El Bulli: Cooking in Progress


Directed by Gereon Wetzel Club, Light House, Dublin, 108 min

Often voted the best restaurant in the world, elBulli, the Catalan domain of master chef Ferran Adrià, ended up offering two accidental fingers to those who think all top-end dining is just a racket to extract cash from the rich and stupid. The dedicated Mr Adrià spent so much time on research and so much money on ingredients and staff that – never properly in profit – elBulli went bust earlier this year.

There is no mention of the economic travails in this unnecessarily austere documentary, but, within minutes, it becomes clear where all the loot has gone. Each year, the chef closed his restaurant for six months to allow a staff of 12,000 (or so it seems) to prod mushrooms, inflate crayfish and smear frogspawn on playing cards. Only then would the menu be placed before a relatively tiny band of paying customers.

It is, even for those suspicious of luxury culture, an interesting topic for a documentary. Unfortunately, as if cooking a particularly delicate soufflé, Gereon Wetzel has elected to sit way back and make no impositions upon the ingredients.

We learn almost nothing about the personalities involved. Wandering randomly in and out of the frame, the chefs shift from one dish to the next without allowing us to follow any project from inception to completion. Nobody wanted a highbrow version of the The F Word, but a tad more structure would have been welcome.

That said, there are enough outbreaks of culinary weirdness to keep true enthusiasts distracted. Marvel as the chefs carefully photograph wisps of delicately arranged cartilage or brown puddles of expensive grease. Ponder the puzzling suggestion that all an experimental dish requires is a little touch of “maltodextrin”. Despite Wertzel’s best efforts (or lack of same), the film ends up just about sating the palate.

Still, I’m not sure I fancy the canapé of chicken “skin and tendons”. However did elBulli’ go broke?