My Favorite Foodie Films

There is no end to the number of lists of top 10+ films about food and you only have to do a quick online search to discover that. So why am I writing a blog post about my favorite food films? Well, because I think these are films worth seeing and, more importantly, posting my list might get a conversation started and we’ll all learn more about great food films. The films on this list are ones I have watched at least once, and most of them more times than that.

1—Big Night
On the New Jersey shore in the 1950s, two Italian immigrant brothers own and operate a restaurant called "Paradise." One is a brilliant, perfectionist chef who chafes under their few customers' expectations of "Americanized" Italian food while the other one strives to move forward and adapt to new ways. In an effort to keep the restaurant afloat, the enterprising one of the brothers reaches out for a loan but instead is offered the chance to cook dinner for Louis Prima in order to turn things around. Together, the brothers plunge into preparation for the “big night”, spending their entire savings on food and inviting people from the neighborhood to join in a magnificent feast.

2—Dinner Rush
Danny Aiello is a restaurateur/bookmaker in New York City's Tribeca neighborhood and Edoardo Ballerini as his son, the restaurant's star chef. The film deals with converging pressures from the son and his gambling sous-chef who work in the kitchen, as well as organized crime. There are amazing scenes in the kitchen as well as the men’s room (later in the film) so stay tuned all the way to the very end. I’d eat there!

OK, maybe this is more about wine than food but humor me. Miles Raymond is an aspiring – but unsuccessful – writer, a wine aficionado and a depressed, borderline alcoholic middle-aged English teacher who takes his soon-to-be-married actor friend and college roommate Jack Cole, on a road trip through Santa Ynez Valley wine country. Though still occasionally recognized, Jack's acting career peaked years ago. Miles wants to spend the week relaxing, golfing, enjoying good food and wine, but Jack is on the prowl and wants one last sexual fling before settling into domestic life. This film probably did more to enhance the sales of pinot noir than anything I can think of…and it is no friend of merlot. Additionally this film inspired me to buy two bottles of “Highliner” pinot noir which was just as good in real life as in the film.

4—Babette’s Feast
Two elderly and pious Christian sisters, Martine and Philippa, live in a small village on the remote western coast of Jutland in 19th-century Denmark. Their father was a pastor who founded his own Pietistic conventicle. With their father now dead and the austere sect drawing no new converts, the aging sisters preside over a dwindling congregation of white-haired believers.

The story flashes back 49 years, showing the sisters in their youth. The beautiful girls have many suitors, but their father rejects them all, and indeed derides marriage. Thirty five years later, Babette Hersant appears at their door. The sisters cannot afford to take Babette in, but she offers to work for free and serves as their cook for the next 14 years, producing bland meals typical of the abstemious nature of the congregation. One day, she wins the lottery of 10,000 francs and instead of using the money to return to Paris and her lost lifestyle; she decides to spend it preparing a delicious dinner for the sisters and their small congregation on the occasion of the founding pastor's hundredth birthday. What I wouldn’t give for a seat at that table.

5—100 Foot Journey
A story about how the short distance between a new Indian restaurant and a traditional French one represents the gulf between different cultures and desires. It focuses on the rivalry and resolution of the two restaurants and is based in Lumière, France. Haute cuisine vs. chicken tikka masala…do I really have to choose?

6—Le Diner de Cons (The Dinner Game)
Pierre Brochant, a Parisian publisher, attends a weekly "idiots' dinner", where guests, who are modish, prominent Parisian businessmen, must bring along an "idiot" who the other guests can ridicule. At the end of the dinner, the evening's "champion idiot" is selected. There is an American version but I’d suggest you get comfy with subtitles or take a quick refresher of that college French course you had as an undergrad so you can watch the “real” version!

7—Julie and Julia
In 2002, Julie Powell is a young writer with an unpleasant job at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's call center, where she answers telephone calls from victims of the September 11 attacks and members of the general public complaining about the LMDC's controversial plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center. To do something she enjoys, she decides to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) by Julia Child in one year; Powell decides to write a blog to motivate herself and document her progress. If you ever needed motivation to create a blog, this is it!

