“World’s Greatest Chef” Ferran Adria Discusses El Bulli and Future Projects

At the inaugural Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival in Mexico’s beautiful Yucatan Peninsula, Ferran Adria was the guest of honor. The famed Catalonian molecular gastronomist who was the former chef at El Bulli (coined "the world’s best restaurant" by Restaurant Magazine) spoke with BlackBook about the just-released DVDEl Bulli: Cooking in Progress, and his future projects. 

What are some of the restaurants you’ve been to, while in Cancun or in New York?  Where have you been surprised?
There are extraordinary restaurants, for sure, but it is really hard to surprise people who have been in the business, like me, for more than 30 years. I’ve been lucky enough to meet people like Michel Guerard and Thomas Keller, since ’75. I’ve read hundreds of books of contemporary cuisine, and it gets harder and harder to do new things. I’m, actually, more surprised with what’s happening here in Mexico with contemporary cuisine than in Europe.
 
There’s been a movement to replicate the elBulli highlights of the menu and some of the great things that you and your chefs have cooked over the decades at other restaurants. What do you think of that?
Some people have taken the El Bulli philosophy and have done a great job. Some of the most influential cooks in the west have worked at El Bulli. We must have done something right.
 
It’s been reported that you’re opening a Mexican restaurant in Barcelona. How will it differ from El Bulli?
That’s rather my brother Albert’s project with Francisco Mendez Velez ( "Paco Mendez"). Albert’s been to Mexico many times, and it has gotten into his skin. He wants to express some things with that. We shall see what happens. He is quite a purist, in terms of types of Mexican food, but he won’t be against a certain type of evolution. The one thing that’s a fact is that it’s going to be very informal.
 
And will you have anything to do with it?
I’m going to help. We will always work together. In this case, my brother is the boss. At El Bulli, I was the boss.
 
Would you ever consider opening a restaurant in Mexico or New York?
No. I want to help a lot of people put together a restaurant – young people. Production, I’m not interested in anymore. I’ve been working for 30 years – 16, 17 hours a day. Next! But there are many ideas and concepts I do share with people. This is the last food festival I go to until I’m with the El Bulli Foundation and I’ll see what happens.
 
[Photo: Richard C. Murray/RCM IMAGES, INC]

Industry Insiders: Cygalle Dias, Zen Master

Ever hear of a water-cannon salute? Fire
trucks lined the runway to spray our plane with water, after landing in the Dominican Republic on JetBlue’s inaugural flight from JFK to La Romana. We headed to Casa de Campo, sugar baron Pepe Fanjul’s beautiful resort. The movie Rambo 2 included scenes on the stunning Chavon River there. Sting, Carlos Santana, and Frank Sinatra are among the many celebrities who have performed at the nearby amphitheater.
 Cygalle Dias, an entrepreneur based in New York, launched a healing spa at the resort. The spa, replete with an outdoor labyrinth and Zen gardens, is one property of a spa company that spans both the fashion and entertainment world.  

 What does your company do?
It brings mobile spas to places such as the Hamptons, and New York and London Fashion Weeks.
 
Who have enjoyed your spas?
Rosario Dawson in the Hamptons, Zac Posen and Charlotte Ronson in New York, and Stella McCartney in London.
 
Tell me a little about your connection with the Dominican Republic.

Another facet of my business is spa management. We launched a healing spa at Casa de Campo.
 
What do you love about Casa de Campo?

They’re pioneers in creating an all-inclusive resort. It’s 7,000 acres. It’s huge.
 
What’s distinctive about it?
I think the villa lifestyle is really special there. You can have your own private chef and butler.
 
How do you like the restaurants?
I love Le Cirque there, which is on the beach. The people that own it are really nice. They have Le Cirque in New York, too. My other favorite is La Casita, a Spanish-American style restaurant that is in the Marina. I love the view right on the water.
 
Tell us a bit about the spa.
My vision of the spa was to integrate health and beauty throughout the entire resort. The spa at Casa de Campo is natural, featuring organic treatments and healing for the holistic lifestyle. It features seven suites. They’re private and quite large.
 
What is the water ritual in the suites all about? The water plunged from 105◦ F to 59◦ F !
It’s an Oriental therapy designed from ancient times for building up your immune system. Once you get used to it — and you have to do it a lot – you get stronger health-wise because it’s stimulating both your immune system and circulation, too. And when you have another spa treatment, it is enhanced, since you’re already stimulated from the experience. I recommend the water ritual and then the steam treatment, which is a detox, so you can sweat and then exfoliate with a scrub. The spa pharmacy makes scrubs and wraps from plants and fruits on the island. There’s a labyrinth stone that’s an ancient ritual, too. That one’s for balance and to center yourself.
 
Who are some of the celebrities who visited the spa in Casa de Campo?
Kate Hudson, Kanye West, Johnny Damon, and Michelle Rodriguez.
 
We went to your Mobile Spa day at the Organic Avenue store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Will there be another one soon?
Yes. The date hasn’t been set yet.
 
Tell me about what’s available at the store.
The Cygalle Organic Chamomile Makeup Remover can be purchased there. I’m into a holistic approach, and my products don’t have a lot of chemicals in them.
 
