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Chef with a nose for fine food

Madrid, Feb. 16 (Reuters): Acclaimed Catalan chef Ferran Adria wants diners to learn to smell, to think about food and be moved by it. But he says they’ll never really understand.

Adria deconstructs food, taking dishes to pieces and combining them in innovative ways. He dabs fragrances onto cutlery so diners get a subtle whiff as they raise food to their lips and perfumes food with “airs” — volatile fragrant sauces. “I want people to reflect and to make them think a bit, in a playful way,” Adria said in an interview.

El Bulli, his restaurant in Girona, Catalonia, is one of just four restaurants in Spain with three Michelin stars. Diners there might find that what they think is an egg yolk turns out to be mango. He makes melon caviar and an orange sorbet with liquid nitrogen, prepared at about minus 200 degrees centigrade.

New York Times food writer Arthur Lubow caused a stir last year when he said Spain was the new France and Adria was the most daring and ingenious of Spain’s new band of chefs.

Eating should be “seen as a pleasure and you should be able to be moved by the food.”

“People say to me ‘I want to understand your cooking’, but I say, ‘Do you understand the sea' I don’t understand the sea, it moves me, look, after 20-something years I sometimes don’'t even understand it and I’ve been doing it for thousands of hours, how do you expect me to explain it to you in an hour'’”

El Bulli is not profitable, although it charges about 130 euros ($166) a head. It closes for six months of the year, opening again in April. Adria said some 500,000 people want to eat there but there is only space for 8,000 diners per season — 50 per night.

The cash comes from other businesses which include a series of books, including two in Japanese, a catering company and joint projects with hotels and restaurants. Adria has a workshop where about six cooks and an industrial designer carry out experiments. “It’s a research and development site,” he says. “We’re searching for evolution.”

Adria learned to cook when he took his first job as a dishwasher after leaving school. After several restaurant jobs and a stint as a Navy cook during military service, he took a course at El Bulli in 1983, was offered a job there and has been there ever since.

A couple of decades down the line, the chef, researcher and minor celebrity still ranks eating above creating. “I like eating better than cooking, I get excited about eating.”

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