Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cuisine in the Cinema Part One

Since the debut of the ultimate foodie film Julie & Julia hit the theaters over the weekend (part two will feature a separate story), I thought I would mention my top ten favorite gastronomic movie moments:

1. The Big Night (1996): One of the best films on Italian cooking that introduced audiences to Timpano, a layered meat and pasta dish. The film centers around two brothers (Julie & Julia's Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) struggling to keep their Italian restaurant afloat as they refuse to cater to the "tomato sauce crowd."

2. Tortilla Soup (2001): A quaint story of a Mexican chef (Hector Elizondo) who loses his taste after his wife dies and literally rediscovers the art of love through the art of cooking. The film's menus were designed by Border Grill chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.

3. Under the Tuscan Sun: Wonderful scenes of the preparation of fresh Italian fare by Diane Lane as the Frances Mayes character.

4. Chocolat (2000): Juliette Binoche plays a young mother who literally transforms a small repressed French village with her florentines, nougats and other chocolate delights. Somehow the Snickers bar in my purse couldn't hold a candle after seeing this film.

5. Babette's Feast: A 19th century housekeeper in Denmark prepares a French gourmet meal in the hit 1987 film. The film was based on the novel written by Karen Blixen who brought us the classic Out of Africa.

6. Like Water for Chocolate (1992): Based on Maria Esquival's best seller cookbook/love story, the film tells the story of a young woman who expresses her passion through her exotic dishes such as quail with rose petals and cream fritters.

7. Eat Drink Man Woman (1994): Director Ang Lee’s story of a widowed Japanese chef who loses his taste and zest for life finds joy through cooking. Sound familiar? It was remade as `Tortilla Soup. Amazingly, the film showcased over one hundred dishes.

8. Ratatouille (2007): This animated film actually combines the unthinkable --a welcomed rat in a French kitchen who assists a fledgling chef. French Laundry chef Thomas Keller was the chief advisor on the film and trained animators how to grill, saute and flambe. The film was so adorable that it made me rethink my lifelong phobia of rodents....well almost.



9. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009): The children's story made into an upcoming film where the forces of nature literally create food. Its raining meatballs and hamburgers!

10. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991): Based on Fannie Flagg's best selling novel turned film, the story centered around the activities at the Whistle Stop Cafe and helped placed fried green tomatoes on the culinary map (north of the Mason Dixon line that is).

And of course there are other memorable foodie moments in film. Tom Jones, Godfather Three and 9 1/2 Weeks gave us food as foreplay and Goodfellas taught us a razor blade is useful for chopping garlic in prison. What's Cooking? and Soul Food reminded us that family and angst always occur during Sunday dinner while Sideways taught us that wine helps with a mid-life crisis. And who can forget the food fight in Animal House?

Other honorable mentions: No Reservations, Tampopo, Vatel, Age of Innocence, Diner, The Cook, the Thief, HIs Wife, and Her Lover and My Dinner With Andre.

And perhaps one of the most lasting images over time was this one with James Cagney and a grapefruit in Warner Brothers gangster classic Public Enemy (1931)...

Photo Credits: Rysher Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn, Pixar/Walt Disney, Miramax, Ballantine Books, Warner Brothers, Universal.


  1. Auntie Mame...the visit to the Upton's house in Darien, called "UpsonDowns." She was served daquiris and tuna fish and peanut butter canapes.
    THEN she returned the favor and had the Upsons' in for cocktails and served rattlesnake. Too hilarious. I loved Big Night and Ratatouille as well. Great post honey!!

  2. Wow! Had not thought about the menu at Upson Downs! I knew a
    gourmet like you would appreciate this!

    Check my piece later this week on Celebrated Living's website as they
    will have film recipes.
    (Its American Airlines inflight mag)

  3. Stumbled upon with great delight. I have a great dislike for animation—don't know why, it just creeps me out—but I had to put all that aside for Ratatouille. Didn't know Cloudy with Meatballs was going big screen. One of my favorite books of all time to read to my son—now chef! One day he came from preschool and to the question, "What did you do today?" he informed me they had had a tomato drill. "You know," he said nonchalantly, "in case a giant tomato hits." You paid tribute to some of all time favorite films. Enjoyed the post.

  4. Many thanks. Ratatouille was such a sweet film and made me look at those four legged creatures with great empathy! Cloudy with Meatballs looks adorable.

  5. This list needs to have "Tampopo" - way ahead of its time.

  6. Tampopo is definitely another great foodie film!