I’ve never been much of a movie buff, so it takes a bit of prodding to get me into a theater seat, which I suppose is why I usually watch movies on DVD, on Blue-ray or on TV at home.
Ironically, the only TV in my house is above my bar, which makes it only steps away from my kitchen and makes a seat at my restaurant-like, four-top booth the best seat in the house to watch a movie, especially when supplied with my favorite, freshly popped, perfectly seasoned popcorn and a glass of white wine.
While I enjoy the local restaurant and food scene, sometimes a night in is a welcome respite.
Now, when it comes to food on TV or film, I must confess that I’m not a big fan of The Food Network. In truth, I used to be, but once the hoard of reality food shows flooded TFN and what remained turned the art of cooking into a culinary circus or game show, I asked for the proverbial check and made my exit.
Nowadays, finding something worthwhile for me to watch on The Food Network or on film is as difficult as trying to find a juicy steak on a sushi menu.
Admittedly, I’ve not seen all the food-related movies out there. While some may be wonderful entertainment for many, I’m personally not into watching a 2-hour, sappy love story or some family drama that just happens to involve a chef or just happens to take place in a kitchen (especially if it’s a period piece like Babette’s Feast (1987).
Yeah, I know I’m probably the exception.
I also don’t consider movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) or foodish titles, such as The Breakfast Club (1985), Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) or Diner (1982), to be food movies. And, with all due respect to Hannibal Lecter, while dining takes place at some level, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Eating Raoul (1982) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) don’t qualify as food movies either…
Bottom line—food or the food industry (at least the legit one) should be the main course in my food movies.
Without going into a detailed synopsis of each of my favorite movies mentioned below, they all have something in common, and that’s reality (in some form).
Choosing any one of my favorite food movies over another is like trying to choose my favorite dish off a great menu.
In the end, like food, it all depends on what you’re in the mood for.
What is reality?
When it comes to my favorite food movies, there is reality, and then there is reality.
Because I have spent so much of my life in professional kitchens, pastry shops, food markets, restaurants, hotels, and even as a culinary instructor. he eye and ear test for me is how realistic the scenarios are to real life. Or minimally, are they even plausible (even if they are animated) as is the case for one of my favorite food movies about a star chef, who just happens, of all things, to be a rat—Ratatouille (2007).
This movie also makes my list because of the DVD extra featuring Ratatouille’s director Brad Bird and the movie’s culinary advisor, the world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller, who in this extra feature speak about their individual passions for excellence, which, as it turns out, is universal. I’m torn between which I like more—the movie or its “extra.”
It’s not all serious…or is it?
Working in the food industry is not all fun and games. As a matter of fact, the more serious the food, the more pressure there is and the less fun it can be for many chefs. Pleasing everyone from food critics and customers to the banks and investors (let alone overcoming many personal challenges) usually leaves little room in your life to please your loved ones and family (let alone spend any time with them). It’s a lesson I’ve lived through.
Arguing families, divorces, drugs, personal/professional struggles and even suicide are (unfortunately) way too common in the industry and make for juicy plot scripts. Some movie heroes overcome all obstacles, others not. A few examples are depicted in food flicks, such as the recently released Burnt (2015) and Spinning Plates (2012), and to a lesser extent in Big Night (1996).
Then there are the fun food movies that are thoroughly entertaining yet still have enough realism in their plots to carry me through to the last course. Among my favorites in this category is a movie in which one by one, the greatest chefs in Europe are being killed in the same manner that their special dishes are prepared. Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978) is light dish yet delectable. Julia & Julia (2009), Chef (2014) & Haute Cuisine (2009) all are similarly pleasant and enjoyable fare.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the documentary about legendary sushi master Jiro Ono, which I just stumbled upon on PBS a few years ago. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) follows the history of the three-Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro Restaurant and the storied career and life of its 85-year-old chef and artist.
An appetite for more…
There are dozens upon dozens of other food-related movies that I haven’t seen but are on my menu. They include:
- Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
- Le Chef (Comme un Chef) (2012)
- Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
- Chocolat (2000)
- The Lunch Box (2013)
- The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
- A Chef in Love (1996)
- Sideways (2004)
- My Dinner with Andre (1981)
What is your favorite food movie?
Is it on my list?