Like Water for Chocolate 1994 Based on the Mexican, magical realism novel by Laura Esquivel. Subtitled. The early 1900s. Prefaced by her mother’s probable affair, her father’s resulting death, and birth on the kitchen table, young Tita (Lumi Cavazos) not only acquires exceptional skills from family cook, Nacha (Ada Carrasco), but responsibility not to marry in order to care for a mother who can no longer bear children. Her two sisters wed, one to Tita’s unwilling love, Pedro (Marco Leonardi).
Everything the young woman concocts in the kitchen is unwittingly imbued with/enchanted by her emotions. Thus, her sister’s wedding banquet causes everyone to get sick. We follow the flailing relationships of all three daughters, including one who becomes a gleeful outlaw. Tita’s cooking continues to variously affect those who enjoy her magnificent food.
Eventual consummation with Pedro causes a fantastical event and later suicide. Revenge threatens to handicap the next generation. Told in flashback. Terrific, imaginative story, full of passion. Cooking is like watching dance.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman 1994 (subtitled Chinese) Directed by Ang Lee. Each Sunday, widower and master chef, Mr. Chu, makes an elaborate, traditional meal for his three modern, unmarried daughters. Kitchen scenes will make you want to take Chinese cooking lessons. Each week, the girls have “announcements” about relationships and changes in their lives. At the end, however, it’s their father who surprisingly makes the biggest change. Warmth, humor, generational bridge, and cooking.
Big Night 1996 Co-Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci with Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini. Brothers Primo and Secondo own Paradise, an Italian restaurant at the Jersey Shore in the 1950s. Detailed preparation will make your mouth water. Chef Primo is a kitchen purist, unwilling to compromise on tradition. His brother, who handles business, insists the endeavor must change/update. In direct contrast to local, second rate competition, Pascal’s, the venue is failing.
As the siblings lock horns over style and next steps, Secondo is having an affair with the wife of Pascal’s owner. Desperate, he asks the oblivious cuckold for a loan. Instead, he and Primo are offered jobs. Secondo refuses.
When he hears Louis Prima will be in town for a concert, he invites the musician and his band to dinner, hoping their patronage will give Paradise much needed publicity. Friends indulge in the feast waiting for the famous man’sarrival with celebratory relief. Pascal reveals a secret. He and Secondo argue. The ending is gentle and realistic. Fine, naturalistic acting.
Julie & Julia 2009 Written and Directed by Nora Ephron. Adapted from two books: Child’s autobiography My Life in France written with Alex Prud-homme and Powell’s memoir, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (later retitled Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously).
The film follows two stories. The first is Julia Child’s 1950s move to Paris with her diplomat husband. Despite constant obstacles/discouragement, the icon graduates from Le Cordon Bleu and authors Mastering the Art of French Cooking (a two volume set). Depiction of Child (Meryl Streep), her quirky personality, enviable relationship (Stanley Tucci plays her husband) and skill is immensely appealing.
The second focuses on Julie Powell (Amy Adams) an amateur chef with an emotionally difficult phone job, who, looking for lightness in her life, decides to make every recipe in the first book over the course of a year and to blog about it. We watch successes and failures (cooks might take note) as both her skeptical mother and husband (Chris Messina) realize the blog has gone viral. A happy film.
The Hundred Foot Journey 2014 Adapted from Richard Morais’s 2010 novel. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. When their restaurant is destroyed by political turmoil, the East Indian Kadam family immigrate to France. Car trouble puts them in sight of a venue for sale in the Midi-Pyrenees. The patriarch (Om Puri) decides to stay, buy it, and try his luck.
Unfortunately, the establishment is directly across the road, only a hundred feet, from Le Saule Pleureur (The Weeping Willow), a fancy, Michelin-starred French restaurant run by indomitable Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). The new Maison Mumbai is not only foreign, and joyfully loud, but serious competition. A cold war ensues. Madame tries underhanded methods to make it fail. Things get out of hand. Arson and vandalism occur.
Meanwhile, second oldest Indian son, Hassan Haji (Manish Dayal), a superb chef with ambitions beyond his parents’ cuisine, begins a relationship with Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), sous chef of Le Saule Pleureur. With her help, he “auditions” for Madame with a classic French omelette (her test criteria) and, despite his father’s misgivings, is hired across the street.
Hassan eventually facilitates another star for the French restaurant. This takes him to Paris where Indian/French fusion cooking (wait until you see this!) makes him a star. Work and status are not as satisfying as he imagined, however.
And a wonderful 2011 Documentary: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. American made by David Gelb in Japanese with subtitles. A look at then 85 year-old sushi master and owner of the first three Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. Though the venue was comprised of only 10 seats at a counter, its extraordinary high standards kept the place full with a then $270.00, twenty-course menu. Also portrayed are the Jiro’s two sons, both of whom become superb chefs and continue to support family reputation. Jiro’s observations, sensibilities, and expertise make the film poetic as well as illuminating. He was a true artist.
All on both Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Top photo: Bigstock