Snoozing through the most exciting food in the world in EL BULLI: COOKING IN PROGRESS
A serious man: Ferran Adrià
In a lecture given by El Bulli’s Ferran Adrià to his new crop of fledgling cooks, he tells them at the food at El Bulli is less about taste and more about concept. When it comes to avant garde cooking, Adrià is the leader of the pack. Until he shut down his restaurant this July, he would regularly close it for half the year to conduct experiments with his core team in Barcelona, and the reopen six months later it to diners who gladly shelled out $500 for one of Adrià’s epic 35-course meals.
Back in the classroom, he tells his student chefs that avant garde cuisine is about how the ideas at work within a single dish can create an overwhelming emotional experience as opposed to purely gastronomic delights. But for a group of chefs driven by the quest to create powerful emotions, they’re a surprisingly emotionless bunch. (There’s not a hotheaded Ludo Lefebvre-type to be found.) Perhaps this is because they begin by approaching their ingredients with a great deal of respect, yes, but with the emotional and physical vigor of scientists and a cage full of lab rats.
Of course, even if Adrià & Co. are chefs first and foremost, they are also skilled food technicians, working tirelessly with the calm, precision and determination of surgeons. In the Barcelona test kitchen they handle the ingredients up for experimentation on any particular day with tweezers and scalpel-like knives. Everything is is carefully weighed and sealed and recorded. Every experiment is photographed, rated and catalogued. When something tastes bad, it’s met with a deadpan “That’s bad.” And when something goes right – when the calf shoulder cartilage or rabbit brains or vacuum-sealed champignons finally meet their perfect accompaniments, Adrià simply deadpans “That’s good.” No celebratory popping of champagne, no congratulatory hugs or high-fives or even a pat on the back. And after month upon month of laboring through this clinical and tense approach to food, something that – in the rest of the world – brings people physical joy and bodily pleasure, without so much as a smile, begs me to ask: why do it? Seriously, no one looks like they’re having any fun.
And thanks to the film’s painfully slow editing, uninteresting cinematography and backwards narrative structure, neither did I.
As if in answer to my question, why do it, remember that Adrià did just pack up shop for good. Even though the restaurant was hugely popular (the 8,000 dining spots available sold out in one day, and the waiting list was over two million deep), it had been operating at a loss since 2000, with operating funds coming from Adrià’s books and lectures. The space is reportedly scheduled to reopen in 2014 as a “think tank for creative cuisine and gastronomy…managed by a private foundation.”
Two of chef Adrià’s dishes.