Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Gereon Wetzel.
Here’s one for the foodies, or those people who love watching television cooking shows like Master Chef, Heston’s Kitchen, etc. Anyone else will find this documentary set inside one of the world’s most highly regarded restaurants the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry.
This German-Spanish co-production takes audiences inside the famed El Bulli avant-garde restaurant located on Spain’s Catalan coastline. Here enigmatic chef Ferran Adria presides over his kitchen like a benevolent despot, driving his staff to serve up his uniquely designed food. Adria is a perfectionist who serves up ambitious and extensive 30-course meals to his 8,000 diners between June and December. Customers fly in from all over the world to sample Adria’s culinary offerings.
Every October he closes the restaurant and for six months takes his crew to Barcelona where they work on preparing the innovative and exotic dishes for next year’s unique menu. Every detail is meticulously recorded in notebooks, paper pinned to a board and uploaded onto computer. Every dish has to be personally approved by Adria himself. Adria is a “molecular gastronome” who creates all sorts of exotic cuisine, and he doesn’t like to repeat himself. He and his chefs experiment with varieties of vegetables, mushrooms, and fish to try and capture unique tastes and flavours. The food is designed to create an emotion, a sensation for the diner, and every year there is a theme to the menu.
El Bulli: Cooking In Progress is a fly-on-the-wall style documentary that spends plenty of time observing Adria and his chefs at work. There is no voice over narration to guide us through this film, so the audience gets very little insight into why the restaurant El Bulli is so acclaimed, or why Ferran Adria is so highly regarded. We never actually get to venture into the dining room and see the diners partake of the food, nor do we see the details of actually running an exclusive restaurant like this.
Overall this is a very bland and unappetising documentary. It is also quite boring, and its exotic food and detailed look at the ritual of food preparation itself will hold little appeal for those diners who prefer steak and chips or meat and three vegetables as their staple diet. Other films centred around restaurants, like No Reservations, Mostly Martha or Big Night, etc, made mouth watering use of their numerous food preparation scenes.
Veteran German documentary filmmaker Gereon Wetzel employs a very reverential approach to the material, but he also uses a very bland visual style here. Cinematographer Josef Mayerhofer works in close-up to capture the morsels of food, or he closes in on the anxious faces of the various cooks as they go about their business.
Apparently the restaurant has been losing money every year (no wonder!) and it finally closed its doors in July 2011. El Bulli is not expected to reopen until late 2014.