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London - It possesses all the ingredients of a Hollywood tale: a multi-Michelin-starred chef rising from humble roots as a dishwasher to culinary mastermind of the best restaurant in the world. And then, with the world's elite scrabbling for a place at a table, walking away at the height of his powers.
Now, that chef, Ferran Adria, and his restaurant, elBulli, are set to take over the big screen.
Vendome Pictures announced last week that it was to produce a fictionalised account of the final year of the restaurant and its notoriously intense kitchen-training programme. The company hopes to capture the drama of bringing food from imagination to diner's plate in the pressured environment of Catalonia's widely hailed gastronomic Mecca.
The film is inspired by a book by Lisa Abend, The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adria's elBulli, which tracks the progress of the stagiaires, or “kitchen apprentices”, a group of around 30 chefs plucked from thousands each year who travelled from around the globe, and worked unpaid, to take a chance on proving their worth. Punishing schedules and tedious work were the norm, all in the name of fantastic food.
Abend's manuscript was passed to the producer Jeff Kleeman by Chef Adria himself in 2011 and discussions have been ongoing ever since. Also on board as co-producer is Philippe Rousselet, who oversaw the Jake Gyllenhaal-led box-office hit, Source Code, while David Wilson, who penned The Man From UNCLE for Warner Bros, is writing the script.
Abend says that what fascinated her about the restaurant was the clash between the high-class food being produced and the tedious nature of many of the tasks. Having first been lined up to interview Chef Adria and spotting two lines of chefs pulling pine nuts from pine cones in complete silence in the kitchen, she was struck when she saw them still doing the same thing an hour later when the interview had finished.
“It was pretty solemn most of the time, although that wasn't the case when they were off work,” she said. “This is not a kitchen that will allow practical jokes or teasing. It is not a loud Gordon Ramsay-type kitchen.”
Abend understands that so much tedium could potentially have meant a lack of spark on screen. A previous attempt to portray the restaurant on film, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, in 2011, was a documentary focusing on the creative side of producing elBulli's dishes, but she says that the producers see it as a film hanging on the “test [that] ambitious young chefs face in order to make it”, in the same way as “recruits in many army films”.
While no director has, as yet, been signed up and no casting decisions have been made, Abend says that the world-renowned chef is so enthusiastic about the project that he will reopen the restaurant for a number of weeks to train the actors in the ways of elBulli. She says that this is important to Chef Adria in order accurately to represent the “culture and cooking” of the restaurant.
A possible t release date of 2014 is being tabled for the film, to coincide with the opening of the elBulli Foundation, an attempt by Chef Adria to secure a legacy for the restaurant. The restaurant's original site will host a both an archive for elBulli and a centre focusing on culinary creativity and innovation. He says he sees the film as a “tribute to the 2,000 individuals who passed through the restaurant in its 25 years, who participated in creating this spirit”. - The Independent on Sunday