El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
Where: The Belcourt
When: Oct. 16-18
Amid what seems like a thousand-year-flood of kitchen reality shows on TV, it's hard to imagine there's a restaurant left in the world with enough novelty and intrigue to support a 90-minute documentary. But there is — or at least there was until this summer: El Bulli, the showplace of Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, the Picasso of avant-garde food. Adrià shockingly folded El Bulli in July, saying he would cease to feed the general public (actually the rarefied couple thousand who managed to book reservations each year) and would turn his skills to a new cause: an educational institute devoted to the boundary-pushing cuisine that made him famous.
That makes the movie El Bulli: Cooking in Progress a historical document, capturing the restaurant in its heyday of 2008-'09. Occupying a beachside villa two hours outside Barcelona, El Bulli was unlike any eatery most Americans could imagine. For one thing, dinner consisted of 35 courses lasting up to four hours. For another, the restaurant operated only six months out of the year. During the other six months, Adrià and his team migrated to a lab to research, experiment and craft the next menu. ...
The documentary's strongest when showing the brainwork of coming up with a "killer" food concept, and the hours of slog required to translate that into an edible product. A centerpiece is a cocktail of simple olive oil and water: The point is the pure sensation of the warring substances coating your palate and sliding down your gullet. (In the end, even Adrià decides the cocktail is "too extreme" and tarts it up with additional ingredients.) Then there's the "disappearing ravioli," a tiny bolus of pine essence wrapped in starchy cellophane that begins to melt away on contact with its dipping sauce. This embodies the fleeting evanescence of a meal — even the restaurant itself.