(Spain/Estonia, 82 min.)
Dir. Laura Collado, Jim Loomis
Programme: World Showcase (Canadian Premiere)
Being crowned the best in the world is an awfully high status to maintain. It’s even harder when one shares the honour with one’s brother. Standing next to the best may prove a point of inspiration though, as Constructing Albert conveys in depicting the sibling rivalry between master chefs Ferran Adrià and Albert Adrià. The brothers achieved culinary stardom with their Catalan restaurant elBulli, which received a rare 3-star Michelin ranking and was named the number one eatery in the world by Restaurant Magazine in 2002 and consecutively from 2006 to 2009. As head chef, Ferran receives the bulk of the fame and credit attributed to elBulli’s success, which fuels Albert’s culinary creativity and ambition.
Constructing Albert goes behind the scenes with Albert as he creates restaurant after restaurant. Through trial and error, he strives to exceed elBulli’s greatness and reputation. Albert explains how the success of elBulli resided in its ability to reinvent the language of cooking through creative and elegant experiments in gastronomy. Nearly every person who interviews Albert notes that the success of elBulli is his blessing and curse.
The film briefly explains Albert’s humble origins as he and Ferran began experimenting in the kitchen as teenagers. They continued to whip up new ideas and creations, and the film follows Albert through the most ambitious arc of his career.
Among Albert’s impressive restaurants are Tickets, an elegant tapas bar; Pakta, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian eats; Bodega 1900, a Catalan diner of haute cuisine; and 41°, an elegant cocktail bar in which small plates are precise feats of architecture, gastronomy, and art. Adrià seems to find perfection in 41°. It’s a chic hotspot where the tables are full and the guests and staff seem equally happy. The food is a marvel that sees the elBulli flare in its element as Adrià limits the menu to 41 items that rotate as he experiments with flavours and fusions. Each dish is a carefully calibrated creation.
Perfection, however, isn’t enough and Adrià closes the doors of 41° just as soon as he seems on the cusp of finding the perfect recipe to best elBulli. People still talk about 41° in foodie vernacular and Adrià wants to exceed elBulli’s ability to create a new language for food and fine dining. The final third of Constructing Albert observes his fanatical risk-taking as he prepares to launch Enigma. The restaurant seeks to offer experiential dining in which every aspect—food, cocktails, tables, chairs, cutlery, and décor—excite the palette. Enigma aims to offer a three-and-a-half-hour meal in which a host leads guests through different rooms offering unique courses and pairings of food. As Ferran warns Albert early on, it’s a lot of space and overhead for a chef to take on.
Enigma might be the most ambitious and unique restaurant yet to fuel a documentary and that says a lot in the ever-growing canon of foodie flicks. Constructing Albert asks audiences to consider the full range of the dining experience and to sit back and take pleasure in the painstaking care entailed in creating a shared meal. Adrià’s creations photograph exceptionally well and Constructing Albert offers a banquet of close-ups bound to make the tummy rumble. The unique atmospheres of his restaurants also give the film a bit more flavour than one finds in the conventional kitchen doc. The chef’s ego and ambition, however, are the secret ingredients to Constructing Albert. His refusal to settle for a common flavour shows how perfection is a hard dish to master.
Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.