SxSW Film Review: Constructing Albert [Laura Collado]

Sibling rivalry is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an emotion reserved for the lowest common denominators on Jerry Springer. Even in the rarefied world of haute cuisine, where the names elBulli and Adria recall creative genius operating at an ionospheric level, this is still true. Although Albert Adria has been behind the restaurant elBulli for decades, his culinary talents seemed to have been overshadowed by his brother Ferran’s conceptual overhaul of the language of fine dining. The idea was quite startlingly simplistic: an experimental kitchen whose goal is solely to invent experiences between mouthfuls. The closure of elBulli, however, left Albert literally at a loss. His invisibility behind Ferran and elBulli’s reputation both hampered his ambition to become his own boss. Constructing Albert is the documentary about how they remade his new brand in this long shadow.

In 2013 when Albert (and filming) began, that arduous journey involved opening and coordinating five restaurants in one year. Tickets, 41deg, Pakta, Bodega 1900, and Nino Viejo. Both Tickets and 41deg ended up earning Michelin stars. Having gotten that far, Albert then decided to close 41deg in order to use it as a stepping stone toward a new concept restaurant called Enigma. In this hindsight view, you can really appreciate the way that entrepreneurs in the restaurant world interact with their critics. Bear in mind that these critics are not the Yelping public, but a stratified group of foodies that have somehow garnered the power over life and death. The vocabulary needed to commune with them, while alien, isn’t hard to stomach. I liken it to how academics shape their interests by experimenting with publishing in top journals – just substitute “publications” for “restaurants”. Perhaps the inventions in elBulli in the early 1980s were never meant to earn Michelin stars. But in constructing a new brand and reputation, that is now the first and last thing on the menu.

Describing this on paper makes it seem like simple business decisions. But in reality, people work the kitchen and restaurants. Where the film shines isn’t in the narrative of a brand, but the evolution of the personal stakes everyone involved has wagered, including that of director Laura Collado. During Q&A, she mentioned that the original intent of the documentary was indeed to explore the sibling rivalry, which would have been a short few interviews. Five years later, watching the film in 2018, one’s appreciation of the dynamics between the chefs has to be revised. While I am certain that her footage could have been edited so, a nasty intrigue never materialized. If anything, the film seemed a bit of a muted celebration of Albert. And why not? As if juggling 5 restaurants, 2 Michelin stars, a revolving list of dishes that updates every two months, thousands of ingredients and techniques isn’t entertaining – just looking at the results makes me want to drop $500 on a meal.

Be Sociable, Share!

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest

Add a Comment

OpenID

Anonymous