El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

 

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

Chef Ferran Adria conducts his restaurant like a symphony

(2011) Documentary (Kino Lorber) Ferran Adria, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Eugeni de Diego, Aitor Lozano, Katie Button. Directed by Gereon Wetzel

 

About a two hour drive outside of Barcelona on a picturesque cove called the Cala Montjoi sits the best restaurant on the planet. It is small and unassuming, seating only fifty at a time. You do not order off a menu; meals last approximately 4 hours and are taken up by 35-40 courses. No, not full plates – more like a lot of little tasting plates, some no more than two or three bites.

The food that was served there was magic, a symphony of texture, taste, form, and appealed to all of the senses, not just taste. Flavors that shouldn’t have gone together blended like they belonged that way all along. Unexpected surprises would dot the meal like little bombs going off.

With only 50 seats, the demand to get into the restaurant was intense. Two million reservations were received annually for the season – yes, the restaurant was open only six months out of the year. The other six months, Executive Chef Ferran Adria and his team would repair back to Barcelona in their lab where the team would come up with new ideas, new creations for the coming year.

Every facet of the meal is examined, from the cocktails to the pastries and nothing that is normal or usual is considered. In fact, Adria snaps at his right hand head chef Oriol Castro “Don’t bring me anything that doesn’t taste great.” Adria is not generally the one executing the creations; he is more of a creative overseer and it is his vision that guides everything.

He is constantly on the phone, being summoned by one chef or another to sample the creations and he gives his feedback. He argues with Oriol who is as passionate as Adria is in his own way. The two go back and forth but at the end of the day, what they come up with is amazing.

When it comes time to re-open the restaurant, there is a small army of chefs and servers (nearly one chef per diner, one of the reasons the restaurant eventually closed its doors in July of last year, apparently for good). Watching Adria orchestrate all of this is like watching a general execute a battle plan. The complexity is amazing but when it works in harmony, is something beautiful.

This German documentary was recorded in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, including the off-season while the restaurant was closed. It’s a good looking documentary, what Anthony Bourdain sometimes calls “food porn,” as the filmmakers lovingly dwell on images of food being prepared and served.

However, there are almost no interview segments here; we are strictly flies on the wall, watching the process without getting any insight from those in the process. Who decides to make a cocktail with hazelnut oil? How many times is a dish prepared before it’s presented to Chef Adria?

We hear none of that. We simply observe so in many ways the documentary violates the spirit of El Bulli; it appeals to a single sense, that of the observer, the voyeur. It is watching without understanding and that is much like eating without tasting.

REASONS TO GO: An interesting look at the creative process. Adria and Castro have an interesting dynamic.

REASONS TO STAY: Somewhat dry and doesn’t give you much more than an idea how the process works; you never really get into the minds of those doing the creating.

FAMILY VALUES: Nothing here that you couldn’t share with the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: El Bulli operated at a loss from 2000 onward. During that time Restaurant Magazine named it the #1 restaurant in the world an unprecedented five times.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100. The reviews are decent.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Food Fight

FOOD LOVERS: The dishes here look incredibly strange – and incredibly delicious.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Grey

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