Published May 03, 2011El Bulli (the Michelin three-star restaurant near Roses, Catalonia, Spain) operates in a unique manner, closing down for several months each year to create an entirely new menu and culinary experience for patrons that travel from around the globe to dine on a meal of upwards of 30 courses of intricately flavoured and aesthetically specific dishes.
Gereon Wetzel's passive, observational documentary details one such season, following a team of chefs as they experiment with new dishes brainstormed, tasted and refined by the world-renowned Ferran Adriá. Known for molecular gastronomy, his interest lies in creating an emotional, visual, tactile dining experience, breaking down the essence of a flavour in an individual food – like a champignon, calf cartilage or almond – and serving it in a new format, which, in this season, is often related to ice.
Wetzon's style is favourable for the material, never feeling compelled to aid the narrative through guided interviews or tedious exposition. He lets the moments of experimentation and tasting speak for themselves while we observe a natural professional trajectory amongst the chefs as they tentatively bring new variations on dishes to the candid and blunt Adriá.
The cuisine itself is decidedly "foodie," often seeming like something that one would only ingest based on a dare, to the laymen, which actually works to the doc's advantage, making curious something that should seemingly only appeal to fans of haute cuisine. The sense of working chaos once the restaurant opens for the public also adds depth, giving us insight into the creative foundations and functionality of a man at the forefront of his industry.
If there is a flaw to El Bulli, it's that the shallow, observational style ultimately leaves everything limited to the surface of things. We get a sense of process, evolution and behind-the-scenes conditioning, but see only how these men present themselves to each other in a working capacity. There's never an inkling of underlying motivation or defining humanity to make this more than a passive document. (If...)