Chef Ferran Adrià has captivated a room full of cooks who are hanging on to his every word.
The camera zooms in on a pair of hands as they exchange unidentifiable pieces of food gingerly; on a chef plucking the petals of a purple flower with care; and on another hand trembling slightly as it places the final garnish on an artfully designed plate.
The intensity is palpable as a pair of chefs wait in agonizing silence for their mentor and idol to finish a mouthful of their creation and give them his approval.
These are some of the images in a documentary that goes behind the scenes into one of the most legendary restaurants in the world, El Bulli, which will shutter its doors July 30.
The trailer for the film, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, is a rare look into the kitchen laboratory of the three Michelin-starred Catalan restaurant which enjoys a reputation of near-mythic proportions, and where culinary alchemy transforms ordinary ingredients into uncommon sensory experiences.
Since 2006, when it was named Best Restaurant in the World — a title to which it held steady for four years in a row, El Bulli says they received two million requests for reservations a year. Only 8,000 people dine at the restaurant every year.
That means one in every 250 people who called would get a table.
Often called the birthplace of molecular gastronomy, El Bulli has trained some of today’s gastronomic superstars like Grant Achatz, José Andrés and René Redzepi.
Directed by German filmmaker Gereon Wetzel, an archeologist-cum-filmmaker, the 108-minute documentary follows Adrià and his staff — notably his chefs de cuisine Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch– as they cloister themselves in the restaurant’s kitchen laboratory inventing new recipes and dishes for the next season. Every year, the restaurant was closed for six months for research.
Cameras capture the intensity of the El Bulli kitchen as chef-scientists hunker down and analyze the taste, texture and gastronomic potential of humble ingredients like the sweet potato. Foods are boiled, roasted, fried, steamed, vacuumized, spherified and freeze-dried with kitchen gadgets that extend beyond the normal home kitchen.
Results are meticulously recorded on laptops; notes and sketches are made on paper.
In addition to stunning food shots, the director also captures Adrià as he rallies his chef brigade with rousing pep talks and gives viewers a glimpse of the man during his creative process.
Meanwhile, though the restaurant will be shutting down July 30, the Catalan News Agency reports that Adrià will reopen the restaurant in 2012 or 2013 for two months for another movie crew, this time led by Hollywood producer Jeff Kleeman. Unlike the documentary, however, the US version is to have a script, which will be written by David Wilson.
El Bulli is slated to reopen in 2014 as a culinary think tank and research center.
Alex has written for Vanity Fair, Barrons, Bloomberg and Condé Nast Traveler.