As we posted earlier this week, the El Bulli movie Cooking in Progress will have its only LA screening at Sunday, November 27 at 2 p.m. at the Art Theater of Long Beach.
I got to see a cut of the film: this is a review.
Let it be known that this movie is for the diehard. It will be most appreciated by those who've eaten at El Bulli, or have worked in professional restaurant kitchens. It will be interesting to you if you've ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in what was once considered the best restaurant on the planet. Anyone else who have only a passing interest in Ferran Adria will find it as tedious as watching those surgery videos that are meant to educate would-be doctors.
This is not Top Chef or even the fawning No Reservations episode. There is no narration, and hardly any music. It assumes you know who Ferran Adria is and what El Bulli represents before you walk in. The film starts with a shot of Adria, his face occupying the frame. He's in the dark, sucking on a luminescent lollipop made from an bio-luminescent fish. He's asking someone off screen who made the lollipop as his saliva glows green.
The rest of the movie is as technical as it is thorough. There is dialogue, but it is not scripted, just the day-to-day conversations, things that the digital camera just happened to pick up. The style is spare, with long, unbroken shots of chefs cutting ingredients, caressing plates, taking notes, and mulling over the right way to cut a particular mushroom. This is a barebones, warts-and-all look inside the kitchen and the process of Ferran Adria.
There are telling moments such as how one dish was realized: one of Adria's lieutenants got the idea when he was eating at a restaurant and dropped an ice cube from his drink into his still unfinished plate of broth. There's another segment where a few of Adria's chefs go to the market to buy five single grapes. The vendor shakes her head and says to them "We let you get away with this because who you guys are". The film shows that these aren't cooks as much as they are scientists looking for the cure.
They have charts, graphs, an obsessive process of documentation. The chefs are seen mostly experimenting, tinkering, finding just the right texture, the right taste to serve Adria, who doesn't cook much, just giving the thumbs up if he likes something, a stern lecture if he doesn't.
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Most of the middle of the movie shows them in an offsite lab where all of the planning happens, culminating in service at the beachside restaurant and Adria seated by himself, glass of water on one side of him, notepad on the other, judging as each of the now fully realized 35 courses is brought out for his final approval.
The last shots of the film are stills of all of the gorgeous food with English descriptions of what you're looking at--food porn that's as frustrating as ever because you realize that after nearly two hours of watching what went into creating these masterpieces, you won't get to taste it...ever...because, as you know, El Bulli has closed.
Art Theater of Long Beach. 2025 E. 4th Street. Long Beach; (562) 438-5435. www.arttheaterlongbeach.com.