Do you ever watch a movie and become fascinated by the food in the story?
I may suffer from the Chef’s obsession, but sometimes I become so intrigued by the food they are making in the film that I forget the plot and just want to get in the kitchen to cook. Lenore and I recently surveyed a group of guests at an EVOO dinner for their favorite food scenes. Here are some from that discussion. Just thinking about them makes me want to watch them again.
EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN Lenore and I first saw this on a flight to London. Full of culture it is about a renowned Taiwanese chef and his daughters. Clearly a successful chef by societies standards, he spends much of the movie trying to impress his grown daughters with his cooking. He even loses his sense of taste, critical to his craft. Alls well in the end, but I don’t recommend seeing this movie without your best take out in front of you. Airline peanuts do not suffice.
THE BIG NIGHT It’s all about the food, or is it all about the success of a business? The opening scene introduces the quirky brother-owner duo, one the front man and the other master chef, Primo Pilaggi. As the movie opens Primo is alone creating an intricate dish while Tucci waits, pacing for his brother to finish. In this restaurant the food takes way too long to get to the customers and business is falling apart. After much consultation, Tucc’s mentor convinces him that the restaurant needs Louis Prima and his band to come to dinner. Preparations begin and what unfolds is a testament to one chef’s obsessive attention to detail and passion for his craft, and another’s failure to recognize when it is time to move on.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES With a cast including Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson you know you are in for an enjoyable ride. What you don’t expect is great barbecue and southern recipes throughout. Very much a period piece, set in the 1930s at the Whistle Stop Cafe, the movie explores women in the south and what true friendship can endure. A movie I still think about when frying green tomatoes and especially remember the best line of the movie, its all in the sauce.
LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE
“ a romantic story of a fictional family set in the early 1900s, in Mexico. It covers two decades of life, love and food. Young Tita spends most of her childhood in the kitchen with the family cook, learning the craft. Tita falls in love. Her mother denies her marriage, and besides, her older sister is betrothed to the man Tita loves. Because she is oldest, tradition requires her to remain in the house as her mother’s caretaker. Tita vents her frustration through cooking and her emotions are felt in the meals created, especially when making her sisters wedding cake.
CHOCOLAT – In the 1950s the main character (Juliette Binnoche) is a single mother who brings her daughter to a tranquil French village. The quite town suits her just fine as she opens a chocolatierre, just as lent begins. Being a time of fasting and restraint, the towns mayor attempt to overcompensate for his miserable life, makes it his mission to oust the chocolate maker as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the newcomer demonstrates her tenacity and skills, and even gets into the villagers lives, learning their preferences for chocolates and gaining their patronage. As with all great food movies, there is life, love (in this case with Johnny Depp) and good eats. The plot is one of fantasy that leaves you beliving and turning to your favorite box of chocolates.
BELLA MARTHA (MOSTLY MARTHA); recently remade as NO RESERVATIONS. It takes place in Germany where chef Martha Klein rules supreme. God forbid any diner queston the quality of their entrée. Martha’s passion and need for control is tested when her sister dies in a car crash leaving her 8 year old daughter for Martha to raise. Motherhood proves more challenging than expcted until Martha’s new Italian cook comes into the picture. Martha’s overbearing and intimidating ways soon melt away allowing her vulnerability and playful side to show. I particularly enjoyed the realism in this working kitchen but definitely liked the original better than the remake.
RATATOUILLE Okay, I probaly don’t even have to go here since it is so recent, but as a chef I enjoyed the familiar portrayal of a professional kitchen. Set in France the star is Remy the rat, who has a passion for fine food and finds himself uprooted from the countryside to the sewer just below a famous restauarant, owned by his idol chef. The story unfolds as Remy gets his shot at culinary freedom while teaching an unlikely cook named Linguini. Between relationships, turf wars and smart culinary jargon, this movie is a whole bunch of fun and honestly my favorite movie that year.
Then there are the movies that are not really about food but hard to imagine with out it. Take MOONSTRUCK, for example, where almost every scene takes place in a restaurant, bakery or home kitchen, and I being both Italian and romantic find the final scene where the family gathers around the kitchen table over oatmeal quite essential to its plot.
