Q&A: Producer Jeff Kleeman On 'EL BULLI' Movie

Yesterday we heard news that the dramatic fictional film EL BULLI, based on Ferran Adrià's Catalonian avant-garde restaurant elBulli, finally got funding, so we called up producer Jeff Kleeman to chat about the script, the movie concept, and production. The movie, based on Lisa Abend's documentary book The Sorcerer's Apprentices about stagiaires at elBulli, will reportedly take viewers through the culinary journey of stagiaires at an ultra-challenging, high-concept restaurant.

Kleeman tells us that film production will hopefully begin in the fall of 2013, but the film is still looking for a director and cast. "If everything goes perfectly, we shoot the movie in the fall, and the release is in 2014, with the opening of the [elBulli] foundation," Kleeman says. And while casting decisions have yet to be determined, Kleeman says Adrià has been collaborating every step of the way: The stagiaires are all fictionalized characters, based off numerous interviews with past stagiaires, and every major player at elBulli (Adrià, Juli Soler, etc.) will all have actor portayals in the film. Whether or not there will be any chef cameos has yet to be determined. Read on for our Q&A with Kleeman.

The Daily Meal: So tell us a little about how this movie concept came about.
Jeff Kleeman: For years [prior to the book], Ferran and I had been having conversations about if there was a way to make a feature film dealing with elBulli that would do something different. We wanted to find a way to make the restaurant into a movie that explored creativity cinematically as something new. That hadn't been done in previous food movies. One day I was talking to Ferran and he gave me the galley to Lisa's book and said, "Read this, because I think it has a unique pioint of view."

TDM: What about the book caught your eye?
JK: It's not simply that [the stagiaires] worked behind the scenes of the restaurant, but they journeyed all around the globe to work there, and they're all been thrown together... I interviewed the stagiaires, and even the ones who have left all said it was the most life-changing experiences of their lives, that informed what they did on a daily basis. A movie that had that point of view, both Ferran and I realized has never been formed. And in some ways because of the multicultural aspect, there probably is no other restaurant to do it.

TDM: How will the movie differ from the book?
JK: Thematically the biggest difference is that Lisa's book takes place the year Ferran decided to make the announcement that elBulli would transform. We decided to up drama by setting it during elBulli's final season, so what the audience gets to experience is what it means to serve the very last meal of elBulli. We get to watch Ferran's character explore what it means to be somebody who is at the top of your game, unanimously considered the world's greatest and most innovative chef, who has the world's most sought-after restaurant, and decide to completely burn the bridge, to leap off the cliff.

TDM: So the characters are all working toward serving the last meal at elBulli? That's definitely more dramatic.
JK: It's a huge amount of emotion at the end, when you get to the point when all of them realize that they're serving the final meal, and Juli Soler turning off the light and walking out the door, not quite knowing where the path is going to lead them. In a way it puts Ferran in the same position as the stagiaires, in the hope that they will experience something that it will help them have a future without knowing what that future is.

TDM: But why do a fictionalized version of this story?
I think the documentaries, I've seen almost all of them, are all terrific. They're documentaries that are to a large degree made for people who are already interested in the subject. This is a movie meant to take the idea of what elBulli stands for and make it resonate in your life, regardless of whether you are interested in restaurants or food or cooking. I will consider the movie a success only if every single person who leaves the theater feels that they have a way to be an artist in their own life... The movie should inpsire everyone in the audience to figure out who they are and find out how to express that in their own life.