I’m not sure if there is a defined genre of food movies, but if there isn’t, there should be. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t movies, or at least scenes in them, invested in food and cooking, in chefs and restaurants. Yes, these movies can ultimately be about life or love, but the food still matters. As Jim Harrison once said to a New York Times reporter, “Food is a great literary theme. Food in eternity, food and sex, food and lust. Food is a part of the whole of life. Food is not separate.” With that in mind, I would like to share with you a few scenes that celebrate food, scenes that have meant and always will mean a great deal to me.
10) The cooking scene from “The Godfather.”
Peter Clemenza shows Michael Corleone the secret to making great spaghetti and meatballs: a dash of sugar. It’s a sweet moment between two guys who end up killing about a dozen people each.
9) The roast chicken scene from “Amèlie.”
Our titular heroine finds a box hidden in her bathroom wall, placed there by a boy named Dominique Bretodeau years ago. She wants to return the box to the now adult Dominique, and season his life with some happiness. However, we learn what really makes him happy: carving up a roasted bird and then sinking his hands into the steaming carcass to pick out every last scrap of meat.
8) The sandwich scene from “Spanglish.”
I’ve always found it, well, funny, that Adam Sandler excels in dramatic roles. This is one of his best, in his portrayal of LA chef John Clasky. In one scene, John improvises a glorious sandwich that looks like a combo of a ham and cheese and BLT, complete with a runny egg. My favorite part of this scene is that world-renowned chef Thomas Keller actually designed the sandwich for the movie and taught Sandler how to make it.
7) The eggplant scene from “The Lunchbox.”
I saw this film over the summer, and when I left the theater, I didn’t talk for a solid 20 minutes. Of all the “food” movies I’ve seen, I think “The Lunchbox” is the best exploration of what food can mean both by itself and as a source of connection between people. A young housewife sends a lunchbox into Mumbai everyday, except instead of going to her husband it gets delivered to a widowed accountant. Food and memory constantly intertwine — she sends him a special eggplant dish, the comforting flavor of which reminds him of a dish his wife used to make him.
6) The spaghetti and risotto scene from “Big Night.”
As an admittedly snobbish Italian, I’ve always gotten a kick out of the saga of two old-world brothers and their struggle to serve authentic food to Americans. The funniest part is when a customer tells Secondo, the general manager, that she wants a side of spaghetti with her risotto — a starchy taboo. When Secondo brings this request to Primo, his brother and the chef, he exclaims “That bitch!” Secondo pleads with him to just indulge her, but Primo replies, “She’s a criminal. I need to talk with her!”
5) The Big Kahuna Burger scene from “Pulp Fiction.”
After a vigorous exposition of what McDonalds in France calls their burgers, Vincent and Jules barge in on Brett and his buddies, who have Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase. As a gesture of his power over Brett — or maybe just because he’s hungry — Jules takes a nice bite out of Brett’s Hawaiian burger. I’ve always wondered how a burger becomes “Hawaiian”; is the bun a Hawaiian roll? Does it have pineapple? Either way, that look on Jules’ face when he washes the burger down with Brett’s Sprite is priceless — it can only be described as an extraterrestrial smirk.
4) The soup scene from “Ratatouille.”
Anyone can cook, according to this Pixar tour-de-force. How they came up with the plot — a French rat who wants to become a gourmet chef — is beyond me, but that’s why I don’t make movies. The best scene by far is when Remy covertly fixes Linguini’s soup. With that great big-band music in the background, Remy pours in broth and cream, salt and seasoning, herbs and whatever else he can get his paws on. Apparently the animators researched how leeks fall off the stalk when sliced. Whatever they did worked, because the ones Remy throws in the pot are très bons.
3) Anything from “Chef.”
So that I don’t turn out like Jonah Lehrer, I won’t just quote the review of it I wrote this summer, where I couldn’t contain my excitement for this magical movie. It’s as if Jon Favreau was smoking joints rolled out of back issues of Gourmet Magazine.
2) The shrimp-vibrator from “Tampopo.”
This Japanese flick, affectionately labeled a “Ramen Western,” is one of the funniest films ever made. The main story arc is the plight of a young widow to make the best ramen possible, aided by a truck driver and her young son. However, there are numerous other vignettes that all deal with food and sex and folly. My favorite is one about a mobster whose appetite for food overlaps with his appetite for his girlfriends’ body. One of his preferred games is placing live shrimp in a bowl with some soy sauce, and then overturning it onto his lady’s lady parts. The crustaceans thrash and swim, giving her a literal food orgasm.
1) The dinner scene from “Tom Jones.”
Based on Henry Fielding’s novel, this quirky comedy chronicles a hedonistic yet kindhearted foundling, raised as a country gentleman, and his quest to learn his origins and win the love of his life. In the dinner scene, Tom and a woman he met on the road share supper at an inn. Without speaking, they slowly consume a variety of foods — oysters, chicken, fruit, soup — while imitating each other eating in the most innuedo-laden manner possible. I’m talking tonguing drumsticks, fruit juices dripping down the chin, slippery oysters slurped … OK, you get the point.
Giancarlo Buonomo can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter at @GCBuonomo