Chartier’s Aromatic Science as a Food Map Helping to Inspire Ferran Adrià

François Chartier is a consultant in aromatic science, participating in the creation of recipes by some of the world’s most celebrated chefs who are inspired by his revolutionary science. Chartier is particularly proud of his work with Catalan chef Ferran Adrià between 2008 and2010. The two collaborated in developing more than sixty recipes for the chef’s famous restaurant elBulli, named Best Restaurant in the World five times in The World’s 50 Best.

Member of the great elBulli family

Chartier is considered a member of the large elBulli family. He participated in the documentary “elBulli: Cooking in Progress” and has been called upon to collaborate on many other projects since then. These include those of the elBulli Foundation through the BulliPedia’s Vino Sapiens encyclopedias; Chartier’s creations for the Hotel Sofia (Caja aromatica, an aromatic wine and drink list); his project for the new Damm beer; and the fantastic aromatic project Smell to See Picasso, at the Picasso Museum of Barcelona’s Picasso’s Cuisine exhibition, under the patronage of Ferran Adrià. These are just a few examples of projects designed and created by Chartier thanks to the complicity of Ferran Adrià and Ferran Centelles, elBulli’s famous sommelier and Chartier’s close friend.

 The following is a journey into the den of gastronomic creativity to share the work Chartier has done “for and with” Ferran Adrià, at the elBulliTaller (elBulli’s kitchen laboratory) and the elBulli restaurant between 2008 and 2010. A proud Quebecer who now lives in Barcelona, Chartier is opening a part of his notebook and collaborations in the “Picasso of World Gastronomy’s” laboratory for the first time.

Notice to chefs and cooks around the world: a thousand aromatic trails for future culinary inspirations are revealed here for the first time – and many more secrets from the Chartier/Adrià collaboration will be unveiled here in the coming months.

elBulli Cooking in Progress film
Visit elBulli’s lab, in the elBulli Cooking in Progress film, with François Chartier at work alongside Ferran Adria, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch.


(Barcelona, December 2008)

Where to begin? Let’s say that François Chartier’s week spent with the team was a dream come true, even if the expression is a bit overused. François Chartier and chef Ferran Adrià quickly developed great complicity, as did Adrià’s right-hand men at the time, chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas. The latter three now own the remarkable Barcelona restaurant Disfrutar (ranked 9th in the world, with 2 Michelin stars) and Compartir restaurant in Cadaques. This complicity was born from the first moments of creativity they experienced on December 16 in Adrià’s kitchen-laboratory in Barcelona.

As soon as Chartier saw the ingredients the researchers had been working on for the past few weeks, harmonic ideas began to race in his head. The exchanges that followed were fruitful, intense and “hands-on,” as they tried and tasted foods, products, concepts, and recipes.

It is quite extraordinary for Chartier to have the ear of a chef like Ferran Adrià, who is incredibly open to his aromatic science of molecular harmonies and his ideas for creating dishes with the resulting harmonic ingredients.

Here are some of Chartier’s notes, collected in December 2008, after spending a week at the elBulliTaller in Barcelona:

“Ferran Adrià is currently in the midst of a new creative period, like his fellow countryman Picasso, who, after a blue period and then one tinged in pink, let Cubism explode onto the scene. The maestro of elBulli, from the bay of Cala Montjoi, just a few kilometres from Roses, is creating a culinary explosion. He is playing more than ever with various techniques, such as mimicry, and using little-explored products, including a profusion of new gelling agents. ” 

The chef will be in “research and development” mode exceptionally until mid-June, creating a myriad of ideas that are just waiting to emerge. For the first time in elBulli’s history, chef Adrià will be working with abundant autumn produce until mid-December (the elBulli restaurant is usually open from April 1st to October 1st). 

To achieve this, he seeks the counsel of people from different professions, such as a young Catalan physicist, or a researcher from Harvard specializing in the animal and vegetal universe of soft tissues, therefore soft textures (there’s some Dali at work there!). The artist Adrià was able to make the connection between the two disciplines quickly. 

