I had the pleasure of recently viewing the new documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress by German filmmaker Gereon Wetzel. If you have the chance, I’d recommend seeing this as soon as possible strictly as a motivational tool. The avant garde, raw, film gives a rare glimpse in to what makes El Bulli and the man who drives it all, function at such a remarkably high level. El Bulli was considered (until it closed last year) at the forefront of the molecular gastronomic landscape, merging food with science, even closing for 6 months of the year to work in “El Taller” or “The Lab” to continually innovate and push the envelope for the next year.
Ferran Adrià is the Steve Jobs of the cooking world. You just look at his gaze and it screams: Intensity, immense attention to detail, unparalleled drive, and motivation to push the limits of human innovation through food. Frankly, the man has created dishes that no one even thought were possible and chefs around the world strive to emulate his creations.
What makes Ferran Adria one of the premier innovators and motivators on the planet, and what can we learn from people such as him?:
1. He pushes those around him to function at a higher level than they ever thought possible. He extracts the most out of his employees, sous chefs, and executives and forces them to innovate, pushing the limits of cooking that no one thought possible. If you have a comfort zone and work with Ferran, it’s out the window. Chefs from all over the world would kill to work with him despite his intensity. Why? Because by pushing the chefs even harder, they grow and learn in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
2. Attention to detail: On any given dish or experimentation process, everything down to the last grain of salt is handled with extreme precision. Chef Adria even uses his own industrial designer to create the perfect serving vessel for each dish. His cleanliness in his workspace, restaurant, and kitchen are pristine, creating an environment conducive to invention. All dishes are catalogued, photographed, and documented as if a chemistry experiment to make sure than any new creative ideas are logged and recorded in full.
3. Continual drive to do things better than ever before. Even if Adria and his staff created the world’s greatest dish last year, the next year it’s off the menu. Why? Because Chef Adria feels an innate desire to continue to push and do better than he has previously done before. At one point in the film, Adria lambastes his Executive chefs in the test kitchen for “bringing him something that isn’t good,” and something that remotely resembled something they had done in years prior.
4. It does not matter what happened last year, yesterday, or five minutes ago, for Chef Adria, it’s about what you create in the given moment. A Chef is only as good as his last dish. For entrepreneurs, innovators, and athletes this means that we need to find new ways of looking at things, pivoting or changing if necessary, and pushing forward to do things better than ever in order to succeed. Past failures and successes should mean nothing to you or anyone else.
5. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Be crazy. Be fearless. Despite the doubters and contrarians, Adria continually pushes ahead with his grand vision, brushing aside harsh criticisms and detractors. He fears nothing and no one.
We can all take away lessons from the great innovators and leaders of our time. Even if we never reach the heights of our heros, we can still strive to achieve and innovate in our own little universe.
Always going for glory,
Craig E. Steinfeld