Saturday, 24 March 2012

Hardly Tempts Tastebuds

Eduard Xatruch, Oriol Castro and Ferran Adrià in the lab. Alive Mind Cinema
The 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival is on and last night I had a chance to see Cooking in Progress, a documentary about the famous El Bulli restaurant, Catalan chef Ferran Adria and his team who create fantastical dishes using molecular gastronomy.

I was hoping the film would give an insight into the creative culinary process, but instead saw a rambling, badly-edited doc.

The documentary makers wasted an amazing opportunity to explain how El Bulli is a three-star Michelin restaurant and that Adria's aim is to excite the diner, to create new sensations and tastes that have emotional resonance. Only towards the end of the film do we see him explain this to a new crop of young cooks he's hired for the season.

Instead we see Adria's chefs in "the lab" trying to concoct new dishes for their master to pronounce as good or bad, and if they're good, rate them as either two or three stars.

Adria's right-hand man, Oriol Castro, is desperate to please him and pushes the others in the team to create new tastes with mushrooms, eel, asparagus and grapes.

They must photograph everything, record what they did in pencil and on their laptops and print them out for Adria to see; it's actually disappointing to see the man himself doesn't get down and dirty in the kitchen -- he just decides if it's good or not. And if it's not, he'd rather not taste it.

All the techniques they use, from sous vide baths, to pressure cooking, frying and creating juices all looks interesting, but as viewers we have no clue how it tastes. We just watch them put the foods into their mouths and then they discuss how it can be improved.

Then after several months in the lab, the restaurant gears up for the next season and new cooks are hired to help execute these new dishes. It is only then that Adria explains, "Going to eat at an avant-garde restaurant gives you something like a creative emotion. It's not just about, 'Mmm tastes good.' You feel something. You think, 'Killer!' For us the emotional element is most important."

But we don't see this either -- we don't watch the guests sample the 30-course meal and witness them having emotional connections with what they are eating. Instead the camera is more focused on Adria test-driving the menu and critiquing it.

If the filmmakers weren't allowed access to the diners, then Adria should have been interviewed to explain why this is so crucial with his food and to describe the sensations when eating his carefully-crafted dishes, or have food critics who have praised his restaurant to do this.

In the end we're left unsatisfied really, unable to taste or even understand what Adria is doing with anything edible.

So I'm still back at square one, wondering what this fascination is with El Bulli, though will not have a chance to try it since it closed last July.

Cooking in Progress is poorly conceived and executed; it's definitely not something Adria would serve his guests.

No comments:

Post a Comment