Squash, mushrooms, root vegetables and, of course, game are currently being manipulated from every angle in order to develop textural concepts that will allow them, between now and June, to magnify new flavours that will suit them with their new style sculpted by the famous Catalan creator. As he has been doing for the past twenty years, he is seeking to offer several versions of the same product. 

During the week I spent there, from December 16 to 19, more than 32 complete and inspired concepts were architecturally designed, finalized, drawn and photographed, then hung prominently on the reflection panels found in the heart of the Barcelona workshop. We are talking of just a month and a half of brainstorming here…

Ferran confided to me (yes, I have the privilege of being on a first-name basis with him) that this is the first time that so many concepts have elaborated in such a short time. When you think that the team still has six months of hard work in the laboratory/kitchen next to the famous La Boqueria vegetable and fish market, you can only dream of the final result…

My job will be to make harmonic suggestions on the possibilities of ingredients and flavours that it would be appropriate to consider in order to make the resulting recipes even more complex between now and the long-awaited opening date. An aromatic maelstrom is seizing my brain! “

(François Chartier)

Based on the products they are using, Adrià and the five chefs of elBulli’s creative team then ask Chartier to propose products from the same harmonic family. These foods are chosen based on his research into aromatic harmonies (which are expressed by the synergy of the dominant aromatic molecules shared by the ingredients), to bring a harmony of flavours in the new creations. At the same time, this allows for new ideas for matching ingredients never used together before (such as combining nori seaweed and raspberry or Parmigiano Reggiano and coffee).

He feels privileged to live this experience, as very few external collaborators have access to the elBulliTaller laboratory/kitchens.

The complicity was so good, and the results so convincing, that Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler, the two partners of the elBulli empire, offered the Quebec creator of harmonies to become their harmonic consultant. Chartier is part of the elBulliTaller research team, both remotely and on-site, as he continues his travels throughout Europe.

At first, this unique collaboration between Chartier and Adrià’s team involved working from a distance by email and telephone, exchanging both on their daily research and on the ingredients for which they were trying to find new leads. Then, of course, meeting in Barcelona made it possible to actively share research undertaken by the creator of harmonies on the work already presented by email. This active collaboration made it possible to push the experiments further, on the spot. Finally, the teamwork was concluded in the restaurant kitchen, to refine some shared ideas, which has taken shape through Ferran’s mastery.

The process culminated in a wealth of new creations for the 2009 season at elBulli. The restaurant reopened in mid-June (instead of April) that year to close later, in mid-December (instead of the customary closing date of October 1st). The later closing date allowed the team to work with autumn products for the first time, including certain mushrooms, squash and game, including hare and its blood.

It also gave the team a more extended creative period at the Barcelona workshop (from October 1st, 2008 to June 1st, 2009), which was a first!

Chef Adrià was in the midst of a unique creative revival, even after 20 years of incredible creativity. Like Picasso, the chef was experiencing a second creative renewal, seeking new horizons. He brilliantly unveiled the final results at the restaurant’s reopening in June 2009. Since then, the chef has entered his third creative period, with the elBulli restaurant’s transformation into a research centre open 365 days a year.


Chartier’s collaboration at elBulliTaller, Barcelona,
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Milk Tofu made with Siphon
Perfect reproduction of the texture and appearance of tofu, made with milk amplified with a siphon, finished in cubes or rectangles. Even the taste is as neutral as tofu, but without the slight soy aftertaste. 

Meat juice with tofu (reminds Ferran of pain perdu, so it will certainly also be used in sweet mode, for dessert). The result is a stunning illusion with intense flavours, with the milk matter prolonging the persistence of the meat juice’s aromatic molecules in the mouth. 

White sesame ice cream, black sesame lacquer (savoury)
(from a kind of hyper-concentrated black sesame ganache)

Chartier proposals:
With tempura con sesamo (see recipe tests elBulli 2007/2008)
Serve pitaya seeds next to black sesame lacquered white sesame ice cream that visually announces black sesame seeds … in trompe l’oeil (mimicry effect). 

