El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
In case your culinary experiences have been limited by, say, the collapse of global capitalism, "El Bulli" is widely considered the most famous as well as the best restaurant in the world. It holds the Michelin Guide's highest rating of three stars. In recent years the avant garde eatery has only been open six months out of each year in order to allow its visionary Catalan chef Ferran Adrià time to confer with his team of molecular gastronomists and design the next season's menu. Ironically and perhaps intentionally, at the time of the film's release the restaurant will close for at least two years before Ferran Adrià opens it again—with a totally new menu.
Gereon Wetzel's documentary study of Adrià's studious process of creation is generally a fly-on-the-wall affair that may seem dry because it doesn't give into the television-styled editorial crutches you might expect. Here the subjects are observed rather than interviewed. Adrià's disciplined assistant chefs work with scalpels rather than knives as they discuss visual elements of dishes disguised to look like a completely different food. A trip to the local market may involve purchasing "five grapes." The clinical atmosphere in the lab is intense. No music plays in the background. Adrià's top chefs Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch periodically crack smiles but no one is telling any jokes. Watching Adrià's poker face as he tastes concoctions most people can only dream about is part of the fun. Under his serious exterior Adrià has a wild imagination and a sly sense of humor.
Half the film is spent in the food lab, and half on the setup and execution of the actual restaurant in the province of Girona, overlooking a picturesque seaside cove. Ingredients such as small chunks of ice are discussed while foods are freeze-dried, puréed, and vacuumized in an ongoing effort at deconstruction in order to make the diner "feel" as well as taste the food. The restaurant serves 35 courses to 55 diners each night over a period of four hours; "the more bewilderment the better." Water that tastes like a pine tree, rabbit brains, paper-thin tuna, and ravioli where the casing vanishes are dishes to be explored. "El Bulli: Cooking in Progress" is a fascinating cinematic window into an elite culinary world where anything is possible.
Unated. 108 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
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