8—My Dinner with Andre
Old friends Wallace and Andre haven't seen each another in five years and agree to meet for dinner. Andre, a once well-known theater director, dropped out of the New York scene to travel the world, while Wallace stuck around, finding only mixed success as a playwright. As they sit down to eat, Andre launches into a series of fantastic stories from his time away, and Wallace can't help but notice how different their worldviews have become. This film gives new meaning to the phrase “table conversation!”

When mysterious Vianne and her child arrive in a tranquil French town in the winter of 1959, no one could have imagined the impact that she and her spirited daughter would have on the community stubbornly rooted in tradition. Within days, she opens an unusual chocolate shop, across the square from the church. Her ability to perceive her customers' desires and satisfy them with just the right confection, coaxes the villagers to abandon themselves to temptation -- just as Lent begins. Move over Vosges, Dandelion and Ghirardelli, this woman is serious about her chocolate!

Remy, voiced by Patton Oswalt, is a resident of Paris who appreciates good food and has quite a sophisticated palate. He would love to become a chef so he can create and enjoy culinary masterpieces to his heart's delight. The only problem is, Remy is a rat. When he winds up in the sewer beneath one of Paris' finest restaurants, the rodent gourmet finds himself ideally placed to realize his dream. This is the ONLY kids’ film on my list, but I really did watch it.

Geoffrey Huys
Wausau, WI

The Slower Fridge

I learned a long time ago inspiration and ideas can come at the most unlikely times and are often the result of seemingly unrelated thoughts and experiences. Such is the case for a recent idea regarding how to adapt the principles of slow food to stocking my refrigerator.

Two seemingly unrelated experiences converged not long ago. One was the images I saw during several recent episodes of House of Cards where Claire and Frank had such a simply stocked refrigerator in their White House residence. Every time I saw a scene, I felt guilty about how messy and unkempt my refrigerator actually was. So in the middle of one evening at approximately 8:30 PM I decided it was time to tackle the fridge.

I began by taking literally everything out and checking fresh dates which resulted in a considerable amount of recycling. Clearing each shelf offered an opportunity to thoroughly clean it before putting it back in and restocking it with existing items. Within an hour things were markedly improved and I felt a lot better about what was left. There was space, things were arranged more sensibly and I could see pretty much everything that was stored within.

At this point it was time for a late evening run to the grocery store for a few things to add back including some healthier bottled water drinking options and fruit. I went to bed that night feeling very accomplished.

Sometime in the middle of the following day, though, it occurred to me that having a clean refrigerator was a nice step forward but maybe not enough. I had taken the time to clean and sort and put back a few healthier options but I realized there was room to improve and that is where the second idea came into play.

Two days earlier I had an amazing conversation with a board member from Slow Food Chicago who introduced the idea of slow drinks to the Windy City. Her inspiration was that we all enjoy and celebrate slow food without necessarily thinking about what we drink, so her mission is to help us think about how we apply slow food principles to what we consume in liquid form.

While that idea intrigued me a lot, it was not where I really wanted to go at the time. Instead, I thought about how I could keep applying principles of slow food to my fridge. At first I thought, I will call it the "slow refrigerator," but upon further reflection I realized a more realistic goal would be to create a slower refrigerator. The reality is our goal in the slow food movement is to enjoy food that is good clean and fair as well as focusing on local foods whenever we can. That is where I think it is important to focus and yet maintain some perspective about just how far one can take the concept.

So how do I create the slower refrigerator? That is my question for now and one where I am still doing research and attempting to apply ideas from many sources to get to a more ideal state.

I'm starting with the idea of exploring how are Europeans do this by purchasing food that is fresher and secured on a more frequent basis and kept, as many of us know, in much smaller refrigerators than we have in the US. That is a start, but it's by no means the end. I also want to consider how to stock with locally and regionally available items along with healthier options that might come from further distances but could fit comfortably into the concept of slow food because of how things are grown, harvested or packaged.

Geoffrey Huys
Wausau, WI