Molecular-gastronomy rock star Ferran Adrià's Catalonian culinary paradise El Bulli is due to serve its last meal on July 31, the overhead of running the world's most innovative, most exclusive restaurant dwarfing the income recoupable from serving 8,000 $500 meals a year. Adrià plans to transform the compound into "a think tank for creative cuisine"; Cooking in Progress documents the 2008–2009 season, one of the last in El Bulli's life as a restaurant, from the start of the six-month workshopping process Adrià oversaw each year in a Barcelona kitchen lab to the debut of his new creations in the seaside dining room. "This year is the year of water," Adrià declares, as his kitchen sets to work inventing a hazelnut-oil "cocktail," "a ravioli whose pasta vanishes," and a fish dish finished with ice chips. Dozens of young punks labor to please their elder master. "It's simply bad," Adrià tells one of his chefs after tasting an experiment. "Don't give me anything that isn't good." The creative stakes are high: "What matters is that it's magical, that it opens up a new path," Adrià reminds. Cooking in Progress is in fact all magic and no path: This is extreme fly-on-the-wall vérité, with only the barest context provided (no helpful TV-style titles here—when it comes to identifying ingredients and techniques, viewers are usually left to their own devices). Newbies to the new gastronomy may find it impenetrable, but seasoned gourmands should be fully primed to geek out as the culinary impossible is realized one painstaking step at a time.
Adria samples his creations.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Dec. 2â€“Thurs., Dec. 8. Not rated. 108 minutes.