manage appropriately, despite how well you cook, you’re going to have to close your restaurant.

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