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Originally published Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Movie review

'El Bulli' makes you hungry for something else

"El Bulli," a documentary about the late, famous restaurant of that name outside Barcelona, captures a year in the life of an establishment that treated food as art, under the direction of revolutionary chef Ferran Adrià. Seattle Times film reviewer Moira Macdonald found the film's emphasis on food as something one developed and assembled rather than consumed and enjoyed a bit off-putting. But she praised it as the story of a man who followed his vision.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,' a documentary by Gereon Wetzel. 108 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Catalan with English subtitles. Varsity.

quotes A much better documentation of the restaurant and its amazing techniques and flavors is... Read more

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Food was art at El Bulli, a world-famous avant-garde restaurant located a few hours from Barcelona. There, ravioli was made with a transparent "pasta" that disappeared when wet; vegetables were carved into tiny sculptures; delicately floating "cocktails" were crafted from little more than oil and water. The man behind these culinary creations was chef Ferran Adrià, whose approach to running the restaurant was unique: El Bulli (which shut its doors permanently this past summer) customarily would close for six months every year for research and development, during which time Adrià and his cooking staff crafted new dishes in the restaurant's off-site laboratory. They would vacuum-pack, freeze-dry, liquefy, steam, fry, boil — tinkering with the food until it resembled jewel-like trinkets, and tasted good enough to justify the transformation.

Gereon Wetzel's documentary "El Bulli: Cooking in Progress" captures a year in the restaurant's life, starting with the research and ending with a photo gallery of the new dishes created. At times it feels more like an overlong promotional video than a movie. Wetzel frequently relies on long shots of white-coated cooks fussing over something we can barely see, and the film never seems to build to a point. We rarely get the sense of food as something to be consumed and enjoyed, rather than developed and assembled — for a film about a restaurant, we don't see much eating. (Occasionally Adrià samples something; his face completely impassive.)

Nonetheless, you leave "Cooking in Progress" with respect for a man who followed his vision, and with fascination at the idea of food as artistic expression. This isn't how most of us think about food, nor is El Bulli the kind of place most of us will ever visit — and, frankly, the movie left me hungry for a simple bowl of spaghetti — but it was a unique endeavor, deserving of being captured for posterity.

"What matters is whether something is magical," Adrià tells the staff in the laboratory, "whether it opens up a new path."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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