The Art of Culinary Innovation
The Art of Culinary Innovation
Apr 08, 2024

“Having an innovative attitude is important—people must be open to change. When you say: ‘Hey, let’s change this’ people should be positive instead of replying: ‘Oh, no, that’s too complicated’. This positive attitude to change must be part of the DNA of your company.” – Ferran Adrià

The Father of molecular cuisine, Ferran Adrià, completely changed the haute cuisine industry through his famed three-Michelin-star restaurant, elBulli, which did the unthinkable in this niche: change the tasting menu every year. Why is this such a novel strategy? Because a restaurant of this level, the undoubted standard-bearer in the world of haute cuisine, takes an inordinate amount of time to plan, experiment, and try their creations… and when it comes to elBulli, the expectations were always high… and the Chef never disappointed. Below are just a few gems from Adrià on the topic of innovation.

Changing Your Filter

Whether you are a professional chef or a passionate home cook, one simple thought process can spark the innovation you seek. According to Adrià, the secret lies in thinking differently. He once told Esquire, “Don’t think of a watermelon as a watermelon. Think of it as a tomato.” Next, he suggested, the chef should cook the fruit, prepare a fish dish, and complement the latter with watermelon instead of a traditional side like rice. The example is simply a suggestion to free yourself from established notions of how produce should be prepared, cooked, and presented.

Embracing a Deeper Understanding of Food

Adrià has often spoken of current contradictions—such as the fact that hunger, obesity, and food waste all coexist in the world. He encourages cooks and diners to relearn what it means to eat well by embracing a deeper understanding of food. For instance, most of us know a more-or-less ideal breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and other macronutrients but few are savvy on issues like how to foster better gut health and keep inflammation at bay. For instance, it isn’t enough to just count carbohydrates but to dig deeper and understand how foods like palm oils, processed carbohydrates, and high-salt foods affect our gut microbiome and our physical and mental health. For Adrià, health and nutrition are holistic concepts. They should be united to comfort, beauty, and an effort to please all the senses.

Breaking With Tradition

Cooks have all sorts of rules thrust upon them, some of which don’t necessarily make logical sense from a culinary standpoint. Take Adrià’s reinterpretation of surf and turf, which traditionally combines seafood (say prawns) with meat (such as chicken or beef). At elBulli, the chef and his team turned this dish around, serving veal marrow with caviar over a transparent plate. It was just one of many ways to highlight local produce and rely on traditional recipes only as inspiration. The chef also enjoys creating unexpected flavor pairings—for instance, olive oil and ice cream, mango and anchovies, or foie gras and strawberries. One dish even saw him combine vanilla and prawns!

Experimenting With Interactive Dining

One of the most innovative ways to entice diners or guests is by inviting them to be involved in the cooking or preparation process. Ferran Adrià achieved this goal in many ways, including serving food with edible utensils and inviting diners to create their own artworks with a myriad of sauces and toppings. He also encouraged them to think and debate on how dishes were prepared. His use of techniques such as spherification (turning liquids into small spheres that pop in the mouth) and liquid nitrogen to create frozen textures at the table, provided fascinating sensory experiences for diners.

Trying Tableside Preparation

One of the best ways to make dinners or guests feel at home is to prepare their meals tableside. Think of bringing out an entire fish and slicing and serving it before guests’ eyes. Or preparing a tartar on the spot, with all the condiments chosen by diners. Or what about bringing a hot plate tableside and preparing crêpes Suzette for your friends or clients? Top chefs are taking it a step further, designing their restaurants in such a way that diners can see the kitchen staff at work, preparing meals like a carefully choreographed dance.

When it comes to innovative cuisine, one of the best professionals to learn from is Ferran Adrià. The chef advocates for creativity in everything from how ingredients are sourced to how they are presented. Often, diners are asked to take an active role in preparation, to turn the experience into a truly memorable occasion.


Guest Writer: Nina S.

Nina S. is devoted to research, and likes to unravel complexities into simple words. Her passion lies in making the difficult easy, and guiding others through the maze of information. She hopes to share knowledge with a clarity that captivates and inspires.

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