There are isolated food scenes from movies too, that do nothing but make a huge impact. For instance, whenever I cook hard boiled eggs I think of COOL HAND LUKE. And most people remember WHEN HARRY MET SALLY’s delicatession scene that wasn’t really about the food, and for me, memorable because it’s my worst high maintenance customer nightmare. And lastly the scene where one shared strand of pasta leads to an innocent first kiss between the LADY AND THE TRAMP is a sweet classic that I’m sure the child in us all remembers whenever we eat spaghetti and meatballs.
So mix up some popcorn and tell us your favorite food scenes from the movies. Send your thoughts and even better, your recipes inspired by a movie to firstname.lastname@example.org Here are a couple of my recipes named for the movies Enjoy!
BIG NIGHT – Ravioli
3 cups AP flour
1 tsp sea salt
3 -4 TBS water, more or less as needed
1# duck confit*
Chicken stock as needed to cook ravioli
2 cups parmesan cream – see recipe
Method: Combine flour and salt in large bowl; make a well in center and add the eggs and most of water; work the dry and wet together and add enough water to make a moist dough; remove to board and knead for 10 minutes; cover with a towel and allow to rest for 1 hour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll through pasta machine gradually to lowest setting. (Pasta should be thin, #8 on our machine) On one side of a long sheet, place-filling 1 in apart using a small spoon; moisten edges with water and fold noodle over filling to cover and seal using pasta wheel or fork.
For service: boil raviolis in salted chicken stock until they float. Drain well; Place on top of cream sauce and garnish with more duck and apple chutney, if desired.
Note: duck confit and apple chutney can be purchase at many specialty stores such as Whole Foods or Zupan’s.
Parmesan cream for ravioli: Reduce 4 cups of cream to 2 cups; stir in ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt, white pepper, and coriander.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES with Garlic-Dill Aioli
2 cups Panko bread crumbs
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp cayenne
2 cups buttermilk
4 ea green tomatoes, sliced ½ inch
As needed vegetable oil to fry
Method: set up a breading station by combining panko and seasonings in a container appropriate to hold panko and tomatoes; place buttermilk in breading pan next to panko mixture; place a slice of tomato in panko with left hand and cover completely and evenly with crumbs; remove with left hand and dust off completely; place in buttermilk and coat well using right hand, remove and allow to drip over pan, using right hand; place back in panko to double coat tomato; remove to parchment lined pan and refrigerate a minimum of 30 minutes before cooking.
Place oil in large sauta pan and heat until oil begins to haze; add tomatoes and cook through, browning on both sides; remove to paper towels to drain; serve immediately adjusting salt as necessary.
4 cloves roasted garlic
3 egg yolks, room temp.
½ cup EVOO
½ cup grape seed oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp fresh dill
Method: mash garlic into a paste; add yolks and whisk well until light and fluffy; add oils in a steady stream, whisking constantly; add juice and chives; adjust seasoning with sea salt and coriander; reserve chilled.
CHOCOLAT – HOT CHOCOLATE LACED WITH DARK RUM
6 oz heavy cream
12 oz whole milk
¼ cup salted butter
2 TBS sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
8 oz good bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 oz sweetened whipped cream
2 tsp dark rum
Sprinkle of nutmeg Method: place all ingredients except chocolate into heavy bottom sauce pan; bring to simmer. Add chocolate until completely melted and absorbed. Ladle into cups; garnish as desired. Suggested size serving: 4 oz as this is very rich
To Garnish: (pick one or a couple)
1. Float whipped cream on top
2. Add splash of dark rum
Sprinkle of nutmeg, cocoa powder, or cinnamon.
I am struck by the number of times over the years that I have been asked to explain my style of cooking. It is not that I don’t know but rather that I struggle with putting it into words. Lenore and I promote the benefits of eating in the Mediterranean style. But that doesn’t quite describe our style of cooking because the word Mediterranean in the mainstream is frequently associated with Greek, and though we love Greek cuisine, our lifestyle, isn’t. Of course, we called ourselves EVOO after extra virgin olive oil, because it’s the oil I choose to use most of the time.
This year we have embarked on a rather daunting task that has both of us awed by the amount of preparation required. Hats off to those who have written their own cookbooks! Our publisher wants to know just what our style of cooking is, and so started another awkward attempt to put into words how we prefer to cook! In order to do it justice I found myself going back in time.
