Oscar Night-My Top Food Movies

 

oscar

Since it is Oscar night,I thought I would share my favorite food films with you.  Each of the movies contains rituals, whether it is in the preparation, the handing down of family recipes, or just the shear love of making delicious things to eat. They are not in order of preference, since each tells its own unique story. Enjoy!

Babette’s Feast (1987)

babettes feast

Quick Plot Synopsis

Two spinster sisters in 19th Denmark take in a French refugee, Babette Hersant (Stephane Audran). The sisters have each bent to their pious minister father’s wishes, and each has denied themselves their life’s happiness.  Babette agrees to be their housekeeper and cook, and for 14 years, creates  meals based on the bland, boring foods that the sisters have chosen to eat. A winning lottery ticket  provides  Babette with  10,000 francs. Instead of returning to France, she  decides to make a  7 course meal to celebrate the 100th birthday anniversary  in the memory of the sisters’ father, a stern pastor. As the exotic ingredients arrive from France, the sisters grow concerned that their father would not approve of such decadence. They therefore decide that no matter how delicious the meal, they will not acknowledge  the pleasurable tastes and sensations. But as the meal is served, they and the 10 other guests  lose the battle in their resolve. Superstitions break down, old wounds are healed, and old love is rekindled.

As the meal concludes, the sisters  assume that Babette will now return to Paris, but she reveals that she has spent the entire 10,000 francs on the meal.  And that she is the former head chef at Cafe’ Anglais, a renowned restaurant.  The sisters are aghast, saying that Babette will now always be poor.  Babette replies, “an artist is never poor.”  The menu consisted of:

  1. Potage a la Tortue (turtle soup) with Amontillado sherry
  2. Blinis Demidoff (buckwheat cakes with caviar and sour cream) and  Veuve Cliquot champagne
  3. Cailles en Sarcophage (quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce) with Clos du Vougeot Pinot Noir
  4. Endive Salad
  5. Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée (rum sponge cake with figs and candies cherries) and  champagne
  6. Assorted cheese seved with sauternes
  7. Coffee with vieux marc Grande Champagne cognac

What’s the Message?

“If it feels good, tastes good, looks good, it must be bad.”  Babette  helps the sisters and the congregation to  find pleasure again through a meal. Their hearts are opened, and their lives are enriched. And Babette is again fulfilled by creating her art. For her, it is all about the food, and every bit of the 10,000 francs was worth it for her to create her  masterpiece.

The taste, the look, the aroma of beautifully prepared meal will delight your soul.  Don’t fight it.

 

Chocolat (2000)

chocolat

Quick Plot Synopsis

Vianne Rocher, (Juliette Binoche) a nomadic chocolatier, who always follows the north wind, arrives with her daughter Anouk, in a small French village just before the 40 days of Lent.  She opens  up a chocolate shop, much to the dismay of  the local mayor,  the Comte de Reynaud ( Alfred Molina) .Vianne is exotic, wears brightly colored clothing and has an illegitimate child. She is everything the repressed mayor  fears.

Vianne’s  presence  begins to have a positive effect on the villagers. Armande, (Judi Dench) a grandmother denied seeing her grandson by her overprotective daughter,  bonds with him in Vianne’s shop.  Josephine,  (Lena Olin) is violently and repeatedly beaten by her husband. She is taken in by Vianne and becomes her apprentice. As she learns the art of chocolate making, she discovers her self worth and her power.

A group of gypsies arrive by  boat on the nearby river, and Roux (Johnny Depp)  befriends Vianne. Reynaud is threatened by Vianne, and orders Josephine’s husband, Serge, to drive her away.  Serge sets fire to the gypsy boats during a birthday party for Armande. No one is hurt,  and Roux and the gypsies depart.  Vianne has lost her faith in the townspeople.

Serge confesses to Reynaud that he started the fire.  Reynaud thought the fire was divine intervention, and when he discovers that Serge could have killed people, he is horrified and  bans Serge from the village.  Reynaud is a good man, just too caught up in his own rules.

