It's only fitting the Foodie Film Feastival begins and ends with “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress.”
The documentary focuses on the recently closed Rosa, Spain, restaurant El Bulli, which earned three Michelin stars and the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants Award five times in the past decade. At the heart of the restaurant overlooking Costa Brava, is its owner and chef, Ferran Adria.
Adria has been called the chef of the decade, the father of molecular gastronomy and chef Frankenstein. It's ironic that a man associated with bringing science to the culinary arts talks so much of magic.
And when the film opens with Adria quietly sitting in the dark with a fluorescent sucker in his mouth, it's apparent you're in for a magic show. He pulls flavor from the glowing lollipop a few seconds, shows his now-glowing tongue, then asks, “What protein is this?”
“Fish,” he's told.
Most of us would ask how it was done, but Adria knows. He probably invented the technique. Instead, Adria wants details: “From where?”
This is the thought process of the celebrated, iconoclastic chef. This is a man who considers ideas, possibilities and magic over boundaries.
For the next 108 minutes, we are invited behind the veil. The wizard of Catalonia invited cameras into his kitchen where for six months a year he and his team prepared a menu for the other half of the year until this past July. El Bulli closed July 30 so that it can become a year-round center for gastronomic creativity and research. Adria is set to continue his culinary Lewis and Clark quest in 2014.
“El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” the work of German director Gereon Wetzel, takes a minimalist approach, which makes sense. The avant-garde subject plays in stark contrast to the point-and-shoot, music-free, narration-free film and gives it
We go from conception to service at El Bulli. Hazelnut oil, salt, and water? That's a cocktail. Freeze-dried peppermint and ice shavings? Dessert is served. In Adria's kitchen, mushrooms make water, sweet potatoes produce meringue and pasta is meant to vanish. But everything must be delicious and perfect.
This is a film for gourmands — foodies, before the term existed. I expect any and every chef with a shred of ambition will be in attendance to see how the guy at the top of the pyramid conducts himself. Anthony Bourdain filmed two episodes with Adria, once several years ago, and then again just before the restaurant closed. But this film is much more intimate. Adria's methods are chronicled in painstaking detail, just as the menu at El Bulli was developed.
The camera captures Adria's palpable genius. His brow rises and falls, eyes broaden and narrow, hands rise and fall, fingers twirl and point and his body rocks and reels as words spill from his mouth. Passion fills the kitchen and ultimately works as an aromatic to each dish.
Whether you were fortunate enough to eat at El Bulli, Wetzel's documentary will embolden your belief in magic and your desire to taste it.