In 2001 in Seattle we found a little Italian restaurant overlooking the city that was a little tired and in need of some new TLC. Being sold by owner, we were the only buyers looking. We hired an architect to show us that the remodeling we wanted would work. It was looking good and we were finally going to open the restaurant we had only dreamed about. At the same point in time we had a scheduled trip to Italy; the cafe owners were fine with waiting until we returned to complete the sale, and so off we went happily on our three-week vacation! In Italy we met up with several of our friends in Florence and they wanted to know about the restaurant. “What’s your style of cuisine?” (There’s that question again), and “What will you name it?”
Lenore summed up that we love cooking cuisines that use olive oil as the preferred fat, and of course Italian food is a favorite. One night during a lovely Tuscan dinner with our friends, the name, Oliva, (olive in Italian) earn the most votes. Check that off our list. The rest of the trip continued our focus on what was waiting at home. We bought some hand-painted Italian pottery that would fit nicely in our cafe. We learned as much as possible about olives and olive oil, too. It was a wonderful time.
Upon returning to Seattle, we discovered the bank had foreclosed on “our” cafe, sold to another buyer, and we were out. What a lesson to learn; once we got over the shock, we decided it wasn’t meant to be. At that point we took a drastic detour from our plans to find a restaurant of our own.
To mourn our loss of the cafe, we went to our favorite get-away. We had been weekending in Cannon Beach ever since we moved to Seattle! It was on this weekend we decided to put the money we saved for our restaurant toward building our beach house. Our spirits lifted and by April 2002 we had found the property, the builder had broken ground and we were in motion to the ocean! A year later our get-away was complete. It was about this time that we also picked up a standard poodle puppy to enjoy the beach with us. We named her Olivia—not quite the same as the restaurant name but by then, we had really moved on!
Little did we know we would turn our second home into our primary residence. We gingerly entertained the idea of opening a restaurant, but when the concept of a cooking school came up once again, we were in motion.
Again, the question surfaced: What is your style of cuisine? So once and for all, here is my recipe for what cooking in the Mediterranean style means to me. It is like a chunky guacamole with pieces of ideas that make for surprisingly different experience.
- Extra virgin olive oil is indeed at the core.
2. Plates are small but complete! Portions are small but flavors are often complicated and quite diverse.
3. Many grains, legumes, and plant-based ingredients are present.
4. Animal proteins are never more than 2-3 oz and tend to represent less than 1/3 of what is happening on the plate.
5. Preference is given in order to fish, shellfish, chicken then red meat.
6. Added touches of bright and bold flavors make for a surprise or contradiction; as with condiments, micro green salads, relishes, chutneys, sorbets and fresh sauces.
7. Plates are textural from soft to crunchy, chewy, crispy to smooth; raw to cooked.
8. Temperatures range from the oven alongside something right out of the refrigerator, and all points in between.
9. Wine always accompanies and completes the plate.
Lenore tells me this list is very close to the highly touted Mediterranean healthy lifestyle diet. Studies show people who live in the Mediterranean countries have the lowest rates of chronic disease and the highest life expectancy. Health organization studied these eating patterns to design a Mediterranean food pyramid, which shows most of the daily food intake from plant sources: fruits, vegetables, bread, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Processed foods are to be avoided. Locally grown seasonal ingredients are preferred. The fat of choice is olive oil. Other fats in the form of cheeses and yogurt are minimal. Fish weekly and red meat no more than once a month, focusing on leaner cuts. Fresh fruit is the preferred and traditional dessert, avoiding significant amounts of refined sugar. One to two glasses of wine per day with meals rounds out the regime with a large dose of regular exercise (walking) throughout the week, of course.
The lands of the Mediterranean basin include Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, The Middle East, and North Africa. The sea itself touches the shores of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. Historically the cuisines of these places grew out of the fact that the sea is at its heart, so no wonder fish and shellfish dominate cuisines. The rough rocky terrains tended to inhibit pasturing cattle, not so much sheep (lamb), which are more prominent, but still used more for special times than daily fare.
