When I first heard the news, I had one of those moments of panic known only to journalists: the uniquely heart-sinking, stomach-churning realization that you’d been scooped. There it was, on Twitter, from an editor at a prominent magazine: “Today’s news: Ferran Adrià researching pizzerias in Italy. In advance of opening one in Barcelona.”
Within the hothouse world of chefs and their hangers-on, this is the kind of thing that passes for huge news—a “get,” as it were—and I was not the one who had got. I live in Spain. I write about food. I write about Ferran Adrià a lot. How could I not know he was opening a pizza joint? I sent off a quick email to Adrià and got this cryptic response: “I’ll tell you all about it.” Damn, I thought to myself. Scooped.
But it turns out this story is not about me. Nor is it a story about another high-end chef branching out to do “popular” food. It is not even a story about pizza. No, this is a cautionary tale, a story of what happens when the worlds of celebrity chefs, national pride, and the 24-hour news cycle collide.
Super-Chef Adrià Becomes a Pizza-Maker. That was the headline on the front page of La Stampa, one of Italy’s national newspapers. For the Italians, this was major news: Ferran Adrià and his brother Albert were in Italy to cull secrets from the country’s best pizza makers in preparation for opening their own pizzeria back home in Barcelona, according to the paper. The new endeavor, it said, was intended as a sort of economic bailout package: El Bulli had closed its last season in the red, and the brothers needed a more popular outlet to keep the “best restaurant in the world” financially afloat. Quoting Albert, who until this year oversaw the pastry section at El Bulli, the paper noted that he wanted to cook for more than just a few people each night. “And what’s simpler than a circle on which you lay pizza ingredients?”
The Italians were not pleased. First in La Stampa’s online comments, and then in the blogosphere, they spat forth their anxiety and disgust. Some worried that the Adriàs would ruin the classic pie with liquid nitrogen and foam. Others suggested that pizza was best left in the hands of those who invented it. “Gennaro Esposito…the father of Neapolitan pizza (1889) is rolling over in his grave,” wrote one online commentator to the food website Dissapore. “People were actually writing us saying why don’t you stick to what you know, and leave the Italian food to the Italians,” Albert said a couple of weeks ago. “We even got threats. It was incredible.”
What made it all the more incredible is that none of it was true, or at least not in any immediate sense. “Albert was in Italy and eating pizza,” recounts Ferran. “Someone from the press asked him if he ever thought of opening a pizzeria, and, trying to be polite, he said, ‘Sure, someday, why not?’ We are developing a lot of projects, and pizza might be one of them sometime in the future. But not anytime soon, not by a long shot.”
Don’t tell that to the Los Angeles Times. They ran their own version of the story, including the economic justification for the pizzeria, and threw in some spicy quotes from distressed pizza-makers as well. Grub Street, New York magazine’s food and restaurant blog, picked it up. So did The South Florida Sun-Sentinel and, online, The Lehigh Valley Morning Call. One of my editors saw the stories and called to demand why I hadn’t pitched the story to her.
“What I don’t get,” says Ferran, “is why those reporters didn’t just pick up the phone and ask us themselves.” He paused for a moment, then supplied his own answer. “But that’s what happens with El Bulli. People form all kinds of myths about it.” And myths, as we all know, have a way of outshining the boring truth. They also have a way of sticking around for a long time. A few days ago—over two months after La Stampa first ran the story—someone asked me if I knew when the Adriás’ pizza place would be open. That someone works at El Bulli.