What are some of your favorite hangouts in New York?
I like Le Cirque. I also like Cipriani on the Upper East Side. And I like Nobu 57. And I love the Four Seasons lounge in the front of the hotel for afternoon tea and for meetings. I like Jean-Georges, too, in the Trump International Hotel & Tower. Au Bon Pain in the middle of the park is really fantastic on a nice day.
 
What’s next for you?
I’ve been talking to developers in New York and elsewhere. I’d like to open a spa this year. Casa de Campo took me four years to get it to the point where it is. It’s up to the Leading Hotels of the World standards now, which is very exciting.
 
 
Photo Courtesy of Richard C. Murray/RCM IMAGES, INC

Industry Insiders: Yanick Tremblay, Snow Hotel Honcho

What most makes Montreal charming? Is it the beautiful French language? Is it Old Montreal with its lovely Auberge du Vieux-Port hotel. the rave Igloo Fest, and historic Notre-Dame Basilica where Celine Dion got married? Or the Westmount area with its magnificent mansions and the more than 280 steps of St. Joseph’s Oratory? How about smoked meats at Schwartz’s deli in Mile End? Or Moshe Safdie’s cubed housing complex Habitat 67 on the way to the Montreal Casino?

All of these captivated us, but the most unusual of all is Snow Village (Village des Neiges), which opened January 18 in Parc Jean-Drapeau. It has 15 standard rooms, 10 prestigious suites, five igloos, and one glass, heated igloo. Other places in the Snow Village chain are Finland and Norway.
 
We caught up with co-founder, Yanick Tremblay, at Snow Village in Montreal.
 
How did you get together with your partners?
Carl Fugere, Guy Belanger, and I are friends from school, and we wanted to do a project together. We each had our own businesses: Carl’s in technology, Guy’s in robotic distribution, and I own a purchasing agency for hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, and Marriott.
We did some research and met with two brothers, Rami and Tomi Kurtakko, a marketer and mechanical engineer, who have owned a snow village in Finland for 11 years. Let me introduce you to them now.
 
What do the terms "snow hotel" and "ice hotel" mean? Is the snow artificial?
Nothing is artificial. Yes, the snow is made artificially, but it’s real snow.  And if you would have a hotel entirely made of ice, it would not last.
None of the hotels in the world are made out of ice; they’re all made out of snow, but because the snow is so dense and it’s artificial snow, then it’s like ice blocks. The walls are 10 feet deep, so that’s why we sometimes call it an ice hotel. I would say that it’s a snow hotel, instead of ice hotel, since ice hotel is a registered trademark. All the structures are made from snow, but the decoration inside is made from ice.
 
What was your vision for Snow Village?
Montreal is a Nordic city. In the summer, we have all kinds of festivals, but there’s not that much to do in the winter besides skiing. Montrealers deserve a project that they can be proud of that also attracts tourists because everyone who visits the province of Quebec travels through Montreal. There’s been an ice hotel in Quebec City for the last 10 years, but not a lot of Montrealers have had a chance to visit it. Our snow village is accessible by Metro. There are 4.2 million people living in the Montreal metropolitan area.
 
How else is this one different from the one in Quebec City?
The one in Quebec City has wood and steel inside the snow to support the structure. Ours is only snow. There are only straight corridors in Quebec, but in ours you can also experience round igloos, as you can in Finland. We have domes created over round balloons.  We also have an ice restaurant and a bar.
 
Tell us about the restaurant.
We brought Eric Gonzalez on board, who’s one of the five best chefs in Montreal. And he prepared a menu, especially for us based on the Finnish, Nordic side of our project. The idea was to keep people warm before they spend the night here in the hotel.
 
We had tasty, warm venison on the bone in the ice-cold restaurant! What else takes place here?
We have an ice chapel for weddings. And, we have a indoor ballroom in the aquatic center that’s 2,200-square-feet for receptions.  
 
How do the sleepovers work?
All of my guests arrive in the evening. They have a meet-and-greet with the guides. They are given overnight instructions, including how to use the warm, arctic sleeping bags, which we provide with fleece, cotton-lined bags, for hygienic reasons. And when the average temperature inside the snow hotel stays between -2 and -5 degrees, we can guarantee that the overnight stay is warm and pleasant. You can go to the jacuzzi and enjoy a nice view of Montreal. And then you go to the restaurant. You go to bed not before 9:30 or 10:00, and we wake you up at 7:30 a.m. with hot chocolate and music. We then invite you for breakfast.
 
How much money did the project cost?
$ 2.2 million.


Our favorite room has the Montreal Canadien motif with a lifesize ice carving of a hockey player with a wooden stick. What’s your favorite?
The gastronomic room, which has a dining-room table with four chairs and a nice, ice chandelier. And since I have two kids, there are two beds in the room, so the four of us can sleep in the room.


 
Where are some of your go-to places in Montreal?
Europea is my favorite restaurant. For going out in the summer, there’s a nice place in Old Montreal called Cafè des Eclusiers. And in the winter, there’s a a little club-restaurant called Grange vin+bouffe.
 
Photo Courtesy of Richard C. Murray/RCM IMAGES, INC