The north wind returns, and Vianne prepares to leave the village to move on again, but this time Anouk refuses. She wants a home, to be grounded. Vianne has carried her mother’s ashes with her, always feeling that it was her mother that called her to move on. But this time, she drops the urn, and her mother’s ashes are scattered to the north wind.  The townspeople come to her in support, and she prepares an Easter festival for the village, with all sorts of  chocolates, from beautiful sculptures, truffles, and her specialty chocolate with  Mayan pepper. Reynaud feels she is ruining the good people of the village.  The night before the festival, he sneaks into her shop to ruin all that she has created.  But he tastes some, and  is overpowered by the magic of her chocolate.  He cannot stop eating it, and wakes in the morning in her front window, a changed man.  Ah, the power of chocolate!

Roux returns, and  Vianne decides to stay, and the village becomes home to her, Roux and Anouk.

What’s the Message?

Again,  if it feels good, tastes good,  it must be bad. People fear pleasure, calling it sin. But fear is also  a way to control people. Reynaud controlled the townspeople with fear. But once they  find pleasure, they find their power, like Josephine does.  And once power is found, confidence and self worth follows.

What I love about this story is the magic of her chocolate. The ritual of her chocolate making, so powerful, brings Armande and her grandson happiness, Josephine confidence, and Reynaud becomes a more open and loving man.  But it changes Vianne as well,  giving her the power to find love and peace in one place.

The chocolate making scenes in the movie are the best I have ever seen. You can almost taste the silkiness of her ganache, the sweet and hot combination of the Mayan chocolate, and the creamy warmth of the hot cocoa.  Beautifully filmed, and  the location  it was shot in is one of the prettiest villages in France.

 

Sideways (2004)

sideways

Quick Plot Synopsis

Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti), is a divorced unsuccessful writer  who is  teaching high school English. His soon to be married best friend, Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church)  is an actor whose career is past, and is remarrying and going into his father’s real estate business. They plan a week long trip to the Santa Ynez Valley wine country in California. Miles wants a quiet week of fine wine and golf. Jack, however wants to try for one last week of sexual conquests before he gets hitched.

At Miles’ favorite restaurant, he is attracted to a waitress named Maya (Virginia Madsen). She clearly knows as much about wine as he does, but Miles downplays his interest in her.  Jack tells May that  Miles’ latest manuscript is about to be published.

At a winery,  the two meet pourer Stephanie( Sandra Oh). She is a friend of Maya’s and the four get together for dinner and much wine. Miles gets drunk on the date, as he has learned that his ex-wife has remarried. They go to Stephanie’s house, where she and Jack hook up.  Miles gives Maya a copy of the manuscript to read.

Ensue mayhem.  Jack continues to see Stephanie all week, and tells Miles he is in love with her.  Miles and Maya grow closer, but Miles lets it slip that Jack is getting married.  Maya is disgusted by the deceit, and dumps Miles.  She tells Stephanie, who accosts Jack and breaks his nose with a motorcycle helmet.  (its a great scene…)

Miles finds out his manuscript has again been rejected. He goes to get drunk at a winery, and ends up drinking from the spit bucket. (Hilarious scene) With more shenanigans by Jack (he picks up a waitress, has sex with her, and her husband comes home. Jack returns to the hotel room naked and minus his wallet and the wedding rings), the boys return to San Diego.

Miles sees his ex-wife at the wedding, and finds out that she is pregnant. Now fully realizing that he will never get her back, he decides to open his prize bottle of wine, a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc, and drinks it from a paper cup and becomes even more depressed.

Miles returns to the routine of teaching, and comes home one day to a voice mail from Maya. She has read his manuscript and invites him to visit. The movie closes with Miles knocking on Maya’s door.

What’s the Message?

Find your path. And if the one you want isn’t appearing, then look for another one.

