Ask me about some of my delicious stories. Or ask me about some of my favorite movies – it’s all good. Movies drive food stories, and food stories drive great movies. At the Delicious Story podcast, we luxuriate in the details of memorable meal stories, of shared experience with family and friends at the dinner table, or a favorite restaurant. To that end, last week we combined these two prompts for a look at movies that feature major food events in the story. Some deeply embedded in the character of the movie, some just used as story development. The two elements work together beautifully though, and those moments on the screen move us to think more about our own favorite meal stories. And so much the better.
Sherry and I are movie fans, particularly of those featuring rich stories of the culinary arts. The task of selecting favorite scenes from movies turned out to be more complex than just one post could fulfill; Sherry challenged me to come up with a definitive list of my favorite ten films where food was the key element to narrative, character, and style. Here is that list. The delicious story represents a deep appreciation of the culinary arts, and we love its potent blend with storytelling and humanity.
This list of favorite films revolves specifically around life in the culinary arts; food theory, preparation, service and the world of the dedicated Chef. Call them “Foodie Movies” if you will, but they are the perfect blend of people, cooking and eating!
My top ten favorite food movies – in no particular order:
A small, quiet film featuring Hector Elizondo as a likable chef, father, and kind of a ‘superhero culinary expert,’ called in to save important dinner parties from disaster. Actually, Tortilla Soup is a remake of the classic "Eat Drink Man Woman" (1994). Both movies focus on the Patriarchal Chef’s relationship with their three daughters, as well as his strong love of the culinary arts. The story and the Chefs are engaging.
The most recent film on my list. Although formulaic, Chef is a modern culinary classic and goes down well. The chef hates compromising his talents, and the evil restaurant owner and evil food critic drive him to quit his prized position at a popular Los Angeles restaurant. The changes force him to seek opportunities to satisfy his artistic side without the costs of opening a brick and mortar restaurant: so, he buys and refurbishes an old food truck, gaining his freedom and maintaining his principals in a most delicious way. Sunset fades!
In a remote Danish village in the 19th-century, two sisters lead a strict, rigid religious life dominated by their minister father and his church. Both girls have opportunities to leave but don’t under the thumb of their father. Years later their father is deceased, and the sisters take in French refugee, Babette, to work as their servant. Happenstance steps in and Babette wins a lottery, and she uses the money to repay the sisters for their kindness by cooking a gorgeous traditional French meal for them and their friends, one that is so sumptuous that it is an eye-opening and sublime experience for all.
What a fun film, and how good are Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, and Stanley Tucci? Not happy in her normal routine, Julie (Amy Adams) loves cooking and Julia Child and adores the book The Way To Cook. She implausibly decides to cook every recipe in the classic Julia Child book and blog about the experience. The story cuts back and forth between Julie in present day and Julia Child (Meryl Streep) back in the day, as she embarks on her culinary career in Paris with her husband, and her dream of becoming a great chef. An original and lovely film.
Ok, seriously, a rat that cooks, that is just disgusting. And I speak with a good dose of rodent phobia. But this most unlikely concept and the miracle of Pixar digital films make for an amazing film that is brilliant in its artistic reach, and in its culinary pedigree. Details and action make up the miracle of Pixar, and this film cannot be ignored in it’s reveling in the world of the culinary artist, and the public palate. And the art? I read that pet rats were kept at the studios for more than a year for the animators to study…facial mechanisms, limbs and tail movement, even their fur. Yeeesh,
A beautiful film about social norms, family, relationships, outcasts and, yes, the art of chocolate. An easy film to include on a top 10 list about the culinary arts – the chocolate in the film is a stunning as the star, a single woman and her six-year-old daughter who move into a shop in a small hidden-away town in rural France. They open their chocolate shop to some difficulties, first off opening during Lent. Then, the chocolatiers are open on Sundays and had the effrontery to open across the street from the local church, no less. They work hard for chocolate perfection and acceptance without succumbing to the narrow norms and behaviors of most of the townsfolk
This could be my favorite food movies – a classic story of the Chef who won’t compromise and the dining room manager who wants to fill the seats of their fledgling restaurant. But in this case they are brothers, and the drama is ripe in their world of food, business, women, and dreams of making that big splash on the restaurant scene. The brothers are preparing for a famous visitor to the small, unassuming place; the food and menu preparation is amazing, outstanding, and actually fills you up as you experience the great meal’s production and service. Tony Shalhoub is Primo, the oldest and once again we see Stanly Tucci, who plays the younger brother Secondo, the front of house manager. A stellar cast and delightful experience
Oh my, I must include this disturbing film if only as an antithesis to the great culinary films of the past decades. It is disturbing, it is sad, it is troublesome: it is repulsive. But yes it is about food….fast food at its worst. Supersize Me is a documentary about a man who decides to eat only McDonald food, risking (literally) his health and his life. It’s about obsession; it’s about indulgence, it’s about food not as art, but as a means to suicide. The culinary arts are not presented here, just a great deal of salt, fat, and empty calories. This film made me re-think everything about my own nutritional choice and how I want to live my life.
I had to include this holiday favorite; it is all about Elizabeth Lane, a journalist played by Barbara Stanwick who is one of the country's most famous food writers. The problem is, she can’t cook. Her friend Felix “ghost recipes” her columns while she basks in the glory of being a national symbol of a modern woman – taking care of her children, working her farm, and writing her column about being an exemplary cook. Thank God for Felix, he is my favorite part of the movie, and he talks about food in a way that just the description is inviting. Elizabeth lies about her professional life and must prove it all over a traditional family Christmas.
So this is my last choice for my “Top 10 Delicious Movie Stories” list, not so much for the culinary aspect than for the story aspect. The title is a bit of a misnomer because this movie is not really about dinner. It could be called “My Talk about Life (over dinner)” It is a fascinating study of life experiences, tales of dropping out, traveling and meeting people across the world. A serious dinner and conversation with Andre.
There are many films that I could have included in this tasty movie’s listing, but I submit Remain of the Day for an “extra” selection because it is the perfect companion piece to a fine menu, representing the exceptional service and standards of the front of the house, that makes a meal perfect. In an old-school English manner, Stevens is the head butler, impeccably portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, and he rules as the fiercely dedicated head butler in a world of strict manners and decorum. The household staff is also guided by head-housekeeper Miss. Kenton, played by Emma Thompson. Together they work to strictly maintain the veneer of utter civility in the staff. Their skills and professionalism are rare and admirable. It is also one of the best films from the Merchant Ivory Production team.
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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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