'El Bulli: Cooking in Progress'

"Would it be an issue if I just wanted a peanut butter and jelly?"

**1/2 (out of four)

Despite the title of Gereon Wetzel’s documentary “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress,” there is, in fact, no cooking in progress at El Bulli. The avant-garde restaurant in the coastal town of Roses, Spain closed several months ago.

When it was open, Ferran Adria’s restaurant was arguably the most famous in the world. During its last season, the three-star Michelin restaurant received 2 million requests for only 8,000 seats. Those who snagged reservations dined on a 30-course meal comprising eccentric dishes such as ravioli with a dissolving exterior and an ice “lake” topped with freeze-dried peppermint to the tune of 250 euro.

Since El Bulli, reportedly operating at a loss for several years, closed due to financial issues earlier in 2011, I expected that a documentary about the restaurant would at least touch on its financial state. The closest acknowledgement comes when Adria’s head chefs visit the market and buy comically small quantities—a half-dozen grapes, two stalks of asparagus—for experiments in their test kitchen. Who would imagine that the most famous restaurant in the world really had to be so frugal?

Instead, the film moderately succeeds pulling back the curtain on the creative process. The fly-on-the-wall view of Adria and his staff is enlightening at times, such as when a chef explains how adding an ice cube from his cocktail to a fish-and-gravy dish at a restaurant in Brazil sparked an idea for a potential dish. It’s also boring at others, especially for the first third of the film, which is dominated by a whole lot of near-silent chopping and academic brooding over sketches and photo-laden charts on laptops.

The most enthralling moment for many will be a photo slideshow that shows all of the whimsical dishes that the chefs have created—before the sad realization hits that you’ll never actually be able to dine there.  

At least chef Grant Achatz (whose stint at El Bulli as a young chef sparked further interest in experimental cuisine) is preparing to serve an El Bulli-inspired menu this winter at Next, his ticketed restaurant that reboots its menu quarterly. Good luck getting tickets to that one.