When you closed El Bulli, considered the best restaurant in the world, you said you wanted “to find out if there’s anything beyond what we’ve already done.” What did you find?
First of all, it’s not that El Bulli closed. It’s that it’s been transformed. The El Bulli Foundation has Bulli 1846, which is looking at the cultural and native roots of food and gastronomy; Bulli DNA, a gastronomy lab; and Bullipedia, which is decoding Western culinary history. The challenge at El Bulli was to create plates. Now it’s to create those who create plates.
Why will 1846 serve food for only one month a year?
Picture if you were a doctor, and 70% of your time was spent with patients and 30% on research. Well, then you decide to flip it around and do 70% on research. That’s why 1846 is not a restaurant.
During your big creative audit of El Bulli, have you discovered anything about yourself?
Everything. It’s changed everything. It’s given me a way to look at the genome of gastronomy and reflect on it. Honey, for example: so simple, but where taxonomically would you place it? If people don’t understand that honey is an elaboration that animals are cooking for you, people will not understand the process of cooking.
Do traditional French chefs welcome you to their eateries?
I’ve always said French cuisine has been the most important cuisine in modern times. The French chefs have been very hard on me at times, but I understand it completely.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
Simple. I like to eat a different fruit every day of the month.
Do you miss the way fruit and tomatoes used to taste?
This is all part of people’s nostalgia, that tomatoes were different. I hear 20-year-olds saying it. Sixty years ago, people were dying of hunger and there were 1,000 kilos of tomatoes. Now there’s 1,000 million kilos, and so of course proportionally you’re going to have bad ones. It’s like me saying my mother was the best cook in the world.
So how was your mother’s cooking?
Like most people’s. Maybe there’s one dish that your mother could do better than a professional cook. But it’s logical to think that someone who does this for 14 hours a day is going to do a better job.
You talk a lot about creativity, but you actually seem to be emphasizing expertise. Which is more important?
If I understand what I’m doing, I can create better. You can be anarchic only if you understand what’s going on. If you don’t, you’re not going to have a long life span within that world. Creativity, if you’re at the top level, is brutal and relentless. I’m being generous when I say that in the entire world there are maybe five chefs who are really, really doing what I consider creative.
Why do you think there are not more famous women chefs?
Why aren’t more women in haute cuisine? I don’t know. In the next 10 years there will be an incredible generation of women chefs at that level.
Have you ever eaten turducken?
No, but there’s no such thing as weird food. There’s weird people.
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This appears in the June 02, 2014 issue of TIME.