Ask any food loving movie buff and you’ll hear Babette’s Feast touted as one of the best food movies of all time. While it is indisputably the first great food movie (early 1980s), since then, movie makers have perfected culinary seduction with scenes of slicing and dicing haute cuisine and sensual temptation of food. Here are a few of my modern day favourite food movies.
The Big Night
A labour of love for Stanley Tucci, who co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in this beautifully crafted drama about two Italian immigrant brothers Primo and Secondo (played by Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci) now Jersey Shore restaurateurs who bank their entire future on one night – The Big Night. I love this movie for many reasons, the top being that Shalhoub and Tucci brilliantly make me believe they’re more obsessed with the perfection of food than anyone I’ve ever met. The rest of the characters are introduced in such a personal way that when they consume food so off-the-top delicious, in obscene amounts it crosses the line from a physical act to a spiritual and sexual one. There are a few classic lines such as “To eat good food is to be close to God” and my favourite, “this food is so f’ing good, I could kill myself!” The Big Night sets the bar high for all-time great food movies.
She’s like the female version of Thomas Keller (a famous American chef). I love watching Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) cook elaborate French dishes. I wish I were next to her with a spoon to taste the sauces and could go to the market with her to negotiate with the farmers. Hortense is a naturally talented chef who was chosen to be the private chef for the French President, François Mitterand (Jean D’Ormesson). The scenes of them talking of food philosophies and childhood dishes are endearing. Even the stuffy traditions in the palace (right down to the waiters in black tails) add elegance to the food, yet it’s rife with deadly politics. Laborie is an incredibly talented and soft-spoken chef with a backbone of steel who simply decides (like many female chefs) that she will no longer put up with the viciousness and humiliation of a testosterone soaked kitchen. Before she left though, I wish she had left us with her recipes. This movie makes me want to jump up and cook something – the measure of a great food movie.
The Hundred-Foot Journey
The movie takes place in a village just outside Paris, France and is about a naturally talented cook, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), stuck in a family restaurant right across the street from a very elegant French, Michelin star restaurant, Le Saule Pleurer – 100-feet across the street in fact. The story is about Hassans culinary journey of trials and triumphs and throughout, we always meet the food that inspires him. Unfortunately, the movie is dominated by the dynamics between Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and Papa Kadams (Om Puri), the two restaurant owners. Kadams struggle to fit in versus Mallory’s culinary pretension. I love Helen Mirren, and in this movie, she steals the show. There are some great food scenes and it’s an interesting story so I call it a great food movie, but I recommend you read the book, it’s even better.
Julie and Julia
If you didn’t sit up and feel stunned amazement of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child, well, admit it – you’re just not into food movies. A really good chick-flick, Julie and Julia is a story of a bored office clerk Julie Powell (Amy Adams) who lives her life through the delicious pages of Julia Childs cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She decides to cook all 524 recipes in 365 days and blog about it each day. The movie is a good contrast between the two ladies; the brilliant life of Child with her unwavering dedication to perfection and the ordinary life of Powell and her obsession to complete her project. Both Streep and Adams are brilliant in this movie as is Julia’s husband, the ever-supportive Paul Child (Stanley Tucci). The movie definitely could have done with a bit more tempting food visuals, or drama, or something – but definitely worth the bucket of popcorn.
I really, really want chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) to cook for me, stretching his culinary muscle beyond anything I could think up. I think it would be marvelous to savour the food of someone so obsessed with perfection and detail. But the well-respected chef of a fine dining Los Angeles restaurant quits in a rage when his artistic pursuits are curtailed by Riva, the testy restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman). Predictably, this begins the adventure to find himself through his cooking and even more predictably he finds a more balanced culinary life with time for his family, friends and culinary pursuits. The plot is less meaty than his Cuban sandwiches that become hugely popular and the movie ends with everyone living happily ever after – sorry to spoil it for you. While utterly predictable, the movie works because it continually whets your appetite for more of chef Carl’s food.
Eat Drink Man Woman
Asian food movies with subtitles are a recipe for disaster because you’re in a constant fight to read the words while try to manage to stay glued to the film. This is a story about one of the world’s greatest chefs, Chu (Sihung Lung) in Taipei, Taiwan trying to communicate with his three teenage daughters who are wild and full of life. He does it the only way he knows how, through their tradition of Sunday night dinners. A riveting plot it isn’t but I yearn to be a guest at the table after the elaborate preparation of the exotic dishes. Chu gives new meaning to farm-to-table dining by raising his own chickens and fish and preparing elaborate meals with them. Obviously not a prettied-up film for North American’s weak culinary sensibilities but through food, this movie is mysterious, delicious, exotic, tense, sensual, spellbinding and supremely motivating. It made me run out to the closest Asian restaurant and order almost everything I couldn’t understand, just because I could.
While it’s hard to think a rat in a kitchen is anything but gross, you quickly get over it – Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt) rocks! When this talented cartoon rat with a gourmet palate and a nose for aromas works his magic in the kitchen he’s actually more believable than many human actors and guess why? He’s been coached by Thomas Keller who is Executive Chef and Ratatouille Designer (whatever that means) for the movie. Remy finds himself at a fine dining Parisian restaurant, Gusteau’s, where he befriends a misfit dishwasher, Linguini (voice of Lou Romano) and together they cook their way to fame. A rat in a restaurant is never a good thing so Remy hides in Linguini’s hat and pulls his hair like a puppeteer to guide Linguini through the most complex of French dishes. Ratatouille is a masterpiece of animation, comedy and culinary imagination and if Remy had his own television show on the food network, I’d watch it!
By: Lynn Ogryzlo