At the Delicious Story podcast, we highlight the details of memorable meal stories, those memories of shared experience at the dinner table or favorite restaurant with family and friends. Sherry and I are also fans of movies, particularly those featuring rich character development where food has a prominent role. And when those moments on screen prompt us to think about our favorite meal stories, so much the better. Sherry challenged me to come up with a definitive list of significant films where food was key. The task of selecting them turned out to be compelling and more complex than just one list could fulfill.
So we begin with favorite food-related scenes from films that are not noted “Foodie Movies.” Meals and food moments have proven to be an important ingredient in many movies – sometimes simply as a narrative device, but often much more. Whereas in some films, the culinary arts are the centerpiece for the characters and the very soul of the film. The delicious story of human drama and interaction in film is endless. Movies show us stories of first dates scenarios, weddings, birthday parties, business meetings—food-rich interaction of all kinds. There are food-centric scenes in movies that are so striking that they are among the best moments of the film, as key an element in the movie as they are in life. There are so many great examples, let me serve up a few.
Among my favorite moments in Goodfellas (1990) is the dinner scene in prison. A bunch of the boys are doing time, but that doesn’t stop them from engaging in “family” meals. All the boys take part in the food preparation (in their private ‘prison suite’). Underboss Pauli is in charge of the sauce and has his special method for slicing garlic cloves paper-thin. Henry comes in with the daily delivery, including fresh bread and wine. They maintain a supply of lobsters and steaks on ice, and of course, always lots of pasta. Count me in!
Pulp Fiction (1994) is not thought of as a “Foodie Film,” but many of the great scenes feature food and restaurant experiences. The film opens on a view inside a diner, which eventually feeds into the lengthy closing scene where Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta’s characters end up. And in the fictional “Jack Rabbit Slims” restaurant, Travolta and Uma Thurman enjoy dinner, dancing, and marvel at the delicious “$5.00 shake.” (Probably $12 in 2019 dollars!) Even the dialogue between Travolta and Jackson is filled with food details from his travels to Europe: fast food burger names in Paris, dipping French fries in mayonnaise in Holland…food is fascinating!
All three of the Godfather films are prime examples of storytelling revolving around food featured in weddings, first communions, family meals, receptions, all providing backdrops to the triumph and struggles of the Corleone family. Family meals in Sicily help Michael get to know his new family in the Godfather, and the younger Vito Corleone a chance to reconnect with family in Godfather Two; dinners at the compound in New York give the “boys” an opportunity to discuss the family business. (And don’t miss the foreboding appearance of oranges in many of the scenes of violence and death, another food angle).
The celebration of food and the culture of epicurean tradition is strong in all the Godfather films. A favorite scene, a dinner at home in The Godfather Part Two: the quiet Vito, Tessio and Clemenza, still young in their criminal association, sit and talk over plates of pasta prepared by Mama Corleone. Vito offers a quiet and hush-hush proposition to his associates, one that will eliminate their problem with the local Mafiosi. It’s the key moment in the story as Vito assumes the power in their small gang, much to the consternation of Clemenza who was in charge up to then. Tessio however, happily agrees to Vito’s plan, and they all toast the future with a glass of wine.
On a lighter note, think When Harry Met Sally (1989) and the over-the-top scene in the famous Katz’s Delicatessen. Harry and Sally are discussing, uh, women’s acting abilities. She demonstrates her talents as she enjoys her salad. Now that’s a story! It’s still one of the best movie lines of all time when the customer sitting nearby (played by the director’s mother Estelle Reiner) gives her order to the waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Remember the sack lunches in The Breakfast Club (1985)? Each lunch tells a story about each character in this teenage-angst classic. The kids stuck in Saturday school detention all have their specific lunch routine, fine-tuned to their place in the world. The “jock” with what looks like 3,000 calories of sandwiches, a pound bag of chips, a pound bag of chocolate chip cookies, a quart of milk…even some fruit for balance. The dainty and “pristine” popular rich girl has her delicate sushi lunch in an ivory box set-up. Likewise, the well-balanced and nutritious meal for the “nerd,” and the mayo, sugar and Captain Crunch sandwich that the pre-goth “weirdo” enjoys. Even the lack of a lunch for the “delinquent” character; they all speak to the stories of their lives.
I both marveled and sat perplexed at meal scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In an initial scene, we see early man tearing though lumps of fresh-killed meat. A primitive dinner party earned with their new hunting skills, inspired by the mysterious black obelisk. Appropriate enough. Then shoot forward to 2001—it’s lunchtime on a shuttle that’s taking diplomats across the moon to investigate that same mysterious black obelisk, now resting deep below the surface of the moon. 2001 was a breakthrough movie of futuristic imagery, years ahead of its time…but the space-age lunch they pull out of the futuristic molded alloy case? Little white bread triangle sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Ham and Tuna Salad?
Oh, there’s also a thermos of coffee. Maybe it’s futuristic coffee. One of the men even comments that “they’re getting better and better at these meals.” Yum. Director Stanley Kubrick whips up a more believable recipe later in the film with an automatic food dispenser. Astronauts Dave and Frank punch selected buttons, and their hot meals instantly pop out in a compartmental tray of colorful food – peas, carrots, and chicken and maybe a dinner roll – are all blended into the consistency of a mousse. The food colors blend on their trays as they eat. Not a very delicious story there!
These are just a few of the many food moments in films, not considered food movies per se; however, they rely on food for key elements of the experience. There are many great films which are primarily about the culinary arts and the life of chefs. Those films are bona fide “foodie movies” which lay out their delicious stories as the primary driver to the narrative, character development and film’s mise-en-scène. I have several favorites that I regularly watch whenever the opportunity arises. In fact, I have a tasty Top 10 culinary films that I will list and outline in next week’s post! How do your favorite film food moments inspire your personal memorable meal stories?
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Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
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