El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

Embarcadero November 17, 2011, a guilty pleasure, film in the afternoon.

Renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià is widely considered the best, most innovative and craziest chef in the world. In his kitchen, that which was once familiar disintegrates. Each year his restaurant El Bulli closes for half a year—time for Adrià and his team to retire to his Barcelona cooking laboratory to create the new menu for the coming season. Filmmaker Gereon Wetzel closely observes their quest—from initial experimentation to the premiere of the finished dish. In the course of that process, however, many an ingredient is examined in a totally new way. Taste and texture are systematically analyzed: by boiling, roasting, frying, steaming—vacuumizing, spherifying, freeze-drying—and then, tasting. Ideas emerge, are discussed and, finally, all the results, whether good or bad, are thoroughly documented—on a laptop beside the cooking spoon. Anything goes—except copying oneself. An elegant, detailed study of food as avant-garde art, El Bulli: Cooking In Progress is a tasty peek at some of the world’s most innovative and exciting cooking; as Adrià himself puts it, “the more bewilderment, the better!” (Fully subtitled)
Director: Gereon Wetzel
Cast: Ferran Adrià, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Eugeni de Diego, Aitor Lozano


Revolutionary Spanish eatery El Bulli is a Michelin three-star restaurant in Roses, Spain (two hours northeast of Barcelona); each night, it serves a tasting menu of 30+ courses, prepared by over 40 chefs, to a single seating of up to 50 guests. For the current season, its last before transforming into a culinary academy, over two million requests were received for the 8,000 available seats. Head chef Ferran Adrià, who took over the restaurant in 1987 and instituted the tradition of yearly developmental sabbaticals, has become the leading inspiration for avant-garde cuisine worldwide, alternately referred to as a mad scientist or Salvador Dali of the kitchen.


MY TAKE – This was good and engaging and very well presented; but to me, this wasn’t about El Bulli or about food, it was about research, development and presentation of a product… it happens to be food in this case. But the product doesn’t look like food, one doesn’t lick ones chops at the preparation or presentation of the food… the only reason I was hungry when I left – it was almost dinnertime. There is plenty of Ferran Adria and his top chefs tasting things and words like “brilliant” “exciting” “magic” “bewilderment” and Ferran once admonishes a chef, “This doesn’t taste good. Never bring me anything that doesn’t taste good.”
As for El Bulli, there are gorgeous pictures of the restaurant and the setting, but never the dining room, never patrons enjoying their meal. I was interested in how “china” is selected/created for each dish, but not a word about that. At the end, the camera focused on Adria as he was served each dish in the sequence it will be (is being?) served to the diners.
Would that we could have experienced touch (since many of the courses are eaten with one’s fingers) and taste and smell.
It’s like a long and critical and loving study of a woman’s face and makeup and skin care, but at the end, you know nothing about the woman, except that her face is quite beautiful and she lives in a fabulous house on the Mediterranean.

“For a foodie, the new film about Spain’s renowned El Bulli restaurant is a bit like an Angelina Jolie movie for a teenage boy… Food lovers can now salivate via celluloid. El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, a meticulous exploration of how this famously avant-garde eatery comes up with its insanely inventive creations…for those passionate about the artistry and indeed the science of cooking, it’s dangerously close to porn. There are some unintentionally very funny moments, like when two chefs go to the local market and ask for five single grapes for their testing – and three beans”

– Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press


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