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Ten quotes on creativity from the best restaurant in the world

Creativity lessons from Ferran Adria: the best chef in the world

One of my big passions is food and eating out and I was lucky enough to receive a copy of 'A Day at elBulli' (link at bottom of page) as a present. 

As well as being a beautiful book it also contains some great insights and lessons on the innovation process that underpins the food philosophy of head chef, Ferran Adria.


Although it has now closed, elBulli was voted 'Best Restaurant in the World' four times and held three Michelin stars from 1997.  The restaurant did one sitting a day and was only open for six months a year, as the other six months were spent researching and creating the menu, which is changed every year, as no dish is ever repeated. 

ElBulli received a staggering two million reservation requests for the 8,000 diners it could accommodate every year.  Despite all the accolades and awards elBulli actually lost money (the profit comes from speaking engagements, books, etc) and closed in 2010.

ElBulli's approach to creativity and Ferran's leadership is something that everyone can learn from and I wanted to share some of the key points in the book.

The creative process

ElBulli concentrates not on creating specific dishes, but on creating new cooking techniques.  This opens the door to new ways to handle ingredients and preparing food.

It is not just the food that is creative but also the cutlery and crockery.  For example, they developed scent spoons, which have a point onto which an aromatic herb can be attached, so that a fragrance is released while the food on the spoon is eaten.

Spherical Olives

Spherical Olives - notice the spoons...

Test, test, test is a key mantra as they strive to develop new concepts and techniques.  All chefs are encouraged to keep a notebook with them at all times and to capture ideas as they come to them.  They take photos of inspiration and sketch ideas down.  These are then archived and so they can then dip into them whenever they need inspiration.

Overall there are seven steps to creating a new dish

1: Have an idea for a new technique, concept or dish.
2: Idea is developed by using a creative method or by working intuitively.
3: Carry out testing and catalogue the results.
4: Analyse the test results and compare to previous flavour combinations.
5: Final testing, which results in a prototype, which is developed into a dish.
6: The new dish is served to guests and feedback is collected.
7: Make refinements and once 100% happy with the dish it is listed in the general catalogue of results.

Another unique dish

Creative Methods Used

The following are all methods the team use to come up with ideas for new dishes.

  • Technique-Concept Search: taking an existing technique and apply it to an ingredient that has never been prepared that ways.
  • Association: consists of making lists and tables of ingredients, methods etc and using these to help think of new ways of putting dishes together.
  • Inspiration: requires a reference from any field, such as art, fashion, music, which is then used to inspire a dish e.g. a bird’s nest inspired a new way of presenting a dish.
  • Adaptation: taking an existing dish and then putting a new twist on it.
  • Deconstruction: involves taking apart a dish and then presenting it in it’s component parts.  For example, a chicken curry was presented as curry ice cream, apple jelly, coconut soup and chicken juice!
  • Minimalism: creating maximum ‘magic’ or sensory appeal with minimum ingredients.
  • Senses: when designing a dish the team look to appeal to all senses, not just taste. For example, crisps (chips) are made intentionally large because eating them with your mouth slightly open amplifies the sound of the initial crunch.

The best petit fours selection ever?

Relevance to Fundraising

Coming up with new ideas is a constant problem in fundraising and it is worth looking outside the profession for inspiration.

The approach elBulli take to generating ideas and how they embed innovation into their culture is something any fundraising organisation can learn from.

The seven creative methods outlined above can be used to look at your fundraising products and methods and can be adapted to help generate new ideas.

You can find some of the key quotes on creativity from the book here.

Photos are courtesy of this excellent review at the Laissez Fare blog.