El Bulli, Cooking in Progress

New doc gives rare behind-the-scenes look at the most famous kitchen
Ferran Adrià, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Eugeni de Diego
Directed by Gereon Wetzel

You sit up abruptly, sweat streaming down the side of your face. You crave brown crab claws with peanut paste, watermelon and muscovado sugar air.

I know that feeling. Well, actually, I don’t, because I never got to go to Spain-based El Bulli, which is owned by Ferran Adrià (he started working there as a line cook in 1984) and where dishes such as those can be discovered. And now El Bulli is closing.

You know El Bulli, it’s that establishment where molecular gastronomy is on offer and where the superhuman abilities of its chef beckon fans from everywhere. El Bulli will be no more by month’s end and a documentary is being released, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2010; directed by Gereon Wetzel). Don’t expect a Food Network documentary—those follow helpfully along a straightforward narrative and interviews with the protagonists help thicken the plot. They’re all-in-one packages and they’re usually very successful films.

This documentary is bare-bones in comparison, but you might still derive some pleasure from watching a group of young men belaboring over some seriously exotic-looking appetizers. Cooking In Progress is more the fly-on-the-wall approach: watch the studied intensity of a group of Adrià’s cooks being trained and the negotiations that ensue to establish the upcoming season’s menu (this documentary was shot a couple of years ago); nod, salivate and wonder.

Adrià’s legacy is so unavoidable, and his dishes such head-turners missing this documentary would be a shame. But the lack of padding or subtext (testimonies; overall context) could make it unrewarding to some viewers. Some research before watching might be in order to get the most out of this documentary.