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Like the millions who coveted but never won a seat, I've had to content myself with the vicarious consumption of chef Ferran Adrià's mind-bending cuisine through a collection of dense, gorgeously illustrated coffee-table books, and most recently a compelling but discombobulating lecture and slide show at the Harold Washington Library about his new project, the El Bulli Foundation.
Now German documentarist Gereon Wetzel adds to the canon with El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, tracking a year in the life of the restaurant (the 2008-2009 season I was invited to), from the annual six-month research phase at the Barcelona workshop to the six-month service season, during which dishes continue to evolve from pure distilled flavors like mushroom and sweet potato into highly refined presentations such as “minted ice lake” and “vanishing ravioli.” A friend I watched it with described it as “barely tolerable,” but it's the most organic and hypnotic account of the restaurant's notoriously intense and complex creative process I've seen, as much about Adrià as it is his senior chefs Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch, who labor to impress the boss with novel techniques, flavors, textural combinations, and, ultimately, finished dishes. Adrià, who rarely so much as touches a knife or a thermal circulator, directs with his mind and his tongue, offering muted approval or withering dismissal—“Did you try this?” he says to one. “It's simply bad. Don't give me anything that's not good.” It screens Friday through Thursday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Click here for showtimes.