If cold weather traps you indoors for months each winter, you might run through your queue of streaming movies pretty quick. Why not entertain yourself with a library of the best food-related cinema?
On Valentine’s Day, think about celebrating at home in front of the fireplace, enjoying a great bottle of wine and a wonderful movie about food to share with your loved one.
A great food movie has to have well-detailed cooking and eating scenes, with good production values, casting, writing and direction. A great food movie has to make you hungry.
Here is my Top 10 list of great food movies. If I overlooked one of your favorites, let me know in the comments. I would love to expand the list for next year.
1. “Julie & Julia” (2009). What a delight to watch Meryl Streep portray culinary icon Julia Child as she discovers the wonders of French cooking. Amy Adams does a charming job of bringing to life blogger Julie Powell who decides to give her life focus by making each and every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
2. “Mostly Martha” (2001). The American remake, “No Reservations” (2007), lacked the warmth of the deeply moving and entertaining original German film. Martha is a chef who lives and breathes cooking. Watching her orchestrate the dinner service in the restaurant’s small kitchen is magical. Then everything changes when her young niece, Lina, comes to live with her. Adding more stress, the restaurant owner hires a new chef, Mario, to help Martha in the kitchen. Mario loves life and Italian cooking. He attempts to seduce Martha with his handmade strands of spaghetti in one of the movie’s most delicious scenes.
3. “Ratatouille” (2007). A very different sort of chef inhabits the animated “Ratatouille,” but one no less passionate about cooking. Like all great chefs, food speaks to Remy, a novice without formal training, who nonetheless is a quick study and applies himself with extraordinary focus. His father disapproves. The world rejects him. But nothing will keep him from his goal of having his own kitchen. Nothing except that Remy is a rodent.
4. “Big Night” (1996), directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott. Primo (Tony Shalhoub, before “Monk”) and Secondo (Tucci) have a problem. Their Italian restaurant is failing because Primo is a purist and will only cook authentic Italian dishes. At the 11th hour, they are offered a lifeline: Prepare the meal of a lifetime for a big celebration and they will save their restaurant. The highlight of Primo’s meal is a timpano. This soulful film will move you and make you very hungry, especially at the end of the film when Secondo makes Primo an omelet.
5. “Like Water for Chocolate” (1992), directed by Alfonso Arau. Set in turn-of-the-century Mexico, the movie on one level is about a clash of cultures and the changing role of women. At its heart, the film is about the erotic power of food. But this is not just about sex; food is a metaphor for passion, for the irresistible forces of nature that lie deep within our beings.
6. “Dinner Rush” (2000), with Danny Aiello. This a crime drama set in a Tribeca Italian restaurant. Family conflicts, sex, gambling, mobsters and a love of great cooking are all in the mix in a film that takes place during one long dinner service. Aiello is the owner but no longer the chef of the restaurant. His son, Udo, is a celebrity chef who cooks the new way. The scenes in the tiny, frenetic kitchen are well-observed. Aiello loves old-fashioned Italian food. What makes him happy are sausages and peppers, a dish his son has forbidden any of the cooks to make his dad, but bad boy, sous chef Duncan always obliges. Sandra Bernhard, a sour-faced food critic loves Udo’s cooking, even if Dad doesn’t. But the real tension comes when a young mobster comes to shake down father and son.
7. “Babette‘s Feast” (1987) is one of the most exquisite testimonies to the pleasures of cooking ever created. Babette escapes certain death in revolutionary France to take refuge in a small village on the Danish coast. Taken in by a Lutheran sect that lives by strict rules of self-denial, Babette works as a housekeeper-cook for two elderly sisters, Filippa and Martine. A vivacious, beautiful woman, Babette is the exact opposite of the ascetic sisters. In a memorable scene, Fillipa and Martine show Babette how to turn stale bread into one of their staples, a thick porridge. When Babette wins the lottery, improbably, she decides to use the sizeable sum to make a feast for the congregation. For a foodie, watching Babette, a consummate chef, acquire arcane ingredients and create a sumptuous meal is awe inspiring.
8. “Tampopo“ (1985) is director Juzo Itami’s comic love letter to ramen. Widowed and down on her luck, middle-aged housewife Tampopo wants to take over her late husband’s noodle shop. Everyone knows, she’s told, women can’t make good ramen, but Tampopo won’t give up. Aided by Goro, a rough-hewn trucker, she sets out on her quest. She goes to insane lengths to learn how to make great broth. Ultimately she learns what all good chefs know: Start with great ingredients, have patience, and you will make memorable food.
9. “Eat Drink Man Woman“ (1994), directed by Ang Lee. A master Taiwanese chef has retired to the comfort of his home, which he shares with his three unmarried, adult daughters. With nothing to do every day, he spends his creative energy crafting elaborate meals for his daughters. The attention to detail lavished on those meals by master chef Chu is mesmerizing. That his daughters are never hungry makes this a movingly, hilarious comedy.
10. “The Trip” (2010) is the perfect film for anyone who dreams about a foodie crawl through a dozen auteur-chef kitchens. To rekindle his relationship with his girlfriend, depressed writer Steve Coogan accepts an assignment to take a road trip through the English countryside to review the best new English restaurants. But she won’t go with him. Committed to a trip he doesn’t want to take, he invites an annoying friend, Rob Brydon, to keep him company. The trip is comic hell for Coogan, but a delight for anyone who enjoys watching chefs lavish love on the best local ingredients.
Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His new book, “10 Delicious Holiday Recipes” is available from Amazon. In addition to writing about food for his own site, Men Who Like to Cook, he has contributed to Mark Bittman’s New York Times food blog, Bitten, One for the Table and Traveling Mom. He continues to develop for television but recently has taken his passion for food on the road and is now a contributor to Peter Greenberg’s travel site and the New York Daily News online.
Photo: “The Trip” and “Julie & Julia” DVDs. Credit: David Latt