Reviewed by Paula Farmer
Director: Gereon Wetzel
Starring: Ferran Adria
Language: Catalan with English subtitles
The closing of El Bulli restaurant marked the end of a culinary era as renowned chef Ferran Adria closes El Bulli, which many have deemed “the most influential restaurant in the world.” To mark the occasion, New York’s Film Forum theater is hosting the U.S. premiere of the documentary “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress” by filmmaker Gereon Wetzel.
Adria and his crew close the restaurant for six months a year to experiment with foods, textures and flavors in order to create the next season’s one of a kind 30 course menu. The film takes viewers into the inner workings of the test kitchen in Barcelona where avant-garde dishes such as a cocktail composed of hazelnut oil, salt and water, or a dessert of freeze-dried peppermint and ice shavings are created. Later cameras document the eventual relocation to Costa Brava home base as the staff set up El Bulli and prepare for the few diners lucky enough to secure a much coveted reservation over the next and last six months.
Although El Bulli has long been an iconic foodie and tourist destination-with Adria as the genius behind it and his creations exotic, beautiful and interesting-the film falls a bit flat in trying to capture all this. The problem lies not with the concept or subject but rather the execution, as Wetzel’s long, lingering shots and endless scenes become tedious and boring.
While it can be a good thing to not over- produce with talking heads and other traditional documentary techniques, it can be just as bad to not do enough. With little editing, no talking heads, no back story presentation, no music, no interviews, “Cooking in Progress” unfortunately falls into the latter category. Void of any entertainment value, the film appears more suited for an audience of culinary students or scientists than mainstream or art house audiences. Given that El Bulli will soon be no more, this film seems like a squandered opportunity to really present a unique documentary experience. That said, since it is probably the first and only feature-length documentary on the subject, it may be for many worth the lackluster presentation to get a glimpse of the man and his methods.
“El Bulli: Cooking in Progress” will have a two-week run at Film Forum from July 27 through August 9. Check your local art house theater for engagements in subsequent weeks.
(For what’s sure to be a more interesting and entertaining approach to the subject, catch the August 1st installment of “Anthony Bourdaine’s No Reservations” dedicated to Ferran Adria and the closing of El Bulli.)