Sunday, March 18, 2012

Food on Film

I've worked in plenty of restaurants, but always in the front of the house. None of them were spectacular places by any means but it always struck me, for as much as I love and am so inspired by movies revolving around fabulous food and misunderstood chefs and that scrappy restaurant that could, I have absolutely no interest to be in the back of the house. It's funny though because people always tell me "Oh you should've been a chef" or "Do you ever think about opening a place." No and no and absolutely no regrets or what-ifs. And it makes me wonder if those people telling me these things have ever even stepped foot in the back of a restaurant. Maybe that's the general thought, by everyone who has never been "hey mami'd" 20 times a night (and usually worse) or was screamed bloody murder at for being 5 minutes late dropping off a plate... that it's just like in the movies.

Loving to cook is only one tiny piece of the puzzle that makes up a good chef, much less a great one. It's not pretty and by no means glamorous. And it was never the lifestyle for me. Even running to the dry pantry to grab supplies or to pick up food being expedited, I knew I was not meant for that back of the house world. But I love watching the pretty, Hollywood-ness on film. It may not be my calling in life and I may know from the start that it's far from reality, but I can content myself with film. And something about watching these movies, seeing these passions play out, well that's inspiration enough. So it got me thinking about my most inspiring food movies. Here are a few:
Big Night. I can't imagine how this cannot be someone's favorite food movie. 2 brothers from Italy newly in America trying to keep their restaurant afloat decide to throw one big night for all their friends. PR before PR. It's amazing and tragic. It showcases a sibling relationship that anyone with a brother or sister can understand to some degree. There's love and laughter and possibly the most beautiful food I've ever seen on screen. And there's Timpano. And that was it. The food moment. When I saw that something in my teenage mind woke up, and to this day I draw from the memory of that amazing Timpano, the process of putting it together, the anticipation while it bakes, the ultimate joy in the presentation and the ecstasy in the first bite. Everything rests with, and goes back to, the Timpano. It's says so much about how food and cooking is so much more than just feeding people. There's so many unspoken emotions that go into food you love to make and the way it connects.
Babette's Feast. I really need to watch this movie again. I saw it long, long ago and just being the kind of movie that it is makes me think that I watched it either with my Mom or my Grandmother. Again, another night that revolves around bringing people together for a dinner party, but there's a part that struck me then, and I think about over and over despite not remembering much else of the movie. The part when the guests are served a turtle soup, and one man practically starts to cry remembering a turtle soup that was just as exquisite as at a restaurant in Paris, many years ago. I've talked about it before but there's so much memory in cooking. How a meal transforms not just your present but can take you back in time, the minute the unique combination of ingredients touches your tongue. It's a powerful thing, and with the exception of smell, it's rare if any other senses have such complete control over your mind or your emotions.
And a documentary that recently inspired a trip to the actual restaurant to check out what's what. A Matter of Taste, documenting the decade long struggle by wunderkind Paul Liebrant to make it as a recognized  and respected chef, by diners and critics alike. It's amazing what talent lies in this city and how absolutely unaware you can be of it. After watching, I immediately booked a table at his restaurant in Tribeca, Corton, took a friend and had possibly the best food... every dish was transcendent. If you're in the area... GO. It's worth it, every penny.
The Duck
The Waygu beef
The post desert selection of goodies

No Reservations. No, not the show... the movie. I laughed when a friend wanted to watch this film. Yes, it's silly and subscribes to that typical formula, but it's also inventive and fun, especially in the scene involving the truffles... and how can you resist a movie about 2 chefs that fall in love. Well and there's also the saffron sauce with the secret ingredient. That same secret ingredient I keep constantly stocked in my refrigerator that has come through for me more than just a time or two.  

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