Some of my favorite movies are about food or include wonderful food scenes. My partner, Chad, and I love going to the cinema. We like to go out to eat beforehand at a special restaurant, but save a little room for popcorn or Twizzlers. Movies in our world seem to involve cooking one way or another. So, one day, I began thinking about my favorite food movies, and I’d like to share them with you.
Babette’s Feast (Denmark, 1987)
This is my ultimate movie about food. It’s a wonderful story that takes place on a desolate coast of Denmark at the end of the 19th Century. Two elderly, religious women take in a young French woman to be their housekeeper and cook, not realizing that she is the splendid French chef, Babette. When she wins a large sum of money in a French lottery, she decides to spend it all creating a magnificent meal for the simple villagers. It’s about how kindness can be expressed through the cultivation of the senses. I found it heartwarming.
Christmas in Connecticut (USA, 1945)
Barbara Stanwyck is “Smart Housekeeping” columnist Elizabeth Lane—a 1940s Martha Stewart in word only. Unknowing, her publisher invites himself and a handsome World War II hero to her fictional Connecticut farmhouse for Christmas. Once Lane, the war hero, the fictitious husband, and, of course, a cook arrive at her home, the focus is on food. Everyone seems to be either eating or talking about food. From the beginning of the film, even the war hero and his pal dream about the meals they can’t wait to eat once they get out of the hospital.
Chocolat (UK/USA, 2000)
This film is about a young mother, Vianne Rocher, and her 6-year-old daughter, Anouk, who arrive at the (fictional) repressed French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. Vianne opens La Chocolaterie Maya, a small chocolate shop across the street from the local church. The rigidly moral community resists the confections of the chocolaterie. Eventually, Vianne’s chocolates begin to change the lives of the villagers, who once felt that they were better than others because they abstained from certain pleasures.
Christmas Story (USA, 1985)
The story about a young boy named Ralphie and his Christmas quest for a toy rifle has some of the best scenes with the family around the table. One of the funniest is where the mother is cooking cabbage—“your father’s favorite,” Mrs. Parker says. Randy, the younger brother, won’t eat until encouraged by his mother: “Be a good boy. Show Mommy how the piggies eat!” On Christmas Day, the neighbor’s dogs attack the holiday meal: “The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey hash! Turkey à La King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!” This leaves the family to search out the only establishments open on Christmas Day, a Chinese restaurant—one of the most hilarious and memorable scenes of all time.
Fried Green Tomatoes (USA, 1991)
An unexpected friendship develops between housewife Kathy Bates and lively octogenarian Jessica Tandy at a nursing home. Tandy’s character shares stories about a fiercely independent woman a half-century ago, inspiring the housewife to change her life. But it’s the stories focusing on the unusual title food item that are so delightful. It’s just one of the recipes served by the main characters at the Whistle Stop Café, an establishment that keeps a small Southern town together, as life revolves around the preparation, serving, and consumption of food. The secret of this movie “is in the sauce.”
The Joy Luck Club (USA, 1993)
Food plays such an important role in Chinese culture. Many of the dramatic moments of this film take place either in the kitchen or at the dinner table. A favorite scene is where the boyfriend of one of the daughters unintentionally insults his future mother-in-law when he agrees that a dish she has prepared tastes too salty. To make matters worse, he proceeds to douse his food in soy sauce. Throughout the film, food does not play that major a role, but it is nearly always present in the background.
Moonstruck (USA, 1987)
Much of the action in this film takes place in the Grand Ticino restaurant, a family grocery store, a bakery, the family’s dining room, or the kitchen. Food is used as a means of conveying family relationships, ethnicity, and the changing moods of the characters. My favorite line is delivered by Olympia Dukakis, the family matriarch, confronting her father-in-law at the dinner table: “Old man, you give those dogs another piece of my food, and I’m gonna kick ya ’til ya dead!” It doesn’t get any better than this!
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. Visit www.GardenCounty.info. Check out his “Word of Mouth” Blog under “Extras” at LavenderMagazine.com.