Pinch of Salt: Food Oscars

By Pete Goffe-Wood.

The madness of the awards season is upon us – the Veritas awards have just been doled out, and next week Platter’s announces their 5-star wines. JHP Gourmet Guide have just handed out a number of plates, Condé Nast announced their pick of the 9 best new restaurants worldwide for 2017 (including Marble in Johannesburg as the only South African pick), and Eat Out, who have already awarded their Everyday Eateries, will announce their Top 30 Restaurants in a couple of weeks.

So I’m going to jump on the bandwagon – but if you think I’m going to predict which are my top restaurants, think again – what follows are my nominations for Best Food Movie. Now there are some provisos as this is a fairly contentious movie category and I welcome debate and dissent (feel free to send in your comments).

My main criterion in this category is that the food/restaurant experience depicted in these films must be authentic – there are a number of American remakes of some excellent foreign films that are pure bubblegum and fluff; in fact two of my nominated films are the original versions that have since been turned into all manner of slush in which Steven Segal could easily have played the chef.

My nominations for Best Food Film are as follows (in no particular order):

Eat Drink Man Woman

Directed by Ang Lee

Starring: Sihung Lung, Yu-wen Wang, Chien-lien Wu, and Kuei-mei Yang

This is a fabulous story set in Taipei where a widowed father who is a Master Chef prepares an elaborate Sunday lunch every week for his three adult daughters. Their lives and loves are dissected during each meal. The attention to detail in the preparation of the meals is worth watching alone but it’s an interesting examination of family dynamics. This is also the first of the films that was butchered (excuse the pun) into an American version that was called Tortilla Soup.

Chef

Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring: Jon Favreau, Sophia Vergara, John Leguizamo with great cameos by Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt and Robert Downey Jnr.

Well researched tale of a talented chef’s fall from grace and his ultimate salvation via a food truck road trip with his best friend and sous chef, and his young son. Consulting on the film was food truck guru Roy Choi, so the food sequences both in the food truck and restaurant were authentic. The best scene in the movie was during the road trip when the three travellers all put corn starch on their genitals to prevent chafing from the heat and sweat – a very common kitchen practice.

Big Night

Directed by Stanley Tucci

Starring: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm and Isabella Rossellini

Superbly told story, set in the 1950s, of two Italian immigrant brothers and their failing restaurant. They decide that in order to survive they need one blow-out evening, hence the Big Night in order to survive. The restaurant and food detail in this are immaculate and the final scene in the movie, completely without dialogue, will resonate with anyone in the industry who has ever worked late into the night or all through the night. It is a very poignant scene and for me makes the whole movie.

Le Grand Chef

Directed by Jeon Yun-su

Starring: Kim Kang-woo, Im Won-hee and Lee Ha-na

This is just purely a cooking movie – loosely based on a novel by Nicole Mones called The Last Great Chinese Chef, set in Korea where two arch rivals must battle it out to see who will be come the last Korean Royal Chef of Joseon Dynasty and inherit an ancient knife that the last chef used to cut his hand off rather than cook for the Japanese invaders. This is an adrenalin-fuelled kitchen “kung fu” movie.

Mostly Martha

Written and Directed by Sandra Nettelbeck

Starring: Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste and Sergio Castellitto

A brilliantly told story of a perfectionist chef who struggles to relate to the world outside of her kitchen, and who is forced to relook at her priorities after she adopts her recently deceased sister’s adolescent daughter. It is a brilliant look at obsessive chefs who think of nothing but their craft and the kitchen sequences and restaurant scenes are some of the most authentic. This is the second film on the list that got turned from a very well made film into a schmaltzy American Rom-Com that left a horrible taste in my mouth.

Julie & Julia

Written & Directed by Nora Ephron

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci

Expertly crafted film where two separate true stories are woven into one. The first is the story of Julia Child in the 1950s and her publishing her famous tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book that made her a household name and helped changed the way American ate.The second thread revolves around Amy Adams who plays a blogger who decided she was going to to cook the entire book 524 recipes in 365 days and proceeds to document the journey. Although their paths never cross it is a very engaging and watchable movie.

Ratatouille

Directed by Brad Bird & Produced by Pixar

Voices: Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole, Janeane Garofalo and Brain Denehey

No self respecting food movie round up would be complete without this animated classic. The story of the rat with impeccable taste buds that commandeers that hapless linguini and lays claim to one of the great kitchens of Paris is delightful as it is accurate in its depiction of kitchen process and the band of miscreants usually found within its depths.

 

And the Oscar goes to……Big Night.

This quirky film with a fabulous assemble cast ticks all of the boxes from authenticity all the way through to fabulous storyline, great acting and attention to detail – a worthy winner!

I have not included any Food TV programmes or documentaries in this round up as that would be too easy and anyway, of the top 20 contenders, 18 would be episodes of Netflix’s Chef’s Table created by David Gelb. For anyone serious about food and modern cooking and its most engaging protagonists – Chef’s Table is a must. You can sign up to Netflix for a free month’s trial [Ed.’s note: this is not an ad for Netflix!] and watch all 18 episodes, although I have found it impossible to watch more than one episode at a time – this series is so beautifully shot and emotionally engaging that I’ve wanted to savour each episode and let it sink in.

The first episode of season 3 features Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist monk, who left her family at age 16 to join the Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea so she could be free of all bonds in order to truly express her creativity through food. The sheer beauty and tranquility captured in this programme still gives me goosebumps.

Parental advisory – all of these films should not be viewed without suitable sustenance; the movie can be gourmet even if the takeaways aren’t.