out of Five
Running time: 108
El Bulli: Cooking In Progress offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of culinary science and it's hard not to marvel at the skill and expertise on display, but the fly-on-the-wall style strips the film of context and it ultimately becomes a little dull.
What's it all about?
Directed by Gereon Wetzel, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress centres on the world's most famous avant-garde restaurant, chef Ferran Adria's El Bulli in Catalonia. Every year, Adria and his team close the restaurant and decamp to their Barcelona kitchen laboratory in order to spend six months designing and creating the new recipes for the next season. The film follows the team throughout the entire process from conception, design, experimenting with colours, flavours and textures, to sourcing the ingredients, and finally to Adria personally testing of each of the 35 dishes before the restaurant opens again.
The film offers a fascinating glimpse into the huge amount of work and preparation that goes into the creation of an avant-garde menu, as Adria and his longtime collaborators creative co-director Oriol Castro and head chef Eduard Xatruch meticulously discuss and pick away at every detail, sometimes abandoning a dish at a late stage because one tiny thing isn't quite right. There are also occasional moments of humour, such as the chefs trying to buy just five grapes at a food market or Castro and Xatruch trying to second guess Adria and his tastes.
The dishes themselves are extraordinary to look at: indeed, they have more of the feel of an art exhibit than something you'd actually want to eat. You'd be hard pressed to come out of this film feeling hungry, unless your idea of a slap-up feed involves rabbit's brains and minted ice lakes.
The main problem with the film is that the fly-on-the-wall style strips the film of any context and background, eventually reducing the viewer to the level of someone who's allowed to stand in the kitchen and watch but is forbidden to ask any questions. This is doubly frustrating when the scientific processes begin (at least, it is if you've never seen Masterchef), as the film is crying out for someone to explain what's actually going on and the thinking behind each of the various dishes.
On top of that, the film is a little disappointing in terms of the various personalities on display: you're half expecting the team to be full of creative, flamboyant genius types – the culinary equivalent of Doctor Frankenstein – but the actual men involved are either very boring or allow very little of their personalities to be revealed on camera.
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress is an impressively comprehensive documentary that offers a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of avant-garde menu creation, but the reportage style proves too distancing and the film ultimately wears out its welcome.
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (12A)