Food on Screen: My Top 10
The obsession with food does not end in the kitchen. When cooking and eating aren’t enough I look to the screen to satisfy the craving for exotic ingredients, new kitchen techniques and culinary escapism. This is a helter-skelter list of films, documentaries, series and Hollywood movies that have satisfied my cravings for learning, entertainment and beauty in different ways, all with beautiful food and drink are sprinkled throughout.
The movies and shows on this list will inspired you to step into the kitchen and take some chances, or just pour yourself a healthy glass of wine and nourish your loved ones. Oh, and it goes without saying that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s television shows Parts Unknown and No Reservations are mandatory viewing material for any food fanatic.
1.The Mind of a Chef (2012)
When I first encountered this PBS series on Netflix a few years ago, I was in awe at how much I was learning every episode. Each season focuses on one or two chefs and how they’ve been inspired through their cooking journey. Each episode goes into detail on a country, style of food, agricultural practice or ingredient, and how it plays into the chef’s life. For example, in season 2 chef April Bloomfield does an episode on salt where she visits a small sea salt producer, and the science of why we love salt on food is explained.
2. Chef’s Table (2015)
Just released, and in a similar style to The Mind of a Chef, Netflix produced a documentary style television show that follows 6 chefs in their restaurants and how they interact with their community and the food producers around them. The cinematography is stunning, and with the six chefs being from different countries the landscape and influence is varied.
3. Julie & Julia (2009)
There’s so much about this movie to love, but who am I kidding, they had me at Meryl Streep. The movie follows two narratives of women beginning in their culinary careers. Streep plays the late Julia Child (American chef famed for popularizing French cooking in the West) who is learning to master French cooking, and the later narrative follows Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, who is cooking and blogging her way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The two stories are separated by decades, but follow each other. With a bit of butter, fat and chocolate Child brightens Powell’s somewhat lacklustre life.
4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
Most of this documentary takes place within the 10 seat Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. Jiro Ono, the chef and owner, is profiled at the end of his career as he prepares to hand over his three Michelin star flagship restaurant to his eldest son. The documentary shows the dedication and long hours and years it takes to refine the art of sushi, from creating relationships with fish mongers at the markets to taking years to learn the right rice making techniques. The standard of quality that Jiro demands is insane, but it is what made him the best sushi restaurant in the world.
5. Ratatouille (2007)
This Disney-Pixar cartoon, about a rat in a famous French kitchen who hopes to learn to cook with the help of a young employee was heartwarming and funny. The food, although animated, came to life and made my mouth water. For those who’ve worked in the food industry, the dynamic between kitchen staff, serving staff, diners and critics will amuse, although it is all kept more family friendly than you’d even hear behind closed doors. I didn’t watch this with a kid, I watched it for myself, and I think, like many of the animated movies these days it is excellent for any audience.
6. Sideways (2004)
This movie is about two male friends who go on a small bachelor party vacation through California wine country. Although the movie focuses more on wine than food, food has its place. One of the pair is a wine aficionado, and the other has a passing interest but still loves to eat and drink. The cinematography and landscape of California is beautiful captured, the writing is flawless and the wine banter is witty. I’d call this a kooky dram-ady, but that would be underselling this slice-of-life tale about love and loneliness. It was nominated for a pile of awards at both the Golden Globes and Oscars, and won a few too.
7. Chef (2014)
Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara and John Leguizamo star in this Hollywood film with more of a festival flick heart about a top restaurant chef Carl Casper (Favreau) who is losing his edge on account of an owner who is afraid of change or creativity. With his family life suffering and his inspiration waning Casper goes to his Cuban roots to find his fire again. Warning: the cooking scenes in this film will make you wonder why the hell you’ve never had Cuban food.
8. The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
A young Indian chef and his family are transplanted to rural France where his restaurant contends with one of the best French restaurants in the country, just across the street. This movie is lighthearted, bordering on cheesy, overly sentimental and caters to a wide audience, but the scenes where food is cooked are well-shot and the French countryside is enchanting. Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) creates playful tension in the film with her smug character who is always trying to foil the Indian restaurant’s plans.
9. Three Stars (2010)
The Michelin star is the most coveted rating system for restaurants in the world, and three stars guarantees fame. One star indicates a good place to stop on a journey, two a place that’s worth a detour and three stars a restaurant that’s in itself worth planning a trip around. Three Stars looks at nine restaurants and chefs across the world who have, or are vying for, three Michelin stars and how difficult pandering to the critic can be. This documentary is perhaps one of the more serious on the list, and might bore unless you’re obsessed with food, food critics and food travel, otherwise it’s really interesting to find out how that world works.
10. Fed Up (2014)
Sugar is slowly killing us and in this big budget documentary they tell us exactly how and why. It’ll prompt you to begin paying closer attention to food labels and wonder where food producers are hiding things.
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.