“El Bulli: Cooking In Progress” is a captivating process documentary, allowed behind the scenes for a year at the research laboratories and kitchen of chef Ferran Adrià at his now-closed Catalonian restaurant. Gereon Wetzel’s chilly, fascinated documentary follows the six months of research-and-development each year that Adrià would return his staff to the laboratory in search of new alchemical taste-and-texture sensations for their thirty-dish menus. Wetzel (with Jörg Adolph) has another documentary this year, “How to Make a Book with Steidl,” about the personality of German fine-art book publisher Gerhard Steidl, an equally painstaking craftsman, but the beauty of “El Bulli” is of a different character: there’s a passion and willingness to be simply weird that informs each experiment: “The more bewilderment, the better!” Chef Ferran says. (The press notes call him “the best, most innovative and craziest chef in the world.”) The temperamental Adrià doesn’t shoo the cameras when he snaps, and his pronouncements are less gnomic than expressions of wonderment or exasperation: “It has such a strange structure”; “You have to keep checking it!” and after a sip of some oily salty cocktail-ish thing, “It might be interesting. From a goof…” Wetzel’s work is as elegant as Adrià’s, including his choice to stay out of the dining room: it’s the plate, not the patron. “Molecular gastronomy” comes across as an inspired goof, a high-wire act composed of water, oil and salt. “El Bulli” ends with a slideshow of dishes, including those we’ve seen bumbled and fumbled, making peak use of the roaring color palette of the chosen HD-to-35mm format. It’s a fitting memorial. 108m. (Ray Pride)
“El Bulli: Cooking In Progress” opens Friday at Siskel. A trailer is below.