El Bulli

El Bulli

cooking in progress

DVD - 2011 | Spanish
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For six months of the year, renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià closes his restaurant El Bulli - repeatedly voted the world's best - and works with his culinary team to prepare the menu for the next season. An elegant, detailed study of food as avant-garde art.
Publisher: [New York] : Alive Mind Cinema : Distributed by Kino Lorber, Inc., c2011
Branch Call Number: DVD 641.5946 BUL
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (ca. 108 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in
Alternative Title: Cooking in progress


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Jan 20, 2014

I love the way master chef Ferran Adrià displays his domineering side for the camera in this documentary. It makes me chuckle to think about how Adrià's former El Bulli employees won't have to tell stories about his temper and arrogance: they can just refer their friends to the film. However, rather than chronicling personalities, this film celebrates creativity. The lush pictures tell the story: brusque European chefs speaking Catalán, French and Spanish obsess their way through months in which their famed restaurant is closed so they can dedicate themselves to experimentation and recipe creation. I was blown away by the obsessiveness of their technique-concept cooking, which strives to present food in a pure form, while using a wide range of techniques to vary texture, flavor, color and plasticity, with end results that are like miniature, avant-garde sculptures. My eyebrows went up when I watched a chef float a thin layer of hazelnut oil on a new cocktail recipe, or shave ice flakes to garnish a sauce. Adrià, after dominating his profession during his tenure at now closed El Bulli, dreams of creating a foundation for creativity in high cuisine. It sounds like one of those dreams that are too beautiful to be realized, but I was enthralled enough to watch all the videos in the "where are we going?" section of elbulli.com. I'd recommend this documentary to anyone interested in the creative process, cooking, raw food, or in the setting of Catalonia, Spain.

Dec 28, 2013

A promising idea for a food documentary that sadly falls short.

What could have been a compelling story about one of the most famous restaurants in the world instead ended up as 108 minutes of insipid, awkwardly-paced monotony. Not a single minute of this film (which felt like it lasted 3 hours) was devoted to explaining the background of either the eponymous restaurant or its head chef Ferran Adrià.

Touted as a visionary for innovation in food science, Adrià does little more than taste-testing the results of his assistants' seemingly random combinations of ingredients, and looking vacant or uncomfortable at every turn.

In one scene, we see Adrià in a slight tantrum when he finds out that a sous chef's computer had crashed and that they would only have paper copies of their research results until the backup hard drive could be located. In another, he instructed his assistants to categorize their findings by star rating - even though none of the reports had been assigned any stars. Perhaps these moments were included to remind the viewer that Adrià is a "culinary savant" whose single-minded dedication to his craft, like many other creative titans, renders his temper and whims bizarre and highly volatile.

At the conclusion of the documentary, the viewer is left only with the feeling that El Bulli's food heralds science and innovation at the cost of what feels real. While there will always be room for groundbreaking techniques and applications of ingredients both familiar and new, Adrià's dishes look riveting and intricate but seem to lack a certain soul. During an orientation session with the new recruits, he even proudly proclaims that the theme of that season would be "water".

El Bulli's mission prior to its closure in 2012 was obviously to give its diners a completely unique experience, but one has to wonder whether that experience occurred in tandem with an actual meal. Perhaps the restaurant's inability to sustain itself as a financial venture speaks most to the fact that food science and innovation shouldn't come at the cost of a simple, satisfying meal.

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