Monday, July 25, 2011

Gereon Wetzel's doc on EL BULLI, as that chic restaurant comes to its imminent close

TrustMovies suspects that many viewers will come away of two minds about the new documentary EL BULLI: COOKING IN PROGRESS. They will certainly, if they possess any interest in "cuisine," find this work of German filmmaker Gereon Wetzel worth a watch, if only for its crisp, clean cinematographical peek into the seaside Barcelona-based restaurant considered to be among if not the best in the world. At the same time they may better understand the meaning of a phrase that, until I saw this movie, I did not fully appreciate: food porn.

Mr. Wetzel -- that's he, I believe, shown at left (you're a hard man to find a photo of, Gereon!) -- follows in his film the several chefs of El Bulli, with emphasis on the "boss," Ferran Adrià and his cohorts Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch, as they plan the coming season's menu. Their restaurant is open for business spring, summer and fall but closed all winter so that the three can "create" their upcom-ing menu. This creation is by far the most interesting part of the film and takes up around half of its 108 and slightly overlong minutes.

From its opening-in-the-dark moment, the movie's a visual feast food-wise and otherwise. (Even the restaurant's seaside location, above, should take your breath away.) And though yours truly doesn't pay that much attention to his own cooking or eating, for people who do, the film could be a goldmine of education. How new dishes come into being provides several highlights. Often, when you hear a chef describing some screwy-sound combination of tastes, you want  to roll your eyes. Not here. Not, at least, during this first half of the film.

"But why?" One of the chefs asks about a certain dish at one point along the way. It's a question that ought to be asked more often. "It's not pretty!" notes Ferran later, which pretty much sums up the idea of "presentation." What we see one day as jelly turns into an exquisite vinaigrette the next, and later we discover a cocktail, above, with oil, like a soup: The top feels like silk, while the bottom remains liquid. And we go with two of our chefs to market, where, on one particular day, they purchase only five white grapes.

During the second half of the film, the new staff for the coming season is trained. While this portion will appeal most to those who plan to open their own first-class restaurant, there are some highlights here, as well. We see brilliance suddenly achieved out of a "goof": using the wrong water (carbonated rather than regular) has produced something magical. The preparation of food, at least in the hand of these chefs, seems to require a combination of science and art. And in the midst of all the planning/execution, at last there is mention of a dish I actually recognize: pine nut ravioli.

Your overall reaction to El Bulli - the film and the restaurant (which is slated to close for good on July 30 of this year) -- will depend, I think, on your overall reaction to food. Is it necessary nourishment or something to be treated as an art form, as a fabulous and tasty game to be played and won?  The last few minutes of the movie are devoted to menus -- with each dish, as above (coconut sponge), below (ice vinaigrette with tangerines and green olives) and at right (vanilla chips), named and pictured in all its bizarre glory. You may possibly be seized with a huge case of food envy at never being able to partake in these amazements. Or, like me, you will find yourself salivating at the thought of, tonight, grilling a simple burger seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and parsley, with a side dish of perfectly steamed, al dente and sauce-less, green beans.

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, from Alive Mind Cinema, begins a two-week run here in New York City at Film Forum on Wednesday, July 27. Click here for screening times.

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