How We Met: Ferran Adrià & Vicente Todoli

'When we talk, we throw ideas on the table "bam, bam, bam" – like a speedy card game'
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The Independent Online

Ferran Adrià, 47, is the owner and head chef of El Bulli. His pioneering approach to food – he is known for creating culinary foam while his 'deconstruction' method preceded the molecular gastronomy movement – has revolutionised cooking and won El Bulli the title 'Best Restaurant in the World' five times. He lives in Barcelona with his wife

Vicente is one of the few people I talk to about cooking outside of work. If I was to go out for dinner with you, I wouldn't want to talk shop, but Vicente adores food, so I understand for him to be able to talk to me about it is a big thing – like a football fan being able to talk to a player.

I met him in El Bulli in the early 1990s when he was a guest of [British artist] Richard Hamilton, who was a regular. We got on well straight away; he was a very cultured person and he obviously enjoyed food and wine. After that first visit, he started coming to El Bulli two to three times a year – at that point it wasn't difficult to get in.

That was a very exciting time for me as I was in the process of forming myself, being creative. Over the years a friendship naturally evolved between us. For me, friendship is when I'm happy and at ease with somebody. But I can also see that he has this amazing ability to analyse the things I am working on.

One of the biggest gestures of friendship towards me was devoting a year and a half of his life to do this book [Food for Thought, Thought for Food]. After I'd participated in Documenta [a contemporary art exhibition to which Adrià was controversially invited in 2007], I wanted to know what people thought of me and my work, and Richard Hamilton offered to produce a book about it. He needed someone to collaborate with, so we went to London to ask Vicente who in the art world to ask and he said, "I will do it." It was a unique present.

A conversation between us can be difficult for others to follow; we speak quickly. The French television channel Canal Plus wanted to film a conversation between me and Vicente. I said, "If you do that there will have to be subtitles because nobody in Spain will understand us."

Ninety-nine per cent of the time we talk food; we don't talk about personal things. We were eating together last night when I told him about all the new dishes I'm preparing, and he loves that. I do ask him about the world of art and when I visit him in London he shows me around the Tate; to be there seeing the exhibits with him is something else, it's like a magical tour.

More than giving me a better knowledge of art, he has given me a different perspective on food. The interesting thing for me is what people feel when they're eating, not how it's made; I get this from Vicente. I'm told he cooks well, but he's invited everybody to his house except me; I'm still waiting.

Vicente Todoli, 51, is director of Tate Modern in London. In his 20-year career, his posts have included artistic director of the Institute of Modern Art in Valencia (where he was born) and director of the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal. He lives in London

Food is an important ritual for me; the relationship you have with it tells you about your relationship with the world. I've had friends who were chefs before, but no one who ever resembled Ferran.

I'd organised an exhibition with the artist Richard Hamilton in Valencia in 1992 and every year he would go to El Bulli, so I went with him. I had the feeling at the time that there was a "before Adrià" and "after", like BC and AD. I remember one dish, which was tagliatelle noodles, but the noodles were made from green mango. It blew my mind and cuisine was never the same again.

At the end of the meal we met, and I felt a kind of empathy, not just because we came from the same culture – we both speak Catalan – but because I saw someone boiling with ideas and passion

I've been many times since, and after dinner he would always sit and talk with me, sometimes for hours. I still see that drive and passion as fresh as the day I first met him. He invents 120 dishes every year, so he's invented more than 1,000 dishes; some dedicated chefs will have invented maybe 20 or 30 in their lifetime.

The book I've done for him is an exchange, a way of saying thank-you for the privilege of experiencing his food for so many years. What he gets from me is this exchange of ideas; when we talk, we throw them on the table "bam, bam, bam" – like a speedy card game. He doesn't like to ask directly about art, he's smarter than that, but he creates situations where you talk, and he gets his knowledge from there. This curiosity is a thing we have in common.

We had dinner in Barcelona recently at a sushi counter owned by a friend of his. Seeing the exchange between Ferran and the chef there was fantastic – there was a mute dialogue between them, filled with mutual respect. Oriental food is very important for Ferran and me as it is at the very centre of their culture, as it is for us.

He has said that one day he wants to do the banquet of the century for 10 people, and among them will be Richard and me, which is an honour. Now whenever we chat we're always working on this idea. It's something to look forward to, although right now I can't wait to try his menu this year.

'Food for Thought, Thought for Food' (£29.95, Actar), edited by Vicente Todoli and Richard Hamilton, is out now

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