“Constructing Albert”

Meet Albert

Amos Lassen

The much-honored Spanish restaurant elBulli closed in 2011, but was once considered the best in the world, but this new documentary reveals a rival – a sibling rival, that is. While elBulli’s head chef Ferran Adriá was proclaimed a genius, it seems that behind the scenes for over a four-year period, filmmakers Collado and Loomis follow the story of Ferran’s former partner and co-chef, younger brother Albert, as he  beginsa his own claim to fame on an ambitious string of five restaurants in Barcelona’s theater district, each featuring a different wildly innovative cuisine. At the heart of this growing empire is Tickets, a restaurant in which nothing is impossible, elevating the humble tapas to haute-cuisine. Next door 41° shines with a special light. Conceived as a mini elBulli seating just sixteen fortunate dinners, it explores the heights of culinary creativity.

Albert’s fertile vision does not stop there: Pakta, Japanese/peruvian fusion with the Adrià stamp; Bodega1900, a homage to Catalan vermouth culture; Hoja Santa, an immersion into the depths of traditional Mexican cuisine; and Enigma, his most ambitious project, and the one he hopes to turn into one of the best restaurants in the world. Each is very different from the other yet they all bear his personal signature. This is Albert’s proclamation of self-assurance and his attempt to escape the shadow of the now legendary elBulli and enter the world of great chefs.  Albert  is constructing himself.

Being crowned the best in the world is a very difficult status to maintain. It’s even harder when one shares the honor with one’s brother. Standing next to the best may prove a point of inspiration though, as the film 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 (I am really getting hungry). 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” takes us behind the scenes with Albert as he creates restaurant after restaurant. Through trial and error, he strives to exceed elBulli’s greatness and reputation. Het 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.

We briefly learn about Albert’s beginnings when 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.

. Each dish is a carefully calibrated creation. We see his  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 be the subject of a documentary. 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 we get a banquet of close-ups bound to make us hungry. It is the chef’s ego and ambition that are the secret ingredients of “Constructing Albert.” That he refuses to settle for a common flavor shows how perfection is a hard dish to master.

Basically this is a muted documentary about one man’s quest for artistic independence. “Directors Laura Collado and Jim Loomis take a mostly reverent approach to their subject, framing him as less a businessman than a gastronomical maestro. His mastery of presentation is constantly on display, and during the few instances in which viewers get an explanation of what one of these masterworks consists of, we see how well-thought-out and inspired they often are. Adrià strives to push the proverbial envelope as he he also proves a complicated person whose motivations and temperament are not always consistent.”

 Adrià seems supremely confident in his own vision—until he isn’t. Indeed, the very first scene involves his setting foot in what will become elBarri, which will serve Mexican comfort food, and after giving it a once-over, his opinion is to not change a thing. Then the film jumps ahead in time, wherein it’s clear he changed his mind as walls are being ripped open. Such alterations of plan happen more than once, leaving viewers to wonder whether Adrià is unsure or has been forced to make compromises. This is a character study of someone who previously climbed to the pinnacle of his profession and now faces the challenge of recapturing and exceeding it. He constantly tinkers: opening eateries, closing others, and building new dishes in his laboratory. As restaurateurs go, what makes Adrià unconventional—or so the film seems to argue—is that he’s willing to shut down a critically successful business in order to make way for something even more audacious.

Collado and Loomis get a backstage look at the restaurants, which leads to some wonderful moments among staff members, who occasionally engage in antics such as gossiping about customers.. Ultimately, this is the title subject’s show, and while he’s clearly an innovator, he doesn’t exactly inspire as a leader. He’s too dictatorial and mercurial, and as things become more stressful leading up to the opening of most elaborate venture yet, he becomes prone to angry outbursts. The visuals for Adrià’s creations are magical, as we can see the attention paid to color and form.

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