Given these same regions with twenty first century changes and influences, and we probably see less of the healthier peasant characteristics of their cuisines. And yet, perhaps after centuries of eating low on the food chain the tradition continues enough, even with modern availability of meats and dairy foods. In addition, the trade of spices and the use of spices in its cuisine have significant influence, too. Spices were considered much more than just seasonings and were touted to propel foods to the luxurious, fine and pungent, accolades we still use today. The contrast between then and now is perhaps best seen with dessert that has evolved from simply fruit to the amazing sugary sweets for special occasions and traditional celebrations. For sure, we owe much to the Mediterranean for its purity of ingredients, boldness of tastes, and simplicity of preparations.
I guess I am comfortable now saying that my style of cuisine is to cherry pick from the myriad of Mediterranean dishes, use my locally available ingredients, and put a whole small meal on a plate! Here’s an example of a plate that somewhat replicates the Mediterranean pyramid along with this week’s recipes.
Picture at the base of the pyramid, savory green salad coated lightly with lemon infused extra virgin olive oil. Choose a 2-3 ounce filet of Washington or Oregon wild sturgeon or pacific cod; marinate it in a spicy buttermilk blend for up to four hours and then pan sauté Building on top of the fried fish is a large dollop of rustic hummus topped off with warm minted sesame seed vinaigrette over quickly sautéed julienne carrots. Wine: Abacela Syrah. Dessert: Baked figs with Grilled blood oranges, Ice wine Sabayon and Candied walnuts
2 1/2 TBS paprika
2 TBS salt
2 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS black pepper
1 TBS coriander
1 tsp ground mustard
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS cayenne pepper
1 TBS dried leaf oregano
1 TBS dried thyme
1-2# sturgeon steaks, block cut 3-4 oz each
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
As needed vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
Method: In a medium bowl, combine spices and herbs; mix well and reserve. Or, purchase a blend with similar ingredients.
In a large bowl, gently toss the sturgeon with 1½ tablespoons of the spice mixture; add the buttermilk and let marinade under refrigeration for 1 hour.
Preheat enough oil in a large sauté pan to fill the bottom ¼ inch; heat to almost smoking. Combine the flour with1 tablespoon of spice mix in a bag; remove the sturgeon pieces from the buttermilk and add to the bag in batches, tossing to coat with the seasoned flour; shake to remove any excess breading and place on a parchment lined sheet pan until ready to pan fry. Add to the hot oil in batches and cook, turning, until golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season lightly with spice mix.
1 lb. serves 3-4, 2 lbs. serve 4-6
8 oz garbanzo beans, cooked
2 ea. garlic cloves, minced
1 TBS parsley, chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
TT Sea salt
1 1/2 cup EVOO Method: Rough chop garbanzo beans. (You may use blender or food processor, but we like the texture better this way.)
Blend all ingredients. Taste as you go. Flavors will intensify as they sit. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.
MINT VINAIGRETTE OVER BLANCHED JULIENNE CARROTS
1 shallot, minced
2 clove garlic minced
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup mint, finely chopped ¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup EVOO
2 cups match stick cut carrots
As need e sea salt, pepper and coriander
Method: combine shallots, garlic, parsley, mint and vinegar in a medium bowl; whisk to combine; place bowl on a towel for control and begin drizzling in oil while whisking to combine; adjust seasonings with sea salt, pepper and coriander. Blanch carrots 2-3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain well, toss with vinaigrette and serve.
BAKED FIGS (PEARS MAY BE SUBSITUTED) serves 4
8 ripe figs or 4 small Anjou Pears, whole unpeel, pricked with fork
2 TBS honey
Juice of 1-2 oranges
Zest of 1/2 orange
2 TBS brandy
2 bay leaves
Method: Place upright in baking dish. (prick to allow juice to penetrate better). Pour remaining ingredients–should cover 1/4″ in bottom of pan. Cover with foil and bake 25-30 min until fruit is tender. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with sugared walnuts.
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup walnut
Place in heavy bottom sauté pan over medium high heat. Move walnuts around in the pan to coat well while sugar is melting. When lightly brown about 4-6 minutes, remove to silicone sheet lined pan to cool at room temperature. When cool break apart and serve. Note: nuts will still have sugar granules.