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Chef Looks to HBS for Advice

Ferran Adrià, considered one of the world’s greatest chefs, launched the Global Ideas Challenge Competition Thursday at the Harvard Business School.

Adrià has partnered with the third largest telecommunications company in the world, Telefonica, to challenge MBA students from five global business schools to help transform Adrià’s renowned restaurant, elBulli, into the elBulli Foundation, a center for culinary innovation.

The elBulli Foundation, replacing the restaurant that closed in 2011, will be located in Rosas in the Catalonia region of Spain.

Students from Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia, Esade (Spain), and London Business School will compete to propose the best plan for the new foundation.

“[It’s a] project of creativity and business, a project of everyone,” said Adrià, a Catalan chef who worked at elBulli since 1983. “The competition is to improve on what I have already done.”

Students will have the freedom to draw up almost any plans for the new foundation, Adrià said.

And he said the students will have plenty to work with as they help construct the foundation from the ground up.

“How can elBulli Foundation be made economically sustainable? ... What organizational structure should elBulli adopt? ... What mechanisms should be adopted to attract the best international talent?”

These are just some of the questions students face, according to the official rules of the competition.

Adrià said that ways in which technology is incorporated will be an important aspect to consider, as will be designing an eco-friendly facility.

Since the restaurant is located in a natural park, it “needs to be ecological,” Adrià said.

Students should also propose ideas on identity, personality, and positioning—essentially the elBulli Foundation’s overall character.

Financial aspects and logistics, such as how to manage visitors, should also be determined by the competing students.

The project proposals are due in April 2012; the foundation will open in 2014.

“The final goal is the relationship between creativity. We don’t want to make profits, but we want to have enough money for the foundation,” Adrià said.

Adrià decided to close his award-winning restaurant elBulli because he was “fed up of people asking for a table,” he said. He wanted to do something through the medium of cooking in conjunction with students—hence his competition.

Harvard fits “perfectly” with the goals of the Foundation, Adrià said, because Harvard recognizes the importance of cooking—referring to the College’s popular “Science and Cooking” course.

Cooking, Adrià said, is “an amazing language.” It “is the oldest discipline in the world related to creativity,” Adrià said.

Despite Adrià’s ambitious project, he acknowledged that the Foundation will have a limited scope,

“People think you’re going to change everything—no. We have to focus on specific areas. This is a small project that cannot go all over the place,” Adrià said. “In life you must really know your limitations.”

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