This movie is hilariously funny, but also poignant and sad. The wine scenes are  terrific.  All of the vineyards that they visit are actual vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley.  Two favorite quotes  from the movie:

Miles: “Let me show you how this is done. First thing, hold the glass up and examine the wine against the light. You’re looking for color and clarity. Just, get a sense of it. OK? Uhh, thick? Thin? Watery? Syrupy? OK? Alright. Now, tip it. What you’re doing here is checking for color density as it thins out towards the rim. Uhh, that’s gonna tell you how old it is, among other things. It’s usually more important with reds. OK? Now, stick your nose in it. Don’t be shy, really get your nose in there. Mmm . . . a little citrus . . . maybe some strawberry . . . passion fruit . . . and, oh, there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese . . .”
Jack: “Wow. Strawberries, yeah! Strawberries. Not the cheese . . .”

And:

Jack: “If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.”
Miles: “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!”

FYI,  this quote caused Merlot sales in the US to drop…the power of film!

I once attended a screening of this movie, and as they were sampling a wine, the film was stopped, and we sampled the same  wine.  Brilliant idea for a party!

 

 

The Hundred-Foot Journey

one hundred foot journey

Quick Plot Synopsis

The Kadam family ran a restaurant in Mumbai. The second oldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal) is being groomed to take over the restaurant from his mother as the main cook.  During an election riot, the restaurant is fire bombed, and Hassan’s mother is killed.  The family leaves India, and by way of London, ends up in the Pyrenees mountains of France.  As they are driving the brakes give out in the car, and they are stranded. Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) a sous-chef at the upscale restaurant Le Saule Pleureur, offers to help them find  an auto repair shop and a place to stay. Marguerite feeds them, and Papa (Om Puri) is in awe of her food.

Papa learns that a restaurant is for sale in the town, 100 feet across the street from Le Saule Pleureur. Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) owner of Le Saule Pleureur,tells him it is private property and to leave.  Against his family’s wishes, Papa buys the restaurant and names it “Maison Mumbai”.

And the war is on. Madam Mallory comes to Maison Mumbai and asks for a menu. She then goes to the market and buys all of the ingredients that they need, so they cannot prepare their dishes. On Bastille Day, Madame Mallory’s head chef spray paints graffiti on Maison Mumbai’s walls, and fire bombs the kitchen.  Hassan puts out the fire, but is burned. Madame discovers the chef’s wrong doings, and dismisses him.

Hassan learns from Marguerite that Madame test potential chefs’ abilities by cooking an omelet.  He asks to prepare one for Madame. She is impressed, and asks him to work for her.  The family is against it, but Hassan  takes the position.

Shortly after Hassan begins cooking at Le Saule Pleureur, the restaurant is awarded its second Michelin star.  Hassan is now renowned, and is offered a prestigious chef position at a high end Parisian restaurant. Marguerite feels betrayed, and the two end their friendship.

Madame Mallory and Papa however, make amends and begin to enjoy each other’s company.

Hassan rises to rock star status in Paris. But he finds no happiness or fulfillment there. There is a very touching scene after the night is over, and one of the  kitchen workers is eating a meal his Indian wife prepared for him.  Hassan tastes it, and begins to weep.  The memory of his mother is overwhelming, and reminds him of how she cooked with her heart and soul.

Hassan returns home, and asks Marguerite to go into a business venture with him. Together, with Madame Mallory’s blessing, the two take over Le Saule Pleureur.

What’s the Message?

You can go home again.

Okay, yes, it is a fairly predictable plot, and a bit corny.  But  the movie’s strength is that food is a legacy. And  that a family’s recipes and cooking styles should be cherished just as family photos are.  Tastes and aromas can keep the memory of your loved ones alive.  And if you pass that legacy on, they will live on in your family.

Now go cook with your kids.

