El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
Directed by Gereon Wetzel
One morning in March, Ferran Adrià tucked into an order of waffles at a nondescript Upper West Side luncheonette. A Wall Street Journal reporter was at the table, and the visiting molecular gastronomist fed him a rather gnomic quote about how “all food remains the same on some level.”
Adrià might be the only person in the world who could create news by eating a waffle for breakfast—not on account of the sheer haute-ness of the cuisine he serves at his soon-to-close restaurant on the coast of Spain, El Bulli, but because the science chef has made his name by routinely upending expectations about what might constitute a meal. The waffle scene was so widely reblogged-about because it conveyed the sense that Adrià’s food-as-magic project had finally brought him out the other side, to where a waffle was remarkable for simply being a waffle. Gereon Wetzel’s documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress captures Adrià earlier approaching some sort of creative terminus, flirting with that most basic possible ingredient. “This year is the year of water,” announces Adrià to his staff in the film, in explanation of the substance’s presence in courses throughout the menu. Wetzel documents one offseason at El Bulli, during which time Adrià and his team of chefs (including Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch) go about the exhaustive idea-lab work of crafting next year’s umpteen-course prix fixe. The chefs fire up the sous-vide cooker, and experiment with plating various gelatinous blobs and viscous squiggles, while Adrià presides, taking breaks from conducting business on his cell phone to comment tersely on taste and texture. Particular dishes get a lot of screen time, such as “a ravioli whose pasta vanishes,” thanks to an instantly dissolvable maltodextrin shell. At one point, a chef pulls something resembling a hand towel from a pot on the stove. Food porn this is not.
Wetzel’s handsome observational documentary sometimes seems too in awe of its chef subjects, and all too quick to establish just how impossible it is for you to get a reservation at El Bulli, but periodically gives to the lie to the idea that Adrià lives on another plane. Two moments in particular show him with his exacting-scientist guard down—he berates an employee (“I could kill you”) for not backing up his hard drive, and later, more benignly, finds amusement in a kitchen ingredient mix-up. The satisfying El Bulli is, finally, about the monumental task of balancing such happy accidents—and pursuing the possibilities opened up by them, with an eye toward creating food that refuses to remain the same on several levels—and the running of an exceedingly tight ship, front of house and back.
Opens July 27 at Film Forum