El Bulli, located on the beautiful coast of Catalonia, Spain, is a Michelin three star restaurant run by the enigmatic chef Ferran Adrià. Not content to serve just anything, Adrià and his cadre of chefs have become widely known to deliver once in a lifetime dining experiences. Often sited as a food deconstructionist, where rather than create standard dishes, one instead will be served something broken down to its pure essence to capture flavors as experiences or as Adrià says, “It must be magical.”
Adrià and his three head chefs shut the restaurant down every October and cloister themselves in a lab for 7 months to come up with their next menu. To call them food scientists would not be inaccurate. Day after day is spent with whatever new vegetable or meat which is going to be served the following year. Taking a simple sweet potato, it will be divided then juiced, baked, boiled or vacuum sealed with a test flavor, just to find the best results. Every detail is meticulously recorded in notebooks or on a cork board wall, including failures as well as successes. Many items are created and then fed to Adrià for his approval or opinion. Most are thrown aside being either too plain, too repetitive of previous dishes, or for just being terrible.
“El Bulli – Cooking in Progress” follows Adrià through his process for a year, from the initial steps in creating a new menu, to the reopening of the restaurant, up through the final steps of producing his latest book. Never offering any narration, filmmaker Gereon Wetzel instead chooses to let the camera do the talking. Shot in eye popping HD, Wetzel presents beautiful close-ups of some mouth-watering, amazing food and an insider look at something very few have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. For any fans of high end dining or those who love to follow the exploits of Anthony Bourdain or “Top Chef,” “El Bulli” is even more eye opening. To follow a dish from it’s inception of an idea, having just three grapes or two beans purchased at market (much to the chagrin of the vendors) to becoming a new puree or baked item, then further along on its journey to the table, having warped from its original idea to a single bite that is served to eight thousand guests seven months later, is a visceral treat. Cleverly enough, while most of the film is spent with only the conversations of the chefs or atmosphere of the kitchen, the sporadic score from Stephan Diethelm is seemingly all made from the sounds derived from playing glasses filled with water. It’s subtle but also appropriate given that the new concept for El Bulli’s menu is water. Dishes like a thin lake of ice, sprinkled with bright green mint and delicate sugar flakes, meant to be broken apart and eaten as one or a cocktail of water and oil. Another, a small pool of olive oil with mini tangerines, topped at table side with ice crystals, is a dish in particular that has Adrià’s eyes lighting up each time we see him partake in tasting.
“El Bulli – Cooking in Progress,” for discriminating food fans and those who seek more than the trite shows on cable, offers a gorgeous inside look at one of the most widely regarded restaurants, and one of the most intriguing and creative chefs, in the world. If only now I could bribe someone for a reservation and flight to Spain.