 

Chef (2014)

chef

Quick Plot Synopsis

Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is the head chef at the prestigious Brentwood, California restaurant,  Gauloise.  In order to impress a food critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), he plans  a special menu.  The owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman) insists that Carl stick with the safe, dated menu that they have been using.  Carl gives in, and prepares the standard menu for  Ramsey Michel.

And he gets panned. Big time.  Not knowing that he is sending a public message, Carl sends an insulting tweet to Ramsey, and gains a huge following.  Carl invites Ramsey to a rematch, and comes up with a highly creative menu that his staff loves. But Riva wants to play it safe again, and insists on the old menu.

Carl quits.

The sous chef is forced to step up, and serves the standard menu., but it is a disaster. Ramsey starts to tweet about Carl again, and Carl goes to the restaurant and confronts Ramsey. The meltdown is captured on video and goes viral.

His ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vegara) urges him to go to Miami and to start a food truck. He reluctantly agrees, bringing his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) along. Carl rediscovers his love for Cuban food and he buys a  dilapidated food truck from Inez’s ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr. He was a riot, so quirky…) Carl and Percy  begin to bond over groceries and truck cleaning.  Martin (John Leguizamo), leaves  Gauloise and heads to Miami to help Carl, who has found his passion again.

The three drive the food truck back to Los Angeles, making  incredible Cuban sandwiches and yucca fries. Percy handles the social media via Twitter, and creates a buzz in each city they stop at. Back in LA, Carl realizes how much Percy means to him, and has him work with him after school and on the weekends.

The critic Ramsey appears at the food truck, having sent someone to buy him a Cuban sandwich.  He tells Carl that he knew his creativity had been stifled, and he wrote the poor review because he knew Carl didn’t belong there. Ramsey offers to bankroll a restaurant for Carl.

Flash forward to the new restaurant having a wedding reception for Carl and Inez.

What’s the Message?

Follow your passion.  Listen to that creative voice. DO NOT ignore it. And don’t let others talk you out of it.

The scenes where Carl is making what he loves are filmed with such intimacy. You can truly feel the love he has for  food.  There is a great scene where Percy  is about to serve a burnt sandwich to some workers to whom they were giving free food. When Carl told him not to serve it, Percy said “whats the big deal? They aren’t paying for it.” Carl took him aside, and instead of scolding him, said that he was doing what he loved, and that he was good at it. And in a small way, he could touch people and make them happy. So, no compromising, because you only hurt yourself.

The cooking scenes in this movie were so vivid and luscious.   I so want a Cuban sandwich, right now.

 

 

 

Eat, Drink, and Be Sad. It’s Okay.

I am reposting this page because of the Orlando tragedy. And I hope this brings some small comfort to those who have lost a loved one.

But I am so tired of this. I just cannot stand it any longer. This country needs to ban all semi-automatic weapons, as they are only designed to kill people. I don’t want to hear about your Second Amendment rights.  My right to safely go to a club, a movie , a mall, and send my precious child to school overrules your right to own a killing machine.

Enough. This must stop, and it must stop now. We must all do all we can to make the necessary changes to the laws and to the people in power to prevent any further tragedies. No blaming the Muslims, no saying that gay people had it coming to them, no more EXCUSES.

Make change. And make it now.

My deepest sympathies to those in Orlando, and to all who have lost someone through this senseless acts of violence.

 

IMG_20130828_184537_966

I was reading the NPR page on Facebook and discovered a group that was doing something that made incredible sense, and at the same time, was a new concept.

This group is called  “The Dinner Party”.  And no, it is not a site for traditional party planning or a gathering of recipes, although it has both.

It is an organization for grieving the loss of a loved one. Over a meal.  In 2010, five women, in the ages of 20s to 30s, got together for a meal in Los Angeles. Each one was connected by the fact that they had each lost a parent. They found a common bond in each other, and were able to validate the feelings and intensity of their loss, and openly discuss their lives after their losses.  One dinner turned into a monthly gathering, with more friends in attendance. Then the Dinner Party was born, and expanded into other major cities; San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City. What started as a casual shared experience has  reinvented “grief support” and how  people conceive and talk of loss.

