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)
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:
- Potage a la Tortue (turtle soup) with Amontillado sherry
- Blinis Demidoff (buckwheat cakes with caviar and sour cream) and Veuve Cliquot champagne
- Cailles en Sarcophage (quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce) with Clos du Vougeot Pinot Noir
- Endive Salad
- Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée (rum sponge cake with figs and candies cherries) and champagne
- Assorted cheese seved with sauternes
- 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.
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.
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 . . .”
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
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.
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.
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.