ELISABETH SEREDA recalls some mouth-watering movies and dissects some culinary classicsChef-Film2The recent release of Chef and The Hundred Foot Journey brought back memories of other mouth-watering films that have caused growling stomachs while watching, followed by ravenous food consumption afterwards.

And no, I am not talking about famous restaurant scenes in famous movies as in When Harry Met Sally. Meg Ryan’s excitement at Katz’s Deli, prompting the older lady to comment: „I’m having what she’s having“, incites a hunger of a different kind. And when Anthony Hopkins is having „his liver with some fava beans“, the feeling the viewer is left with is more blood boiling than salivating. And not The Big Feast/ La Grande Bouffe either, where a group of men (Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Ugo Tognazzi) hire prostitutes, go to a villa in the countryside, engage in group sex and decide to eat themselves to death. Good movie but hardly appetizing.

The films I fondly remember (and could watch over and over again) in connection with food are of a different kind. They are the ones you have to prepare for: eat before or wait til after? Re-watch on DVD – or VCR before there was a DVD – and pause to write down recipes and inspirations? Plan a huge dinner party for friends with the culinary theme of the film? I am guilty of all of the above although I have stopped food intake before the screening. You rob yourself of a gourmet experience after. I starved through The Hundred Foot Journey which begins with a sea urchin and ends with one (or a few), only to reward myself later with four (!) orders of uni at my favorite Sushi restaurant. I would have preferred urchin the way it is served in Barcelona: erizos de mar – the sweet, orange center scooped out of its shell, mixed with cream and herbs, put back into the shell and baked, just to be scooped out again by the grateful eater, the flavors melting in the mouth – but the yuzu on top of my uni was not so bad, either. The studio kindly provided a few recipes from the film (the omelet, Tandoori chicken, madeleines, etc.) but left out the soup the protagonist’s mother creates, blending the urchin with Indian spices in a way that almost makes the smell come off the screen.

The following is a list of favorite food films – or as I’d like to call it #fff:

v.l. George Segal, Robert Morley, Jacqueline Bisset

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

The food in this crime/thriller/comedy is fantastic with bitingly witty dialogue. Director Ted Kotcheff tells the story of a four course meal served by Europe’s greatest chefs to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. The courses are featured in Britain’s number one gourmet magazine, run by the sarcastic and surly Robert Morley: “How about recreating the Last Supper?“ an assistant asks. To which he replies : “That is without a doubt the single most tasteless, vulgar and macabre suggestion it has ever been my misfortune to hear. What next I wonder? The Andes plane crash cook book?!“

One by one the chefs are killed in the manner of their specialty: Jean Pierre Cassel (baked doves) dies stuffed into the oven. Philippe Noiret (pressed duck a l’orange) has his head end up in the duck press. The Venetian seafood master drowns in his own lobster tank. Leading lady and dessert chef Jaqueline Bisset is saved before her famous ice cream bomb explodes. And there is an amusing side story between Bisset and her ex-husband, played by George Segal, who wants to start a fast food chain for omelets while she prefers chiche lorraine over caged chicken products. The grizzly murders not withstanding, the film makes you want to cook and eat all the meals, culminating in the chocolate-strawberry-vanilla ice cream bomb. Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe? was released in 1978, but if you want to find a decent copy on DVD, good luck. Upon investigating we were told that the master had been lost. I still own a bad copy on VHS.

 Big Night
The way Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub caress a timballo (bread stuffed with all sorts of Italian delicacies) in close up before carving it up to serve to a select group of friends and competitors is nothing short of sensual. Tucci co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in this heart warming story about two Jersey Shore restaurateur-brothers who hope jazz legend Louis Prima will save their failing family business.

“To eat good food is to be close to God,” says Primo (Shalhoub) to his brother Secundo (Tucci) but that doesn’t impress Pascal (Ian Holm), the owner of a popular but rather bad eatery nearby: “A guy works all day, he don’t want to look at his plate and ask, ‘What the fuck is this?’ He wants to look at his plate, see a steak, and say ‘I like steak!’” Yet even Pascal, after trying the timballo, must admit: „I should kill you! This is so fucking good, I should kill you!“ and then kisses the chef on both cheeks. Big Night inspires home cooked Italian feasts that require days-long preparations.

Like Water for Chocolate / Como Agua Para Chocolatefood water for choc
Mexican director Alfonso Arau made this wonderful and magical realist drama, telling the story of Tina who was born on the kitchen table with her mother’s tears being turned into a bag of salt. The culinary metaphors reach their climax when Tina meets her love, Pedro. To this day the film’s most ardent fans write down the recipes and copy the dishes served. That in itself is a testament to its quality.

No, this title does not refer to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early grasp of the english language (a joke once made at one of the funnier Oscar ceremonies), but to an early Ang Lee film about a Taiwanese master chef who’s only way of communication with his three ballsy daughters is by way of cooking Sunday dinner. The comedy got a Foreign Film Oscar nom.

Babette’s Feast
This Danish drama culminates in a scene with the most spectacularly shot visuals of a dinner ever seen onscreen. It is a banquet of culinary – and other – senses and deservedly was nominated for a Foreign Film Oscar. As in all good food films, the meal is a metaphor for life, love, sex and joie de vivre. The dishes resemble emotions and actions and feelings between the family members. And yes, it too leaves you hungry for more.

Chocolatfood 3 (chocolat)
Chocolate during lent?! Quelle horreur! Juliette Binoche shocks a French village when she opens a chocolate shop in Lasse Hallström’s sweet tale, at first only winning over Johnny Depp, the riverboat-dwelling drifter, before the cacao scents invade noses and hearts of the stuffy villagers. The chocolate shop was fiction but I did have a film deja vu when I discovered Marie Belle’s in Manhattan’s Soho district where the truffels look straight out of the movie and you almost expect Binoche’s delicate face to peak from behind the hot chocolate cups.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
My list would not be complete without this documentary, a must-see for sushi lovers. President Obama may not have been able to finish his meal with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in this famous basement restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, with its ten seats and three Michelin stars. But anyone watching would have gladly taken the leftovers. “I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it,” Jiro Ono says in the documentary. Jiro is over 90 years old; his son and sous-chef Yoshikazu has been waiting to succeed him. And we may not be able to afford a meal at Sukibashi Jiro but we will get inspired to order something other than California rolls on our next outing to the neighborhood Sushi place after watching this.

Mostly Martha
Never have spaghetti tasted this good: Martina Gedeck plays a headstrong chef who is forced to take care of her  stubborn eight-year-old niece. The girl is difficult to feed and fighting ensues until a charming Italian sous-chef arrives in the kitchen. The ingredients of this delightful German comedy are perfectly chosen and well spiced. The half baked American remake No Reservations, starring Catherine Zeta Jones, cannot hold a salt shaker to the German original.

And yes, there are others…

…like Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre, Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia as America’s master cook Julia Child, Helen Mirren’s first outing in a food film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, the noodle epic Tampopo, I Am Love, where Tilda Swinton falls for a young chef, Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

And certainly my favorite chef on TV: Monica Geller as played by Courtney Cox on Friends: her recipes for Thanksgiving dinners over nine seasons alone make you want to order an extra serving of turkey and glazed yams.