Other ingredients complementary to sesame proposed to Ferran:

It is possible to add either coffee, root beer, smoke, or oloroso sherry to this recipe (white sesame ice cream, black sesame lacquer) since they are all ingredients of the same molecular family as white sesame/toasted sesame.

Pear with red wine “without the pear”
Made with green melon (like honeydew melon, but much larger) cut into a pear shape, even with the small tail at the top, then macerated in port. 

Chartier Proposals:
Use persimmon water instead of wine, given the astringent nature of persimmon water. This way, you will have a pear with wine without pear or wine (you must dilute the persimmon water, as it is very astringent, and then colour it darker red with crème de cassis).

Water chestnut (castaña)
Peeled and cooked almost raw to be very crunchy and textured, but not fibrous or sagging as usual (because they have been in canning water for too long) 
Prepared with macadamia nut cream and also in a combination of praline and chestnut water.

Chartier Proposals:
The sea urchin is also called “sea chestnut“; therefore, marry the sea urchin to the water chestnut (castaña): use the water chestnut/castaña, cooked in sea water, to present the sea urchin inside the castaña. 

Also have fun with the complementary ingredients to the chestnut: figs, dates, maple syrup, curry powder, soy sauce, huitlacoche and imperial stout beer.

Sugar sheet (like Japanese kufu), vanilla flavoured

Chartier Proposals :
Suggest using this leaf as an aromatic carrier with sotolon-type foods (maple syrup, curry powder, soy sauce, huitlacoche, dried fig, brown rum, etc.).
Ferran liked it very much and suggested making this sheet of sugar paper instead with his old “Flavour wheel”, but this time, with jellies featuring different sotolon flavours. A sotolon recipe was born! 

Sake grapes
The idea here is to trick the brain into thinking it is tasting a grape and therefore expecting a grape flavour, like wine. But the sake flavour (rice-based) creates a trompe l’oeil and tricks the taste buds. In the end, the alcohol in sake is too pervasive.

Chartier Proposals :
I suggest using a Nigori sake, with a lower alcohol content and with milkier and sweeter aromatic notes; it has a certain sweetness to smooth things over. The result is conclusive. 
I also suggest playing with different grapes for different wines: aniseed liqueur for Sauvignon Blanc (dominated by aniseed molecules); red beet juice for Pinot Noir (dominated by eugenol, the beet molecule); eucalyptus oil for Garnacha (also dominated by eucalyptol, the eucalyptus molecule) ; rose water for Gewürztraminer (grape variety if any dominated by cis-rose-oxide and damascena, two molecules of the rose); passion fruit for Scheurebe (close cousin of Sauvignon Blanc, also dominated by passion fruit thiols), etc… A thousand inspiring aromatic trails to play tricks on the nostrils!

Kaki (Persimmon)
We worked a lot with kaki, in differing textures. 

Chartier Proposals:
It should be used in combination with hazelnuts, vanilla, powdered chicory, infusion of roasted chicory roots; all ingredients that are complementary to kaki and therefore share dominant molecules of the same family.
Kaki should also be classified as an astringent ingredient; at Ferran’s request, I created an exhaustive list of all ingredients containing astringency, and then analyzed how to combine and cook them. 

