First some background on this amazing, three-star Michelin restaurant famous for its extravagant art food. It's located on the coast in Roses, Spain, a couple hours northeast of Barcelona. Reportedly named after the original (1964) owners' bulldogs, El Bulli serves dinner six months a year for approximately 50 guests at a time. According to the film's website, in 2010 8,000 diners enjoyed this privilege with an average cost of 250 Euros each. El Bulli received two million requests for these prize places, booking the maximum number of patrons the first day reservations became available. It has that astonishing a reputation.
The film El Bulli: Cooking in Progress shows the elite of the 42 chefs inventing the 35 courses that they'll serve their clients. The first two-thirds of the documentary details the tedious, complex experimentation. In their Barcelona kitchens the chefs talk very little as they attend to color, texture, and other unique food qualities. They're intent shopping for tiny quantities of ingredients that they freeze, vacuum, slice, blend, combine, cook and taste and taste and taste before attempting new combinations. Many modifications and combinations follow with master chef Adrià the final judge and tough arbiter of the recipe.
It's a slow process and minutia dominates with no explanatory narration, though watching the trial and error is fascinating for those who love cooking. Once decisions are made and the staff assembles at the restaurant, frantic preparation for the dinner finally begins. The camera stays behind the scenes where the action is—in the crowded kitchen. Director Gereon Wetzel concludes with photographs of incredible menu dishes, such as pine sprouts with spruce honey, freeze dried minted ice lake, tea shrimp with caviar anemones, bone marrow tartar with oysters, ham-ginger canapé, coconut sponge, pumpkin meringue sandwich with almonds and summer truffle, and champignons in hazelnut oil, redcurrant and peach algae. The photos can both make your mouth water and your eyes disbelieve the artistry.
This documentary El Bulli: Cooking in Progress serves as a celebration of and a farewell to the restaurant that lost too much money to stay open. It will reinvent itself in 2014 as a creative think tank academy dedicated to inspired gastronomy under the auspices of a foundation. I'm happy this love of avant-garde food will live in a new iteration; though this film is so slow and quiet, it's definitely for foodies. In Catalan and French with English subtitles. At a Landmark Cinema.