I like to cook, eat, and watch movies. When I can find some intersection of these three pastimes, I am a happy man. Therefore, I really dig movies about chefs. Here are a few of my favorites.
Billed as the first “Noodle Western” when it was released in 1985, Tampopo is a Japanese comedy revolving around food and the art of eating. The main story involves two truck drivers who happen upon a roadside ramen shop run by a widow, and decide to help her save her failing business. As the three work together to create the perfect bowl of noodles, the film wanders off to show us a variety of oddball stories. A group of students learns the art of perfect noodle-eating (without slurping). A yakuza boss and his mistress explore erotic new uses of food, such as passing a raw egg yolk back and forth between their mouths while keeping it intact. In another scene, a shopkeeper is unable to catch an elderly woman who fondles his fruit, squeezing the best pieces before fleeing the store. This film is a strangely wonderful celebration of sustenance.
Riffing on competitions like Iron Chef and more, God of Cookery takes the manic energy you may know from Hong Kong writer-director-actor Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, and applies it to the world of competitive cooking. After losing his high standing to a sneaky nemesis and having to move back up the culinary ladder from the level of a street food vendor, the protagonist throws his Shaolin cooking style at his opponent, resulting in action-packed, lip-smacking laughs.
New York City
Moving from comedy to documentary, I Like Killing Flies brings the camera into Kenny Shopsin’s eponymous Greenwich Village restaurant, where he serves hundreds of dishes and maintains a very strict list of rules. No parties of five or more, every customer must eat, and if Kenny doesn’t like you, he’ll kick you out with a burst of profanity. Despite the seeming lack of hospitality, Shopsin’s keeps a loyal and devoted following, mainly due to the no-nonsense atmosphere and the astounding variety of well-executed meals (Thai Cobb salad or macaroni & cheese pancakes, anyone?). The film details the workings of the jury-rigged kitchen, interviews the regulars, allows Kenny to share his pessimistic philosophy, and follows him as he loses the lease he has held for 30 years and must move to a new location. Even though this is a very amateur documentary, the subject more than makes up for it, showing us the integrity that a chef can have, even as he kicks out a family of five with a barrage of four-letter words.
Your Favorite Food Films?
This is just a list of some of my favorites, and I have left off discussion of other fantastic ones, such as Babette’s Feast and Ratatouille. I’d love to hear about your favorite films about food, if you want to leave a comment here.
Chris Gray is an Extra Help Librarian. When he's not reading science fiction, comics, or cookbooks, he likes to listen to all kinds of music, hang out in parks looking for animals, cook, and make abstract video art.