Here are some astringent ingredients from this list:

  • lingonberries
  • almonds (certain types of fresh almonds)
  • cranberries
  • chicory (roots)
  • quince
  • pomegranate
  • guarana
  • jackfruit
  • myrica gale
  • plantain
  • Anjou pear
  • cider apple
  • physalis (ground cherry)
  • walnut
  • yarrow
  • tea (especially green tea)
  • beer (certain varieties)
  • cheeses (some old cheeses)
  • red wine (especially those loaded with tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell, Nebbiolo or Zinfandel wines) 

Raspberry and/or kimchi lychee
An idea I developed from the recipe for cauliflower espuma and cauliflower semolina found in the archives of the last 20 years to which I had access.
Place kimchi at the heart of this espuma recipe (because kimchi shares molecules with cauliflower). Or in the centre of a cloud of beaten egg whites, very airy, neutral, but which will surprise the guest once the kimchi hits the taste buds!
Since the raspberry shares molecules with kimchi ( as does the lychee), infuse a raspberry (or lychee) with kimchi in hot water, then serve the hot raspberry, without saying anything (and use the remaining water in the pan to create a soup or other scented water?)

Drawings made by Chartier, at the elBulliTaller.

Chartier’s Collaboration at elBulliTaller, Barcelona
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Toasted bread tile, with macadamia nut semolina sprinkled on top and a hint of kimchi (my idea as to how to taste it: very airy and crumbly, therefore difficult to hold in the hands; perhaps serve on a smooth stainless steel plate and slide it into the palm of the guests’ hands?)
Perhaps mix raw and toasted macadamia nut with a hint of curry powder. 
Substitute kimchi with sour cherry powder or dehydrated cherry seeds? Or use a finger of umeshu (Japanese plum alcohol)?

YUZU (from Agrumes Bachès, in the Pyrenees
Half a yuzu emptied and stuffed with ponzu or dashi jelly. 
Also in dessert mode, with lavender honey, fennel, bergamot.
Serve only with food that tastes cold and aniseed flavoured.
+ dehydrated yuzu powder (Chinese grocery), with a unique flavour! Really long in the mouth, granular and bitter.
Flavour with kimchi, tomato, Muscat, angelica, cardamom, bergamot, cumin, caraway, kummel, Pernod, Benedictine, Chartreuse.

Lemon caviar (also from Mister Bachès): the size of a kumquat, inside like a pink grapefruit, with small,l firm, almost crunchy pinkish pearls, with a tangy taste reminiscent of pink grapefruit.
Make a vinaigrette with olive oil and green and purple basil.
The scientific name for lemon caviar is “citrus australasica” (also called “microcitrus australasica”).
As its name suggests, lemon caviar is native to Australia.
At the time, Olivier Roellinger’s Relais Gourmand offered “Les petites cancalaises” as an appetizer. This starter was composed of three flat oysters: natural, with nutmeg and with Chiloe pepper; served with a small lemon caviar.

Work on fine, little macadamia nut pasta, with a smooth, almost compact, but melting texture.
Flavour with foods dominated by the same molecule (benzaldehyde): tonka bean, chamomile, apricot, cherry, plum, peach, Amaretto, kirch.

Work orange squash with citrus fruits (tangerine), lavender honey, turmeric, kimchi, ginger.

Pumpkin squash oil (Austria)
with a bright, powerful, rich, and intense taste of almond, hazelnut and vanilla; just the right amount of bitterness. One of the best oils ever tasted! 
Served on an aerated squash sorbet, the flavour of the oil becomes even more intense on the palate and lasts longer.
Try this oil on different fruits dominated by the same molecule (benzaldehyde): apricot, cherry, peach, plum. 

Work to create protein-free, more airy meringues; still need to find aromatic trails to flavour them…

Using flexible silicone molds, prepare a translucent jellied strawberry, then make it disappear in a soup of water or an iced alcohol cocktail.
Ideas: why not serve a pinapple-flavoured strawberry, followed by a strawberry-flavoured yellow sorbet (with clove/caramel/basil/cinnamon/vanillin)?
Serve with freeze-dried strawberry and pineapple crumble.
(see 2008 elBulli trials, 16 January)

Flash-frozen, returned to room temperature, then cooked; this releases a natural jelly (pectin) that helps to hold it together once the skin has been removed. It is as if the persimmon has been rebuilt from scratch. Served in a liquid, with a spoon.
Sweet flavour and medium acidity, texture similar to squash.
Cut into cubes, then coated with sugar (maltol) and heated; the kaki (persimmon) becomes runny on the inside and medium crunchy on the outside when hot.