Think about it.  What better way to share a loss than over a meal? Food has always been the great unifying force in all cultures. After a funeral, there is almost always a potluck meal held at the home of the ones experiencing a loss. And at those meals, memories are shared,  and support and love is given.  But what happens after?   The loss of a loved one is different for everyone, and how, when and  why you grieve is deeply personal.  And although we are connected in so many ways today, there is still a lot of isolation.

To me, this is a truly wonderful way  for people to get together to grieve.  Note, these are not counseling or therapy sessions; there are no professionals involved.  This is a venue for a shared experience, among friends. I lost both my father and my sister within one year of each other. To be able to just talk, laugh, and cry with those who have also had a loss would be a moving and freeing experience. And to share that over a meal, how wonderful and fulfilling.

The Dinner Party has a Life After Loss Manifesto, which starts with:

“We are Dinner Partiers. We know what it is to lose a loved one and we’re not afraid to talk about it”.

So, if you are struggling, take a look at The Dinner Party. This may be a way to feel better,  be validated, and not feel so alone. And you will enjoy a good meal with old friends, and maybe make some new ones.  After all, its all about connecting. All we really do have is each other.

If you are interested in finding out more or would like to  attend or host a party, please go to their website,  thedinnerparty.org and all of the information you need is there. I am planning on hosting a party at my home, so if you would like to attend, or have friends who you think would benefit, please contact me and we will set up a dinner.

Below is a writing that I found on grief, author unknown.  But I think it is most fitting.

Grief

I had my own notion of grief.

I thought it was a sad time

That followed the death of someone you loved.

And you had to push through it

to get to the other side.

But I’m learning there is no other side.

There is no pushing through.

But rather,

There is absorption.

Adjustment.

Acceptance.

And grief is not something that you complete.

But rather you endure.

Grief is not a task to finish,

and  move on,

But an element of yourself-

An alteration of your being.

A new way of seeing,

A new definition of self.

 

Regional Ritual

This past weekend my son and his girlfriend came to visit to celebrate my birthday, belatedly. (They got snowed out the weekend before.)  We headed into Center City Philadelphia to go to the Philadelphia Art Museum. After  having a great time taking in the latest exhibits, we headed to the Reading Terminal Market for lunch.  The Market opened in its present location in 1892, but there has been a market in this area of Philly since 1680. For those of you who want a true market experience, the Reading Terminal Market is a must see when in Philadelphia.

Elizabeth had been to the Market a few weeks prior, and wanted  to again dine on Philly’s best known ritual food:

the cheesesteak sandwich.

spataro cheeseteak

Our vendor of choice for this tasty bit of heaven was Spataro’s Cheesesteaks. This place is a well oiled machine. You queue up, place your order with one person, they hand it off to the cashier, you pay, and the order goes over to the line cooks who make your sandwich.  One cook is just chopping and frying the meat, others are doing the onions, and another on French fries.  We had ours “wit Whiz” , cheesesteak  lingo for a sandwich with fried onions and Cheese Whiz. Word of advice–know what you want when you are ready to place your order.  If you dilly dally, you WILL get passed over.  No fooling.

So what is it about cheesesteaks and Philly?  There is an ongoing battle down on Passyunk Ave. between Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks.  And people are very strong in their preferences.  No middle ground, you either like one or the other.  But no matter which you prefer, this is a  ritual that is so ingrained in Philly that it is a tourist attraction. Be ready to stand in line to get your sandwich, but folks, it is worth the wait.

elizabeth cheesesteak

Elizabeth enjoying her cheesesteak!

clayton cheesesteak

not to be outdone by Clayton!

Do you have a regional ritual food or place that you always go to?  Why do you go there?What makes it special to you?

Share your rituals, tell me your story!