Men in White Aprons:
An Interview with Gereon Wetzel, director of El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
by Ohad Landesman
El Bulli, long considered among the world’s best restaurants, specializing in molecular gastronomy, is headed by a genius chef (or a mad scientist) named Ferran Adrià and a devoted, multidisciplinary team. The Catalonian, Michelin-three-star restaurant, which will be closing its gates in 2012 due to massive monetary loss, gets over two million reservation requests for a limited space accommodating only 8,000 diners each season. It also closes each year for six months, when the team retires to its cooking laboratory in Barcelona, and experiments with new dishes for the next season. A few months ago Adrià announced that he’s going to sign a contract with a Hollywood producer for a forty-million-dollar production focusing on the restaurant, a gigantic project which will include real chefs and will be, according to his words, “something between The Social Network and Ratatouille.”
In the meantime, the talented and ambitious German documentarist Gereon Wetzel has embarked on a long journey to capture the process behind the making of new avant-garde tastes and dishes in the lab, and observed patiently and closely the invention and craft of an appetizer made of ice or a cocktail composed of olive oil. His new documentary, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, provides an intimate look, devoid of any context or background information, into the simple but complex materialization of ideas. I spoke with Wetzel about the his unique strategies, his ideas about representing food on film, and his fondness for men in white aprons.
Reverse Shot: You decide to begin the film without much context. We know almost nothing about the restaurant El Bulli, except for a few intertitles. There is no narration, and the camera, one may say, is "doing the talking." Could you talk a bit about your decision to embrace this rather traditional—but today quite rare—direct cinema approach?
GW: This kind of approach epitomizes my own style of documentay filmmaking. Direct Cinema, that "invention" from the 60s, which gives you the option of traveling with your own camera and sound machine, and following some kind of a process, corresponds with my own purpose in film. I always want to expose a process. Continue reading Ohad Landesman's interview.