A Film Review Of El Bulli: Cooking In Progress

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.

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

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.

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