catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 14 :: 2008.07.11 — 2008.07.25


Feasting on film

Editor’s note: The following list appears with other faith-and-food-related essays, resource lists and art work in Eat Well: A Food Road Map.


As a foodie and a film-lover, I’m fascinated by the hundreds of films that feature food and feasting.  I’ve hand-picked a few of my favorites and included “snack” suggestions for each one, because sometimes Jujyfruits just don’t cut it.

Eat Drink Man Woman (Yinshi nan nu)
directed by Ang Lee (Taiwan/USA, 1994)
This is one that tops almost any foodie’s film list.  Ang Lee directed this powerful film about a widower, Chef Chu, who in addition to raising three daughters is the finest chef in Taiwan.  Food in this film demonstrates how unhappy each character is and, in turn, how they recover. Even in his elaborate Sunday dinner preparations, we learn that the father has lost his taste for food, which symbolizes the fact that both father and daughters have lost their taste for life. Food is also used to illustrate the shift in values between generations—the daughters pick at their father’s creations and the opening scenes move from the father's extensive dinner preparations to one daughter's job at a fast food restaurant.  Best enjoyed with: dried mangos, sticky rice, wasabi peas, strong green tea, sake or plum wine.

Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud)
directed by Gabriel Axel (Denmark, 1987)
On the desolate coast of Denmark, two elderly, religious women take in a lost young woman to be their housekeeper and cook.  It is only after years of austere living and lonely work that the young Babette reveals that she was the most revered chef in France when she wins a huge amount of money and spends every penny creating a feast fit for kings for her “saviors.”  This is an inspiring story of sacrifice and love, but also of some amazing French dishes and techniques.  When I first saw this, I did not care much for cooking—more for the eating part.  Babette’s labor of love and intense joy in the preparation and process made me think again.  You just might be able to get through the feasting scenes without immediately buying a ticket to Paris if you have: good French wine, some creamy, satisfyingly salty cheese like Brie or Port Salut, crusty bread (crackers will work in a pinch) and grapes or other juicy fruit to cut the saltiness.  Warning to pet turtle owners (and Cornish hen owners): distract your pet during the soup course.

directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava (USA, 2007)
Pixar has captured our imagination with the most unlikely combination: a rat cooking lovely food.  This is a really fun film with bright, goofy animation guaranteed to spark your creative mind.  Cooking and enjoying food as a joyful exploration without hard and fast rules wins out—even in a stuffy, fancy restaurant with jaded critics.  If it’s summer where you live, pick some zucchini, basil, tomatoes, and eggplant and try making the (much simpler) ratatouille from (from Gourmet magazine in 1991) served with baguettes and lemonade.  In the spirit of the film, everyone should get in the kitchen and try some new combinations; this is definitely a meal you can make and a film you can share with young ones.

Mostly Martha (Bella Martha)
directed by Sandra Nettelbeck (Italy/Germany/Austria/Switzerland, 2001)
A family/love drama with food all around, this film will probably make both your mouth and eyes water in turn.  Yes, there has been a recent American “remake” of this beauty, starring some great actors like Aaron Eckhert and Ms. Zeta-Jones, but see the original first!  Martha is the timid perfectionist chef who tries to resist all attachments including the messy, sexy Italian chef and her adorable, lonely niece, and we learn that life without passion or love is hardly life at all.  Although this is a mostly-German film, there’s lots of pasta.  So, make sure you have some great spaghetti and fresh basil nearby.

Like Water for Chocolate (Como Agua Para Chocolate)
directed by Alfonso Arau (Mexico, 1992)
The things food does in this story!  A forbidden love finds expression in passionate food-making.  This is a great Mexican film by Alfonso Arau (based on a novel by his former wife Laura Esquivel) that uses allegory like the Barefoot Contessa uses butter.  The result is a rich film that can be enjoyed on many levels, and should be enjoyed with very thick hot chocolate and cake—preferably with lots of icing.

Fried Green Tomatoes
directed by Jon Avnet (USA, 1991)
Unlikely friendships lead to life changing stories about not giving up on people in this Southern tale.  Maybe it’s because most of the filming took place just a few miles from my old house in Georgia, or maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for a good twist at the end of any story, but whatever the reason, this movie gets me every time.  Now, for eats, as much as I love a good secret sauce, just stick to the obvious.  Dip some sliced green tomatoes in egg, then a mixture of one part cornmeal to two parts flour (I like to add some black and cayenne pepper) and fry ‘em up.  Naturally you need some sweet tea with fresh mint and, if possible, fresh blackberries.

directed by Roland Joffé (France/UK/Belgium, 2000)
Francois Vatel, is in charge of cooking and preparing shows for the French King Louis XIV when he visits the castle of Chantilly, owned by Duc de Conde. If Vatel can impress the King, de Conde will gain his favors, and the destiny of France will change.  The food and entertainment Vatel pulls off over three days of feasting puts Vegas to shame.  This is a study of excess and its effects on all the people who experience it, so you may want to just eat some bread and water in the face of so much luxury.  Then again, a box of really good chocolates may bring you into the story better.

Big Night
directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci (USA, 1996)
The story of two brothers whose Italian restaurant is on the brink of bankruptcy. Their only chance for success is to risk everything they own on an extravagant feast for bandleader Louis Prima. But their big night is complicated by a lovers' triangle, a sneaky restaurant rival and the hilarious perfectionism of chef Primo.  If you’ve ever dreamed of opening your own restaurant in order to have a warm, happy place to cook for people, this film may make you think twice.   The extraordinary Italian/Maltese dish, Timpano, is the food recommendation for this film because when else would you make this?  While it does not look all that appetizing, recipe reviewers love it.  Have a Big Night party with champagne, lots of friends, big band music and the timpano as the centerpiece.  The best recipe I found was at


Still Hungry?

I’ve learned a lot from some of the Food Network’s cooking shows now available (or soon to be available) on DVD.  Here are my favorites…

The Barefoot Contessa Vol. 1-3
With episodes like “Passport to Paris,” “Dinner Party” and “Holidays,” Ina Gartener always has good basic “go-to” recipes without too many fancy ingredients, and the great thing about watching the show (instead of reading) is that she is a good teacher when it comes to technique.  Plus, her Hamptons house is so pretty.

Good Eats
Alton Brown’s mixture of science and quirk makes this show so entertaining and memorable.  I love his many recipes for chocolate chip cookies and how he talks about substitutions and solutions.  There are lots of volumes, but any one you choose will have totally do-able recipes complete with cultural background and ingredient alternatives.

Jamie at Home
Although not yet on DVD, Jamie Oliver’s show is too cool not to mention.  A very different feel from the rest of the typical Food Network shows comes through as there is no music, less emphasis on “quick and easy,” and lots of d.i.y. tricks for equipment (i.e. a cookie tin with holes punched in it plus a scrap of chicken wire creates perfectly smoked salmon).  In focusing on one main ingredient, such as peppers, Oliver’s show offers stunning visuals as we see the wide variety within that ingredient.

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