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Food and Film: A Banquet of Symbolism

Like many other student procrastinators of late, I have found myself falling down the rabbit hole of food-related YouTube, hence coming across the most classic and noteworthy foody film scenes that will leave you simultaneously love-struck, feeling the pressure of the kitchen and, most of all, hungry.

Look no further than the wholesome father-son love that Jon Favreau treats us to in Chef as proof of food’s power over a relationship. One could spend the best part of a thousand words just talking about the sandwich assembly in this cheerful portrait of Chef Karl Caspar but, instead, you should focus on how food can become more than sustenance or art. Favreau goes to great pains in his role as writer/director/star to demonstrate how the food enjoyed by America can evoke memories and sensations related to specific places and people. Karl is seen enjoying Cuban sandwiches together with his son in Little Havana Miami and fresh Beignets from Café Dumont in New Orleans. Here they are finally sharing in new experiences together after so far being starved of a functioning relationship and shared interests. We see this flourish into a new creative flair for Chef Caspar and as the beginnings of a passion for real food and culinary culture in his son. There is true magic in the way Favreau lets the deliciously framed food and boogaloo soundtrack become perfection on the silver screen, who’s to say some excellent munch can’t mend a broken home?

In my quest through culinary flicks, I stumbled across a new addition on Netflix. Starring Bradley Cooper, Burnt promised to be the intense journey of an amazing chef with a chequered past. Cooper spends the film striving for a third Michelin star and avoiding the consequences of his past mistakes and indiscretions. The film is barely worthy of its meagre IMDb rating, yet the experience can be salvaged through one sequence featuring the arrival of the much-revered Michelin men. Spoken of as something near supernatural folklore, their arrival triggers an intense 2 minutes sequence in which the 3rd Michelin star hangs in the balance. Cooper is seen frantically dashing between stations, dishing out understated affirmations or a shrill scolding while the camera shakes and shot changes become jarring, reminiscent of a sequence by Bourne director Paul Greengrass. Once the elements of the dish are complete it is time to plate up, soft keys increase in tempo as the Chef anxiously arranges them on a delicate plate while stealing last minute tastes. The call for service comes as a respite from the intense fine-dining environment, the ambition fuelled fire and brimstone from Cooper finally gaining salvation.

Now, it would be remiss to not mention the countless significant instances of the culinary craft across the genres of film, with the role of traditional Italian food in the Mob films of the mid-to-late 20th century hold a special place in this hungry viewer’s heart. Goodfellas is permeated by the sights of marinara with braised meatballs and then a meat or a with course, like during the prison sauce scene which is a razor-sharp stand out. The impromptu supper prepared by Tommy’s mother in the middle of the disposal of Billy Bat’s corpse and the readiness of the gangsters to gorge themselves on the cold cuts while a corpse rots in the boot is, however, the most effective use of food. It highlights the deep-seated ruthlessness of the main characters in the film. Pesci and De Niro deftly lie about the hitting of a deer to explain away the blood, sprinkling in compliments to the chef and applying sauce.

Feast your eyes on any of the above suggestions and a new respect for food’s relevance in film may come to a simmer.


Tags: burnt, chef, films about food, Opinion

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