With chicory powder (chicoria), superb!
Fresh chicory: vanilla and caramelized flavour.
Powdered: develops, once powdered, a hazelnut taste, very roasted.
Roast the chicory roots, for an infusion of chicory with kaki (persimmon).
Add tarragon ? 

Various trials coating raw, steamed and roasted cauliflower.
Tests to be carried out using a concentrated raspberry puree, in the heart of the espuma, alone, then also with a hint of wasabi; another test is attempted with a hint of kimchi (as all have the same molecular structure as cauliflower).
When I shared these three ideas with Ferran, he came up with the idea of a very light, floating island, with the raspberry/wasabi inside.
Another test: creation of cauliflower water (from a roasted cauliflower, then macerated in water for 6 hours).


Inspired by the Japanese kufu philosophy: “Kufu is the art of doing with the “means at hand”. It is using one’s imagination to achieve a goal without having to buy something extra and appreciating what one has, using it in the best way possible, thus avoiding waste. This is the philosophy of zero waste.”
I shared with Ferran’s team, including Oriol Castro, Eduar Xatruch and Mateu Casañas (now chef co-owners of the Disfrutar and Compartir restaurants), different possible ways of flavouring this sugar sheet to make it playful. 
In sotolon mode (dominant molecule in maple syrup, soy sauce, curry powder, huitlacoche and koshu sake).
In coumarin mode (dominant molecule in the tonka bean as well as in green tea, celery, Chinese cinnamon, honey, lavender, Zubrowka vodka).
In smoked/roasted/aniseed mode: liquorice, lapsang souchong smoked black tea, coffee (and served in morphing).
In red fish candy mode (with cherry, cinnamon, and clove flavours). 

White mushrooms like a miniature coconut (cut in the shape of a miniature coconut, then coated with coconut paste, grated and roasted coconut, to resemble a coconut (the coconut and button mushroom are dominated by the same molecule).
Wild rice and Chinese green tea should also be considered (as they have the same molecular profile as mushrooms).


  • Dates

  • Mini bok choi

    – With dehydrated olive
    – With kimchi sauce

  • Cardo Rojo (texture of a cooked asparagus)
    – Served in an artichoke heart

  • Cider apple

  • Carissa

  • Pomegranate


  • Cranberries (with freeze-dried blackcurrant water) 

  • Asparagus from China (Esparrago Chino)
    – Cooked in two ways, in two sections 

  • Berza (escarole/arugula style lettuce)

  • Mushrooms (because they are an autumn product, but would like to work with them in summer, as elBulli has always been closed between 1 October and 1 April; autumn products, such as mushrooms and game, have therefore never or very rarely been worked there).


    – laminated
    – carpaccio + roasted coconut strips
    – mushroom water + coconut water
    – air of mushrooms + carpaccio placed on the raw air
    – raw + asparagus water
    – ceps cut ultra-fine with microplane
    – Broth (inspired by a dashi).

  • Mini eggplant Alargada (Thailand)

  • Calabaza “cabello de angel blanca”
    – Whitish flesh, a bit astringent

  • Castaña
    – With cauliflower

  • White grapes
    – Sake-infused

  • Raw with alcohol
    – Candied with PX.


  • Crunchy dehydrated and freeze-dried shizo (served with a separate spoon containing concentrated shizo juice to rehydrate the shizo in the mouth… but also trials with other concentrated juices of ingredients sharing the same profile as shizo, such as sancho pepper and purple basil).

  • Dehydrated black olives, with wasabi (they had tried in the past with green olives, but the experience was not conclusive).

  • SHRIMP PASTA SAUCE (with ingredients sharing the same molecules, such as peanuts).

  • BLACK GARLIC SAUCE (with ingredients that share the same molecules, such as curry powder and soy sauce).

  • FERMENTED CHINESE TOFU (with other fermented Japanese koji products).