Ticket to ride, on the Bull(i)

“I tugged and pulled, bullied and pleaded and succeeded in getting myself a reservation at Tickets. This restaurant normally has a two month-plus waiting list,” Nikhil Agarwal tells us. This is not surprising, as El Bulli had a wait list of over six months at any time. But what really excited us was the fact that Agarwal spent quality time with chef Albert Adria. Excerpts from the intervew:

One of the bars of the new restaurant, Tickets, created by Ferran Adria and his brother Albert Adria in Barcelona, Spain. Getty Images

What was the idea behind Tickets?
We wanted to create a traditional yet sophisticated take on the regular Spanish tapas bar. We were keen to make it more fine dining while retaining the casualness.

Toasted bread with cured sirloin, pickled onion and smoked cheese

Do you plan to open any restaurants outside Barcelona?
We have a lot of opportunities today to open restaurants all over the world but at the moment we do not want to. We may open a restaurant in London. Honestly, we don’t have the team to open more restaurants.

Albert Adria with Nikhil Agarwal
Albert Adria with Nikhil Agarwal

When did your fascination with food start?
I started working in the kitchen at 15 because I needed to work. But soon I fell in love with food and the kitchen.

Fried fish with a sauce of peppers, garlic and vinegar

What’s the secret to opening amazing restaurants?
When we closed El Bulli, we had a lot of experience and a great team. This team allows us to take all the ideas that we have in our minds and make it a reality. We understand what people want.

Why did you close El Bulli?
El Bulli was a train running at a very high speed and we had to toil relentlessly to ensure that it stayed at that speed. At the end we were tired. We learnt a lot from El Bulli. We became famous around the world and working there encompassed the best moments of our lives. Ferran and I are still the same team but today we are older and with families. It was time to move on. We also wanted to close El Bulli at its peak.

Do you and Ferran think the same way?
We speak the same language but have different personalities. We discuss a lot and find middle ground.

In which direction is Spanish gastronomy heading?
It is contradictory. On one hand we want to be avant-garde and on the other we want to hold onto tradition.

What’s new in Spanish cuisine?
It is not easy to find something new now but perhaps we can see what we can bring back from history. Things have changed; today the world is a much smaller place. Now I can get ingredients from India, South America and Africa. Thanks to the Internet, I can see the menus of restaurants all over the world. We can easily access information about different cultures.

Do you believe in using ingredients from all over the world ?
Tickets is 95 per cent Spanish and besides a few things, we are proud to showcase Catalan cuisine using the finest local ingredients.

You and Ferran are known as the purveyors of Molecular Gastronomy....
I was talking to a journalist the first time we used nitrogen and somehow we got tagged as purveyors of molecular gastronomy. We wrote a letter to the entire media saying that we do not believe in molecular gastronomy. At the end every cuisine of the world depends only on one thing, the quality of the ingredient. The customer is not interested in molecular gastronomy. I may give him a variation of an olive but if he doesn’t like its taste, we have failed. We serve customers from around the world, which is quite a difficult task. Fifty per cent of our clientele are foreigners, and we want to cater to everybody. So we cannot say that we follow or understand molecular gastronomy.

People have to wait for over two months to enjoy a meal at Tickets. How do you live up to their expectations?
The entire team knows that there are people waiting to have dinner or lunch at our restaurant and we take this responsibility very seriously. We want to make sure that we do the best with every lunch or dinner seating.

Why did you name the restaurant Tickets?
The area where Tickets is located was like Broadway so we named it accordingly. When you walk in, you come in for an experience.

The ice cream that I ordered was was served by someone riding an ice cream cart to my table and ringing the cycle bell to inform me that it had arrived. It reminded me of my childhood. Your food is known to stir patrons’ emotions...
Food is the most important thing for us. We can play with emotion but in the end it’s the quality of food that matters. Everything else — emotion, changing shapes and sizes — is secondary. I am serious even when I am fooling around with food.  

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