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World-famous Spanish chef puts on apron in Italy

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COLLEEN BARRY | October 24, 2013 04:21 PM EST | AP

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MILAN (AP) — Ferran Adria, regarded as one of the world's most inventive chefs, made a "huge exception" when he agreed to cook for an event Thursday — his first such outing since closing his famed elBulli restaurant two years ago to focus on experimentation.

Adria, whose Michelin three-star elBulli restaurant in Spain was ranked for five years running the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine, reprised a 1992 dish for an all-star chef dinner Thursday: an iced tomato and almond dish being served as a starter.

The occasion was the launch of Italian coffee-maker Lavazza's 2014 calendar, featuring Adria among seven of the world's top chefs.

Adria said that for at least the last decade that elBulli was open, he never consented to cooking off-site.

"It's a huge exception," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "It's a gift for the Lavazza family."

An image of Adria inside a thought-bubble full of foodstuffs — both exotic and ordinary — graces the cover of Lavazza's calendar, which features photographs of the chefs in fantastical poses by German photographer Martin Schoeller.

Adria closed his restaurant at the height of its success to devote time to his elBulli foundation and other projects. He says he has been busier than ever.

Adria is currently preparing an exhaustive classification of foods, called a "Map of Culinary Process: Decoding the Genome of Cuisine," that he promises "will be a shock" when he unveils it next year.

He gives an example: "Espresso is not coffee. It is not just a beverage. Espresso is an elaboration of coffee. It is cooking." Likewise, he said, mayonnaise is not a condiment or a sauce, it is an emulsion "that can be used as a sauce, or a condiment, or as a filling for ravioli."

"A chef that understands that will cook in a completely different way," he said through a Spanish interpreter.

Adria welcomes what he sees as a global burst in culinary creativity.

"The most important thing of the last eight, let's say 10 years, is the global plurality of cuisine. In Denmark, Peru, Mexico, what do I know, Thailand, there is creative contemporary cooking. And this was unthinkable," Adria said, calling it a paradigm shift. "Any chef, in any country can be creative."

Still, he said he doubts the era will bring a new avant-garde movement like in Spain during the 1990s, when he was deconstructing the culinary foams that helped bring him global renown.

"That was very radical. I am still controversial," he said. "It is difficult that there will be an avant-garde in this generation."