Ferran Adrià's Avant-Garde Appetite

From foams to frozen air, Spanish chef Ferran Adrià on his cutting edge cuisine.

Nov. 10, 2008— -- He has been called the "Salvador Dali of the Kitchen," and after taking a quick look at the food he creates, it's easy to see why. Ferran Adrià has invented an entirely new way to cook -- creating foams, gelatins, and frozen air to make cutting edge cuisine.

This has made him one of the most celebrated chefs in the world, and one of the most controversial.

About two hours north of Barcelona, Adrià's restaurant elBulli sits on the edge of a cliff. For culinary connoisseurs, a trip to elBulli is the ultimate pilgrimage, one chronicled in his new book "A Day at elBulli" (Phaidon Press).

Every year, the restaurant receives nearly 2 million requests for reservations. Those lucky enough to secure a table are treated to a four-hour, 32-course meal that tastes and looks like no other.

Adrià cooks using the process of molecular gastronomy, the marriage of chemistry and cooking that Adrià himself created. The method uses syringes, liquid nitrogen, and various chemical compounds to change the very essence of food.

Ferran Adrià: 'The World's Best Chef'

Adrià's avant-garde cuisine has earned elBulli three Michelin stars, the highest rating awarded by the renowned European restaurant guide, and earned Adrià the title of "World's Best Chef."

And yet, with all the acclaim, with millions of diners dying to get in and willing to pay anything, elBulli is not profitable.

It takes an army of 70 chefs to create the meals enjoyed by 50 diners each night. And six months of the year, the restaurant closes so Adrià can travel the world in search of inspiration. "Nightline" caught up with him on one of those trips.

"His eyes are always moving," said Adrià's tour guide, protégé, and dear friend José Andrés. "He's able to see what no man has seen before."

For instance, while cruising through the Museum of Modern Art store in SoHo in downtown New York, where one shopper might see a beautiful necklace, Adrià sees dessert.

"This can inspire you," he said. "Maybe this is the beginning of something that can be caramel or blackberry or strawberry. It's a new technique, very fun."

Is Molescular Gastronomy Cuisine Too Complex?

Adrià started his culinary career as a dishwasher, then a chef in the Spanish navy. Today, his cookbook is sold at the MoMA store, which, according to him, is exactly where it should be. He says what he creates is superior to many art forms.

"Food has something very unique, very special," he said. "[At] the MoMA shop ... you can only see. With food, though, you're going to see it, you're going to sense [that] it has texture. You're going to feel it and taste ... so it's really a discipline that is all about communication. Nothing else in the creative world is so complex."

But critics say Adrià has made food too complex -- that by using chemicals to alter the very form of food, he is losing the purity of it, and that he is not a masterful chef but rather, a mad scientist.

Adrià refutes that notion. "Here we have this very artisan bread," he said. "It's very unique, very special. No one will ever dare to say that this is scientific, but this is all about science. ... At the end, we have these bubbles inside the bread, because it's science."

Dishes 'Beyond Magical'

Adrià believes that the problem is not that he is misunderstood, but that new things will always be difficult for the average person to understand. To help make his point, Adrià whipped up an impromptu "simple snack": caramelized olive oil.

The result looks more like art or a piece of jewelry than a snack. "When you introduce it to the mouth, it is beyond magical," said Andrés.

Today, the techniques Adrià invented are used in kitchens around the world. He shares them freely with other chefs, and many hours of his day are spent sketching and searching, looking for the next new thing. Adrià says the pressure's a good thing.

"If you don't have pressure to keep doing your thing," he said, "you are dead."